The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 October 2022
I am a geographer by training and qualification. My parents raised me with awareness and my path was set long before I knew I had options. When I applied to study after high school, I chose geography. There were other ‘purer’ options, such as geology, mining or earth sciences, but geography was it for me!
When I completed my studies and started looking for work, I was willing to do anything that would get me working for National Geographic. Everything NatGeo represented was what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing – travelling the world, meeting people, trying new things, and interviewing individuals who were braver than me.
Fast-forward to June 22nd, 2019 when I was given the chance to live out that dream and I didn’t even know it! Chosen as one of 18 people from 13 countries I travelled to Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu (REGUA) in the Atlantic Forest of south-east Brazil to attend the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP). This programme offers training to young conservationists who are promising leaders in their companies, countries or projects.
For two weeks we were given training on creative leadership, project planning and management, gender and conservation, behaviour change and fundraising. These amazing strangers, who are passionate about everything from salamanders, honey bush tea, African wild dogs, cicadas, migratory birds, hammerhead sharks to tree species, have become my very good friends. What brought us together was the fact that all of our projects matter and we are contributing to making our piece of the planet better.
As the training went on, my TFCA background stood out and a little apart; my looking glass was unlike any of the others’. It was amazing to share what I knew about my work and to discover how excited I was about it. Even more amazing was to learn things and appreciate aspects of nature I had been ignorant of.
The encounter enabled us to learn from each other and provide support to one another in shared challenges and solutions, beyond the restrictions of working in different locations. The CLP facilitators provided mentorship and guidance once the training wheels were taken off. These individuals assured us that they were our champions prior to REGUA and will continue championing the cause long after we’ve left.
After two weeks of daily classes, hikes, bird watching attempts, tapir and sloth spotting, sunset watching, culture nights, evening games, morning check-ins, shady wi-fi, daily rice and beans, sharing a dorm and shower with three girls from China, Argentina and India (as well as a bat), I went to San Diego and Monterey to join the Esri and Society for Conservation GIS (SCGIS) conferences. Over the following two weeks I realised just how many learning opportunities I had and it was both overwhelming and exciting. I was introduced to a community that makes GIS seem less overwhelming and look forward to being a contributing member of that group.
Ultimately, two weeks of CLP training and another two weeks of GIS conferencing, traveling, intentionally making connections and friendships have taught me that I am geographer. I choose it now beyond my training and job description. I am a happy and proud geographer who is excited about earth experiences and being the best steward for the planet and all who live on it.