In October, 2015, I was bound for the second World Seabird Conference in Cape Town, South Africa. I had never been to the African continent before, and jumped at the excuse to explore a country with elephants, zebra, giraffes, penguins, and picturesque cities by the sea. My lab-mate, who works on elephants in east Africa, put me in touch with a South African elephant conservation organization: Elephants Alive – located on the fringes of the famous Kruger National Park.
I don’t think anything can prepare you for wildlife experiences in South Africa. Seeing a herd of elephants bathing and playing in a watering hole on a hot day is enough to melt anyone’s heart. The plight of these animals due to the ivory trade is truly a conservation tragedy. However, it was encouraging to get to know, and briefly be a part of, an organization like Elephants Alive, who are doing amazing work studying the conservation of elephants around Kruger. Volunteering with these guys was 10 days of sensory overload – from animal packed days in the field radio tracking elephants to learning a bit more about the complexities of big-game conservation back at camp. While I was visiting, a tourist killed a rare ‘big-tusker’ with tusks weighing over 100 lbs just over the Kruger border in Zimbabwe and a conservation group called the Black Mambas were busy dealing with an orphaned rhino, from yet another poaching incident.
I can’t say enough about the kindness and beauty I experienced in South Africa. From an outsiders perspective: South Africa has a substantial number and unique mixture of wildlife conservation and socio-economic issues, but it also has a highly capable group of people around dedicated to addressing these issues. Until we meet again, South Africa.
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