Written by: Joné Haesslich
As a conservationist at heart I have been very lucky to marry someone who shares my love for nature and doing good. And after working together for two years at Kariega Game Reserve, close to the sleepy town of Kenton-on-Sea in South Africa, my new husband and I decided to embark on a honeymoon in the name of conservation!
Kariega Game Reserve had a poaching incident in 2012 where three white rhinos were poached. The next morning when the rangers reached the scene, one of the rhinos was already dead, and two were still alive but dehorned. Dr. William Fowlds was called in to treat them as best he could, but their injuries were absolutely horrific. Themba, the bull, died after 24 days of treatment but Thandi, the cow, is still alive today. Her wounds have healed and she also had a calf at the beginning of 2015. They are both healthy and roaming freely on the reserve.
This poaching incident was announced to the world in order to create awareness about the poaching problems in Africa, and Kariega Game Reserve made a huge step in this regard. For our honeymoon we, therefore, planned to also try to make an impact by visiting as many wildlife rehabilitation centres, sanctuaries and parks as possible to get a better idea of the rhino poaching epidemic, while also raising money to support these organisations. On our trusty stead we also tried to spread awareness by advertising on our vehicle the names of some other non-profit organisations that help to conserve nature in their own special way. These were Thandi’s Endangered Species Association (TESA), Reserve Protection Agency (RPA), Saving the Survivors and Helping Rhinos.
And this was the route for our adventure that we named Driving Against Extinction:
We headed off in early May and headed up the East Coast to our first destination – the Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) where we had a tour of the facility and also met up with one of their volunteers working with the primates. They gave us an insight as to how rehabilitation centres work and how important they are, especially where wildlife and cities come into contact.
Next we headed to Thula Thula Game Reserve near Richards Bay, where we visited the Fundimvelo Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage to meet the baby rhinos. These calves are all orphaned as a result of their mothers being poached for their horns. This facility is playing an absolutely vital role in conserving the rhino population on a different level. They work extremely long hours to make sure these little ones survive the trauma and overcome nutrition problems. With some of the funds that we raised, we donated some needed equipment to the centre. This included storage containers, cleaning equipment, garden scissors, gloves, a rake, a broom, blankets, mixing bowls and food stuff.
Not long after that, we headed over to Hoedspruit to meet up with the Black Mambas, which is an all woman anti-poaching team. They are trained by Pro-Track in Hoedspruit and then deployed in different parks to help protect the wildlife. We saw they had a need for hotplates and cutlery so we purchased these in Hoedspruit and delivered it to the base. We also visited Rhino Revolution, which is a rhino orphanage in the area where some of the Black Mambas are stationed.
Pretoria was our next stop for the Dancing for Rhinos event to raise money for rhino conservation. It was a great success and hosted dance groups of various genres, as well as speakers like Dr. Johan Marais from Saving the Survivors.
The long road awaited as we then started making our way to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We spent a wonderful day with some crazy meerkats just outside the Twee Rivieren gate at a little gem called Kalahari Trails. This is run by a professor who rehabilitates hand-reared or injured meerkats, and monitors their re-grouping when they are ready. They are not kept in enclosures and are free to return to the wild whenever they want. We made a donation to their fund and hope this will help to support this great sanctuary.
The red dunes and endless roads kept us busy as we travelled through the Mata Mata border into Namibia. Aus, Lüderitz, Sossusvlei and Windhoek flew by and then we arrived at a farm in the area of Otavi. I have been dreaming of going to the Rare & Endangered Species Trust (REST) for a few years and finally we made it. It’s run by Maria Diekmann, who is a leader in rehabilitating pangolins.
Pangolins are absolutely magnificent animals. They are being poached more in the wild than rhinos and elephants combined, as their scales are used as traditional medicine in South East Asia. Our week at REST included duties like feeding the vultures, owl and eagles, walking Honeybun, who is the most adorable pangolin ever and looking after Pica, the warthog. It was the best week of my life and it was very special to spend so much time with such a rare animal to see in the wild.
Etosha National Park was next on the agenda before we headed across to Botswana through the Caprivi Strip, Moremi Game Reserve and Nxai Pan National Park to camp underneath the huge baobab trees.
It was almost time to return home so we made our way towards South Africa via Martin’s Drift. And when the road got too long we stayed over at Bambelela: Wildlife Care and Vervet Monkey Rehabilitation outside Bela Bela. They have beautiful chalets and you will never want to leave. We interacted with the orphaned baby vervet monkeys in the kindergarten, which is a must for any animal lover. They are very inquisitive and playful and just want to have fun. They also loved the Gummy Vit C Vites we dropped off for them, as some have a Vitamin C deficiency.
By driving 12,000km in two months and visiting three countries, we experienced so many places and met a huge amount of inspirational people, which definitely makes it the best honeymoon ever!