There’s no way spending 10 weeks in Africa with wildlife conservationists and activists doesn’t change your life!
“As Karen (Trendler) and I talked a major unmet need became clearly apparent,” reported Sheila Bath Upton.
During our Africa Wildlife Tour early in 2014 we met Karen, the leading rhino calf rescue and rehab expert in South Africa (possibly the world). We’d also connected with Sheila, founder of Dance to be Wild, a passionate advocate for saving the rhino, who quickly became a valued friend and networker on our behalf.
The purpose of our 2014 Africa tour was similar to our first one in 2010, to see how we could best help people saving wildlife. What we discovered this time brought about an unexpected shift in Nikela’s focus.
In 2010 Nikela was founded as an online vehicle to share information and receive donations from people anywhere on the planet who wanted to get involved. Shannon Hoffman (African Bird of Prey Sanctuary), Peter Milton (Strategic Protection of Threatened Species) and Silke Von Eynern (Bambelela) were amongst those we elected to help. Engaging volunteers from California to England we set about writing and fund raising.
Over the past couple of years we learned that our every changing motley crew is quite good at compiling stories and sharing them, but rather lousy at raising any large sums of money.
How Nikela has made a difference
Sharing news and information via the social networks to raise awareness and support others doing good things for wildlife. This helps support wildlife conservation as well as give volunteers opportunities to learn and gain experience.
Free ebooks written by a host of experts like Chris Mercer (CACH) Dr. Pieter Kat (LionAid), Peter Milton (SPOTS), Dr. William Fowlds (veterinarian) and others offer insights and valuable information on numerous subjects concerning wildlife matters.
Donations from folks like you contributed to building an enclosure for the rescued Bearded Lady (Lammergeyer) at Shannon’s Bird of Prey Sanctuary, purchasing an additional thermal imaging camera for an Air Ranger to detect and apprehend rhino poachers, helped buy a much needed vehicle for a primate rescue rehab center, provided underprivileged students with opportunities to experience and learn about wildlife at both Shannon’s center and a bush school, added to Silke’s fund for a larger first aid and treatment clinic, donated to two anti-poaching teams for much needed supplies, and provided two web cams for a free roaming leopard research project.
Although the wealth of information, ebooks and stories on our website and social media networks is growing impressively we really feel… well disconnected from the people we help and the wildlife we care about. Is that simply the reality of a virtual organization with the founders on the other side of the planet and volunteers strung across the globe?
Maybe it was time for another trip to Africa to once again experience wildlife conservation first hand.
As we spoke to and visited with conservationists, rehabbers, rangers, and activists we noted several realities. Some validated what we’d learned previously, while others offered new understanding.
What’s happening with wildlife conservationists in South Africa in 2014
- They are a rapidly aging group of passionate and dedicated individuals.
- Most all involved in the private sector are ‘pale faces’.
- Because the majority are fiercely independent collaborative efforts can be challenging.
- Back filling or raising up their replacements is not happening in most cases.
- Battle fatigue’, burnout and stress are high.
- Volunteers who pay their own way are the life blood of some operations.
- Volunteers become tenaciously protective of the wild birds and animals they serve.
- The volunteers come only for a season from Europe and other foreign countries.
- Most local (black) youth and young adults have not seen let alone connected to wildlife.
- There are key players with established networks and innovative vision.
Two needs that Nikela can meet
The reason we are able to consider the following is because Russ and I will personally be spending six months a year in Africa (beginning September 2014.)
- Initiate sponsoring select local college students to serve as volunteers at targeted conservation sites.
- Create a network and tools to help conservationists and rangers cope with stress.
Let’s look at these in more detail
ONE: Serving Kindles Caring
Instead of indifference imagine influential young adults who care about wildlife.
For forty plus years Russ and I have been involved with volunteers in some capacity or another. In our experience, be the recipient human or animal, volunteers invariably comment on how close they feel to the ones they’ve helped. It seems that by serving we grow to love and care… serving kindles caring.
Our objective is to impact the next generation of decision makers. Local college students with leadership potential are selected and sponsors found so they can volunteer at targeted wildlife conservation sites. The premise being, that like their European counterparts, they will “fall in love” with the wild animals or birds they serve.
Therefore, no matter what their future vocation these young people are more likely to be much needed wildlife advocates.
TWO: Secret Weapon for Warriors
An unseen power within often makes the difference between success and failure.
Wildlife rangers generally signed up to manage wildlife herds and their habitat and not to be soldiers pitted against an organized, armed and trained enemy. They accepted the danger of a rampaging elephant bull or avoiding the skewer of a buffalo horn, but not being ambushed by men with military style weaponry. They never dreamed that being jailed for murder for protecting a rhino was a real possibility and that a full moon meant death instead of romance.
Rangers, like soldiers can experience battle fatigue, extremely high levels of anxiety and stress, and of course burn out. These make the ranger’s life miserable as well as increase the danger of putting self and others at risk on the job.
As a former psychotherapist I know a bit about the tools needed to help rangers not only cope, but feel empowered. Sharing their stories, feeling that what they do matters, as well as learning a few simple mind games can go a long way to handle stress. Super charging inner strength will provide anti-poaching rangers with a secret weapon.
By collaborating with targeted individuals and groups on the ground in South Africa, combined with the resources of the internet, contributions of our donors and volunteers Nikela will continue helping people saving wildlife.
We’re excited! We hope you are too.