Meeting dedicated wildlife conservationists of all types is one of the things we enjoy most as we travel in Africa, podcast.
They’re young and not so young. They’re men and they’re women. One thing they have in common is a love for Africa’s iconic wildlife and the dedication to save and protect it. And we have the privilege of meeting them.
This is part one of many episodes to come where I introduce you to people like Marnus and Sheila.
Enjoy and be inspired!
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Oh the People We Meet, like Marnus and Sheila
Did you ever read that Dr. Seuss children’s’ book, ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’? It is a colorful presentation of an abundant life. Well, the people doing good for wildlife who we are privileged to meet… are equally colorful and live an abundant life.
Today I’d like to introduce you to two of them… Marnus Roodbol and Sheila Bath Upton.
Marnus with Walking For Lions
“You’ve got to meet Marnus,” Sam insisted as we sat on her veranda sipping a cool drink. However, he is not an easy man to catch up with as he spends the majority of his time in the bush of Botswana protecting cattle from lions and lions from farmers.
Lion numbers have declined by 80-90% from a century ago, with only about 30,000 (some say 20,000) left. According to Linda Park with the Campaign Against Canned Hunting there are only 2,500 left in the wilds in South Africa. The rest of the 8,000 in that country are being bred on farms for canned hunting. And, so really don’t count.
The situation for lions is dire. Some experts believe that, at the current rate of decline, lions may be extinct as early as the year 2020.
Habitat loss is one of the leading causes of lion deaths – as much as 80% of their original stomping grounds has been taken over for human settlements. This naturally has led to a reduction of wild prey and brings lions far too close to humans in search of food.
They stray into villages where humans and livestock live together in protected family compounds known as ‘Kraals’ or ‘Bomas’.
Despite fortified fences and even compound walls, the livestock in these villages become easy prey for the hungry and adaptable lions. Villagers retaliate by trapping, shooting or poisoning the lions to prevent future attacks.
You can’t really blame them. I’d be terrified too if a pride of lions came through my yard.
However, this is where Marnus comes in. Lions are wary of people and tend to avoid direct confrontation. They appear to associate lights moving around in the dark with humans with torches and usually steer clear.
Attaching lights to the perimeter of a Kraal creates the impression that humans are on patrol. Lions are deterred by the possibility of conflict and stay away.
The result… no dead cattle, happy farmers and no dead lions. However, if it only were that simple!
Finally we caught up with Marnus. He was in Johannesburg getting supplies. I was immediately impressed. Here was a young man of 25, who could be enjoying the comfortable suburban life, yet he lives on nearly nothing in his Land Rover in the bush tracking lions, educating farmers and placing lights.
The toughest part by far he told me, was convincing the farmers to hang the lights and kraal their cattle at night. Yes, far too many are left wandering around during the lions peak hunting hours. You’d think that would be a no-brainer but sadly we as humans get set in our ways, no matter where in the world we live.
After meeting with Marnus and feeling his passion and his dedication to his work we wanted to help. So we ran a month long matching challenge and raised ZAR27,000 to buy more lights. Although the campaign is officially over, we’re happy to accept donations for Marnus at any time. If you’re in the USA it is a grand time to donate as your dollar stretches really far right now.
This is not the last you’ll hear about Marnus. In a few weeks we’ll be spending a few days with him in the bush … Glad we have a rooftop tent!
Sheila Bath Upton with Dance to be Wild
Another fabulous person is our friend Sheila.
We met Sheila, founder of Dance to be Wild, almost two years ago via Facebook. Sheila is one of those get it done people. One of those I have a dream and you can either get on board or out of my way sort of people. At the same time she makes you feel as if you’ve been her friend forever, that you’re the most important person and it goes absolutely without saying that you’ll get involved and do right by wildlife.
So it was simply expected when we were in town that we’d also be part her annual championships in 2014 and more recently one of her workshops for the young Wildlife Ambassadors she is raising up. These young people are from the settlements and participants in dance classes initiated and sponsored by Dance to be Wild. You see Sheila is a classical dance instructor. She has her own studio and periodically brings in world class instructors like Klaus Kongsdal and hosts South Africa’s largest ballroom dance competition… and does it all to raise awareness and funds to save wildlife.
Interwoven into everything she does with dance is the premise that if people, young and old alike feel good about themselves, have confidence in a skill, they can be more easily influenced to also take care of their world, which includes her beloved wild animals and Africa’s heritage.
On a chilly chilly day we’re participating along with Linda Park (Mentioned earlier), Linda Joyce (Director of Unite Against Poaching), and a remarkable young entrepreneur.
We’re each charged to educate and motivate her young Wildlife Ambassadors. Well, as in most cases, I’m the one who walks away enthralled and inspired, not only by the other presenters, but the youth themselves.
Sheila had a special surprise up her sleeve for the Ambassadors…A getaway to Vic’s Safari Lodge with a game drive into the Kruger National Park. This is a big deal as most youngsters from these settlements have never seen a rhino, and elephant or lion. So how can they be expected to protect them, care about them? After all, we can’t love what we don’t know. Sheila is on a mission to change this for as many young people as possible.
That’s why we support her in every way we can.
Earlier this year we ran a brief matching challenge campaign for Sheila to assist in purchasing t-shirts to reward her youngsters. More recently we had two volunteers assist in revamping the Dance to be Wild website … which is still under construction and soon will allow Sheila to share her projects with a wider audience.
Way to go Sheila and Dance to be Wild.
Stay tuned as we share more stories about amazing people like Marnus and Sheila in future episodes.