A Life-changing Adventure – Lois Warwick
They say Africa is life-changing. It has been for me.
What started out as an adventure to do my small part to ‘change the planet’, morphed into so much more.
This was a journey of enlightenment and I cannot thank each and every one of my donors enough for your kindness, generosity, and support of my dream ….
A rather less than short synopsis of my adventure!
There were 6 people all together who signed up for this trek run by Hidden Places Travel. Four Canadians and two Americans. Since ‘Space For Giants’ has a US branch, the funds raised by the two women from the US went to support that cause. The money raised by the Canadians went to support the K9 unit run by the Honeyguide Foundation.
As we headed out on day one, our first stop was to the K9 training camp where we had the opportunity to meet the rangers and the dogs. The unit is very small and is headed up by Emmanuel (in the middle) – a very large man with an imposing presence, and his team.
We met ‘Chester’ first. He has been trained to sniff out ivory and they use him for tracking the ‘goods’! He is still quite young and very eager and couldn’t wait to show us what he could do.
Next was ‘Jerry’. A much more seasoned dog and very calm. He is trained to track the actual poachers. We learned that once a carcass has been touched in any way, the scent of the poachers remains, and Jerry can track an individual or group for literally months or years! It is crucially important that when a ranger comes across a carcass, he must not touch it at all, as that can compromise the scents.
These two gorgeous dogs are Belgian Shepherds from Holland. At a cost of $10,000 USD per dog, it’s pricey to obtain one let alone two, but Honeyguide has had such success with their use of the dogs, the breeder now provides them for free. It is a long and expensive process to train them but once ready, they are an integral part of the anti-poaching efforts. However, their careers are rather short. Maybe 3-5 years. Jerry was two when they got him. He is now 7 and about to retire!
On our second night, Damien Bell, the director of Honeyguide Foundation, joined us for dinner and spent the night regaling us with his stories and a ton of information! It was most educational to hear as to how and why he started Honeyguide’. We found that the K9 unit, although extremely instrumental in the decline of poaching in Tarangire, Lake Manyara, and the Serengeti, is a secondary part of what Honeyguide is all about. We learned that most people who live in the rural areas have to work very hard to eke out an everyday existence, and an elephant can either make or break their lives. They can destroy a vital garden or crop in a matter of a few hours. Also, aiding a poacher can often be the only source of income.
Damien believes that if you want to protect the elephants, or any of the wildlife for that matter, you focus your concern and efforts on the overall health and welfare of the villages. Honeyguide uses monies raised through it’s corporate and individual sponsorships to directly impact the villages and people.
Rather than kill an elephant who is intent on destroying a crop or garden, they provide them with the tools and means to efficiently and effectively deter the wildlife:
- Torches (flashlights): to chase wildlife away by using light.
- Horns: to chase wildlife away by using sound.
- Chili Clouds: to chase away elephants by distraction their senses with chili powder.
- Roman Candles: to chase away aggressive elephants with the sound and light of the mini-fireworks.
Rather than have them get their income by aiding poachers, better their lives with:
- Education: How wildlife promotes tourism, and tourism and the money it brings helps the people. Smaller families means less stress on finances and eco system.
- Health Care: Access to doctors and medical aid
- Community Welfare: Show up when families are in need. Damien gave two examples. First, of a marauding elephant which killed the mother of a family of 5 and then the village killed the elephant. Whilst the outside world was enraged that the elephant was killed, no concern was shown for the family which had lost the most important member of their family who literally was their source of care and income. Through the WMA (Wildlife Management Areas), Honeyguide provided food, grieved with the family, and paid for the funeral. Secondly, a buffalo seriously injured a child. WMA showed up and rushed the child and family to a hospital, stayed with them and paid for all expenses.
Eventually a connection is made between the support and financial aid of the WMA and Honeyguide, and the source of that income – the wildlife. The villages start to work together to nightly patrol the crops, dissuade anyone from helping poachers, and immediately report anyone unfamiliar or out of place to local rangers, in order to protect the wildlife which brings in money from tourism.
It’s much more complex than that, but that is basically my ‘Coles Notes’ version!
Enjoying a ‘sundowner’ and listening to Damien at the end of our first day of trekking:
This experience, and my subsequent travels through Kenya, Egypt and Jordan with my husband John, have changed my life in ways that I could never have imagined or expected. From my very privileged vantage point, I have had the luxury of focusing my time, energy, judgements, and resources on one particular issue and species – in my case, poaching and the demise of the elephant. But I have learned that it is not as simple an issue, or as black and white for the people who live in and amongst the wildlife. I left with a great connection to the land and the people who fight each day to protect and preserve it, and an appreciation for the plight of the people who are just trying to live their lives and provide for the their families. I am truly blessed and full of gratitude for this amazing opportunity.
See my next post for photos and notes on the rest of the Miles for Elephants Trek!