Three wildlife heroes you should know about

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From rhinos to meerkats and educating youth, here are three conservationists from all walks of life, doing their best to protect SA’s wildlife.

1. Sgt Anton Mzmimba

Mzimba sees his profession as a mandate to protect and conserve nature. Photo supplied.

The Best Field Ranger at the Rhino Conservation Awards in 2016

‘This award is not only for me and my team but for our colleagues in conservation from all over Africa, including those who have lost their lives in the line of duty,’ says Anton, a sergeant in the anti-poaching unit at Timbavati near Kruger Park.

He’s come a long way from his start at the reserve 20 years ago – as a labourer for a construction company doing refurbishments. He was offered a job by the warden, doing soil-erosion and alien-plant control, and soon completed a basic field-ranger training course. ‘I felt like a new man – full of energy, proudly in green uniform, ready to deploy.’

He describes his daily encounters with wildlife ‘like a book with many chapters’ and enjoys ‘hanging around with buffalo or elephant herds and singing melodies with the birds’.

It’s not all idyllic – there’s the constant chance of attack by animals and intimidation by crime syndicates. ‘What keeps me going is that I know I’m doing the right thing, which is to the benefit of the whole world.’

Also read: 10 endangered animals in South Africa and how you can help.

 

2. Prof. Anne Rasa

The early morning Guided Walk at Rasa’s private nature reserve is a popular tracking activity among those who visit and she calls it ‘reading last night’s newspaper’. Photo supplied.

SANParks Kudu Award: Individual Contribution to Conservation in 2016

Anne is the founder of Kalahari Trails reserve and meerkat sanctuary near the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The Welsh zoologist retired there in 2000 with the aim of studying the desert’s little-known invertebrates.

However, she soon became aware of the illegal roadside trade in baby meerkats as pets, and began taking in confiscated meerkats from SAPS and raising awareness among the community and tourists.

‘They may be cute but one must never forget that these are aggressive little carnivores. Human encounters frequently end with a meerkat that is no longer a trusted family pet but banned to a cage in solitary confinement.’

In 2015 she was asked by Northern Cape Nature Conservation to be their official meerkat sanctuary. So far more than 40 have been successfully rehabilitated, but the greatest achievement, she says, is that ‘others are now emulating me in other parts of the country, so even more meerkats have a chance to be saved.’

 

3. Thokozani Mlambo

Mlambo continues to teach his community about identifying invasive plants such as the parthenium and mentors unemployed matriculants. Photo supplied.

Conservation Hero Award from the Disney Conservation Fund in 2015

As the community conservation liaison for Wildlife ACT, Thokozani has helped connect the local residents and environmental stakeholders around Mkhuze Game Reserve in northern KZN.

‘I grew up in the community I work in and they see me as a son of KwaJobe. I’ve used my knowledge to teach people to coexist with animals. It has opened their eyes because they previously didn’t see the importance. The community’s response is 100 per cent and you can see how the conservation efforts have benefited them. Lives are changing because of it.’

Thokozani found his calling early by joining a children’s environmental club, due to his fascination for birds and trees. After internships with KZN Wildlife and Mkhuze Reserve, he was well-equipped for his present job. He’s now started his own eco clubs, mentors community wildlife ambassadors and runs bush camps for kids. ‘I wish that all young people could love birds as much as I do!‘

Also read: a summer night’s dream in Jozini