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Understanding the Madness
It’s hard to imagine what must go through the mind of a poacher when we see the image of a
defenceless Rhino with it’s horn savagely hacked off. When the chopper I was in flew over the
rotting corpses of three innocent beasts within a few miles of each other, all killed within the
previous three days, it’s hard for even the most empathic of people to feel sorry for those behind
this slaughter. However the grimness of these horrific crimes stretches much further than the
seemingly senseless murder of these animals in National Parks and private reserves all across Africa.
Just for a minute put yourself in this situation, a young man living in rural South Africa on the edge of
Kruger National Park. Three young children to tend for but the socio economic situation in the
country means that jobs are few and far between, especially in the countryside. There’s no
electricity and very little running water and you can’t afford the uniform needed to send your kids to
school. What do you do? The dire hopelessness is crippling but then someone offers you a way out,
all you have to do is sneak into Kruger and kill a Rhino. Despite your village sitting on the perimeter
fence of Kruger you’ve never been able to afford the entrance fees and what’s more just 30 years
ago the horrific apartheid regime made it illegal anyway. You have no connection to the animals that
rich westerners have who pump millions each year into the tourism trade. Unfortunately this is not
an isolated case, more than half of South Africans(over 30 million people) are living below the
national poverty line of R992 a month. For people reading in the UK that’s less than £50 a month!
It’s easy for us to say no when we are living comfortably but as a father myself when faced with that
situation then even the biggest animal lover would be tested if it came to the survival of their own
Indeed the immediate threat to wild rhino populations needs addressing and anti poaching units
across the globe do a tremendous job in protecting these animals but by ignoring the root causes of
the poaching crisis then you are merely putting a towel down to soak up the leak rather than
attempting to stop the cause.
Since 2016 Veterans For Wildlife has successfully worked alongside local authorities and trained
wildlife Rangers in a bit to support frontline conservation efforts. Now in conjunction with our Wild
Warriors programme the charity has partnered with Nourish, a non profit organisation dedicated to
conservation by tackling the socio- economic issues previously discussed.
Nourish Eco Village is situated in the Hoedspruit area of South Africa, a mere few km away from
Kruger National Park’s Orpen Gate and opposite many private reserves in the Greater Kruger. It’s a
back to basics small community that provides a safe haven for the many children of the local
Sigagule village. A place where they can come for not only a better education but also a meal, for
many of which it could be their main one of the day.
The onsite creche provides pre school education for around 40 of the happiest children you could
ever wish to meet. When we arrived we were greeted with hugs and smiling faces galore from
children who have nothing yet are appreciate of everything.
They also facilitate trips for children of the local primary schools into Kruger National Park and local
wildlife centres thus creating that connection between the community and the wildlife, something
which has been missing for decades.
Founded and headed up by the incredible Sarah Berges, Nourish not only looks after the children of
the community but provides job opportunities for the locals too which include providing the
materials for a disabled woman named Ivy to make sanitary pads to sell to the village, sanitary pads
which will keep girls in school so they don’t have to take a week off each month. Nourish prides itself
on creating Resilient communities that are much more capable of saying no to criminal poaching
gangs that target weakness. Through tackling the poverty which drives wildlife crime they are
playing a huge part in protecting the lives of the Rhino that surround them, a perfect mix of
community and conservation.
Veterans For Wildlife will not only be providing volunteers on a monthly basis to support the
operation at Nourish but will also be partnering UK schools with the schools that Nourish work with,
like the partnership of Robin Hood School in London, England with Sihlekisi Primary school in
Sigagule village. Robin Hood provided a suitcase full of stationary, school equipment and shoes for
their new partnered school as well as funding two trips, one of which was to Kruger National Park,
with some children seeing Elephants and giraffe for the first time, a special moment for both us and
them. This is a partnership which will be ongoing and has the possibility to make a big difference.
However this is not solely for the benefit of the children in South Africa but also a great opportunity
for learning for the children in the rest of the world through finding out about the lives of these kids
as well as a platform for communication for both. Artwork by the children of Sihlekisi is soon to
decorate one of the notice boards in Robin Hood Primary School.
Veterans For Wildlife have already presented to thousands of UK school children about conservation
and in particular Rhino poaching but with this new partnership we now have a platform to connect
children across the globe, a winning formula for all parties involved.
Nourish has created a stronghold at their eco village, not only showcasing the finest demonstration
of upcycling I’ve seen with their use of eco bottles and bottle cap floor among others but they’ve
also managed to educate and empower a whole community which in turn protects the local wildlife,
sitting perfectly inline with Veterans For Wildlife’s core values.
Using our links in other reserves across Africa Veterans For Wildlife can help Nourish expand to
different communities on the continent thus having a positive impact on many more lives both
human and animal, the possibilities are endless.
Through this holistic approach as well as what Veterans For Wildlife do best, providing world class
training and support to front line conservation efforts we are in a much better position to stop the
ever growing issue of wildlife crime.