Are we forgetting what over the centuries of time has made Africa, Africa? Is an opportunity to dance and teach wildlife conservation rekindling all this?
Along our journey in search of people saving wildlife we find some amazing individuals. Some rescue orphaned babies, injured birds or illegal pets. Others step into harm’s way to protect rhino and elephant from brutal poachers. A select few address the complex predator conflict issue to save lions and cheetah from irate farmers. Then there are those who with great passion and vision inspire the next generation and create opportunities for them to experience wild things and get inspired about wildlife conservation. One such remarkable person is Sheila Bath Upton, founder and director of Dance to be Wild.
Recently Sheila shared this sadly beautiful perspective. I simply had to share it in its entirety.
Are we betraying the essence of being truly African?
We are so proud of our wildlife, yet the majority of South African children have never been given the opportunity to see wild animals in their natural habitat? To experience wild things? How can this be?
Our “Big Five” enjoy the status of appearing on every South African currency bank note but we are allowing them to be slaughtered at a rate that can only be described as ‘genocide’. How can this happen on ‘our watch’?
With the Dance to be Wild vision being to open opportunities for as many South African children to actually witness these majestic animals in their natural habitat, the Rietvlei Game Reserve near Pretoria offers our team a wonderful option to celebrate our annual Youth Day together with young South Africans in a facility where, we believed, these animals, especially the threatened rhino, would be totally protected from the current evils of greed, exploitation and corruption.
To be in the company of children witnessing our majestic wildlife for the first time is such an honour and a privilege. These moments, when we see the wonder and excitement in the eyes and faces of children, are the true reward for the commitment of the DTBW team.
In 2016, the children hand made a cross in memory of two rhino cows and an unborn calf that were the victims of a poaching incident just two weeks before our visit. Little did we know that within two weeks, following our 2017 Youth Day celebrations, Rietvlei would see, yet another, horrific poaching incident!
It seems that the silent prayers by team leaders and conservationists that, somehow, these majestic rhinos would be protected, is falling on deaf ears. The commitment that we give these children that we will do all in our power to protect their rightful wildlife heritage, once again, shattered. Even more devastating is the fact that the poaching at Rietvlei is a horrific example of the slaughter which has seen over 30 rhinos lose their lives over a period of just five days around the country.
How do we answer to these children?
A group of young South African Pantsula dancers were amongst the DTBW youth who visited Rietvlei on the 16th June 2017. They had just returned from Zurich, Switzerland, where they shared their commitment to African wildlife with tens of thousands of dancers from across the world.
They represented everything that is honourable about South Africans – the true beauty of the African spirit and the vital importance that our wildlife plays in contributing to the country Nelson Mandela envisaged for our children to prosper in. Their Ambassadorial role promoted international dancers to visit this beautiful land, where these majestic animals remind us of our connection to Mother Earth and the beauty that surrounds us.
They understand the impact that the continued killing and exploitation of animals will have on our tourism industry. They also know that, whilst international and local criminal syndicates are allowed to continue to decimate our wildlife resources, not just animals but the African people are being exploited. Wildlife criminal syndicates and kingpins show no concern for the Africans driven to carry out these dastardly deeds due to poverty and lack of dignity within their own communities.
The current narrative that we, as a country, need to do things ‘the African way’ cannot exclude the protection and safety of our unique wildlife resources.
If we are truly committed to this country, we have to ensure that our government, our wildlife and nature conservation representatives and our elected leaders carry out the mandate we have given them to protect and preserve all that is truly, beautifully African!
One of the most profound statements coming from a young South African dancer was “In other countries they have to build their theme parks with bricks and concrete. In South Africa, we have the most majestic and natural theme park. All we have to do is protect it!”
Through the natural talent and beauty of African dancers, we as DTBW Ambassadors will continue to use dance, passion and our voices to protect and fight for our animals that represent the absolute beauty of this land we call ‘home’.
By Sheila Bath Upton founder and Director of Dance to be Wild
Our hat off to Sheila, her team, and the Dance to be Wild dancers who entertain and educate so many… may your dedication and passion be rewarded.