As Nikela founders Margrit and Russ Harris leave for Southern Africa to meet with people saving wildlife many questions arise.
Hundreds of organizations, groups and individuals are rallying around saving the rhino and elephant from poachers in Africa. However, despite the call to action from then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the UK’s Prince William or donations from the mega rich like Howard Buffet, much more is needed to curb wildlife trafficking and it’s devastating impact on Africa.
The situation gets pretty depressing. However, instead of throwing in the towel (although tempting at times) Nikela keeps ‘picking up one starfish at a time and throwing it back‘.
With this in mind Margrit and Russ head back to Africa to do what they can in their own unique way to help people saving wildlife.
Answers to Questions You Asked
Didn’t you spend time in Africa earlier this year?
Yes, 10 weeks to be exact.
Why are you returning so soon?
For a number of reasons, a primary one being there are so many more ordinary people saving wildlife that we simply want to meet and see what we might learn from them… and of course do the best we can to share their stories.
Also, Russ figured out earlier this year that if we were careful with our money we could retire… happy day, no more contract work for us! More time in Africa?
How does your retirement impact Nikela?
Only positively! Now I can be more fully devoted to Nikela and Russ has more time to be involved. Plus, we can extend our stay in Africa as we can live there quite inexpensively as long as we’re willing to camp most of the time.
How long will you be in Africa?
Hopefully for six months if we can get everything sorted out with our visas.
Who pays for your trips?
Each trip that we’ve taken to Africa has been paid for by us. Not one donor penny has or will go towards paying for our trips. 100% of all donations go towards helping people saving wildlife. People like Peter Milton, Shannon Hoffman and Silke Von Eynern… and others as needed, like helping the rescued lion cubs be transported from Spain to their new forever home in South Africa, thanks to Chris Mercer and those associated with him.
It must be nice to be so rich?
Well, actually we are not rich. We live a very simple life style both in the USA and in Africa. We minimize our expenses whenever we can. For example we cut back to one cell phone, which actually saves us enough money to pay for one plane ticket. We don’t own a big house. Instead we call a cozy 400 sqft ‘cottage on wheels’ (RV Fifth Wheel) home. It allows us to move around the US to live close to family for a few months at a time and is easily parked and stored while we are in Africa.
Anyone can do what we do… if you get rid of those monthly payments as much as possible. That house and car note… and of course all credit card debt. There are some things like insurance that can’t be helped, but can (in some cases) be reduced while away.
Then of course there is cutting out some of the wants and focusing on the needs. Russ created a daily budget for us and we spent around $90 per day (excluding the airfare) for the last 10 weeks. While in the US we try to do the same… which admittedly is more difficult.
Where do you live in Africa?
During our last tour we camped most of the time in a 14×8 ft tent and drove a tiny little red rental car (that Russ pushed like a 4×4 a few times in the bush.) Also, we have some very gracious friends who put us up when in their area. I must admit that a comfy bed and private bathroom are most welcome and much appreciated.
This time we will be camping much of the six months, with one big difference. We have purchased an old Landrover with a rooftop tent. This will allow us to go where we couldn’t go before as well as sleep in places that weren’t safe on the ground.
Who do you hope to meet with?
Some folks will be those we’ve met with before, while many will be new to us. You’ll just have to follow us on the blog as we share their stories.
Okay, there are a few you can read about already; they are our favorite bird of prey expert Shannon. It was actually meeting Shannon and visiting her raptor sanctuary that changed my life five years ago. Then there are Peter with SPOTS and Vincent with Protrack… two amazing, very different powerful anti-poaching experts. Of course then there’s our primate rescue-rehabbers extraordinaire… Carol in the city and Silke in the bush. A must mention is of course world renowned rhino calf rescue-rehabber Karen Trendler. And let’s not forget Sheila who touches hearts via her unusual Dance to be Wild projects, and Margie the energetic South African representative of One More Generation. There are numerous others who are passionate about making a difference for wildlife, who we feel privileged to know.
What do you hope to accomplish this time?
Two of the less addressed dangers facing Africa’s wildlife (and its people really) appear to be: burnout and apathy.
Dedicated rangers, rescue/rehabbers, vets and advocates are pushed to the limit with opposition. Not only are the poachers causing havoc, but the laws make it super difficult for them to do their job. For example if a ranger shoots and kills a poacher during an attack, the ranger can be charged with murder. Shocking yes! Also, rehabbers can get in trouble with Nature Conservation for rescuing the wrong animal in the wrong place at the wrong time (as if there were such a thing!) Totally illogical, but can be a huge frustration and time waster.
Then there are those who are sick and tired of hearing story after story and report after report about the rhino crisis and the elephant massacres. They stop listening and turn a blind eye. Now of course there are some who never cared in the first place.
So our objective is to encourage and inspire all the rangers, vets, rescue/rehabbers and advocates we encounter on our journey. Plus, tell their stories of courage, dedication and passion via our blog. We also started a series a few months ago, “Traumatized Humans: Another Rhino Crisis Fallout.”
Then of course there is the new volunteer initiative that we hope to pilot this time around. The concept is simple and based on our findings during our Africa Wildlife Tour during the first part of 2014 will fill a huge need.
In a nutshell it is about giving young potential leaders opportunities to fall in love with wildlife by volunteering at conservation sites.