Animal Conservation and Working With Wild Tomorrow

I’ve just returned from South Africa where I participated as a volunteer in a conservation experience, with Wild Tomorrow, a charity we support and I’m excited to share a little of what I’ve learned and hope it inspires you. Conservation is political, and doesn’t just impact animals and wildlife, but the local communities which Wild Tomorrow are nurturing through employment, education, and building schools. 
The startling truth is that countless animals we take for granted are at high risk of becoming extinct, as are species of birds, trees, and insects. Opening up the corridor’s, otherwise known as the ancient elephant trails which sprawl across South Africa, is essential for the survival of wildlife. 

What Does Opening Corridors Actually Mean?
A couple of months ago, I didn’t have much of a clue to what opening up corridors meant and how it would contribute to saving animals from extinction. But being on the ground I quickly grasped the problem. The land where animals used to roam freely is now partitioned by huge electric fencing meaning the animals can no longer migrate and mix which is crucial for their survival. Animals living in an enclosed space reach what is termed a “carrying capacity” – this is the number of animals an area can support without environmental degradation. When you have animals living in an enclosed space, you face issues with inbreeding (which can result in disease and sickness) and lack of food. As a British woman working from my design studio in London, I hadn’t a clue how overpopulation of animals on a reserve is managed. When a reserve reaches its carrying capacity, there are a few options. Simply put, you either need to have less animals or more space. You can remove some of the animals by culling/hunting (please, no!) or relocating them. The more hopeful scenario would be to expand their habitat…which is exactly what Wild Tomorrow does! Wild Tomorrow has a long-term plan to buy and connect land that borders next to its existing land, and this is what opening up the corridors means. Excitingly later this year, removing the huge fences separating part of Wild Tomorrow's 1300 hectare wildlife reserve from its neighbouring reserve Phinda which is 35’000 hectares is a moment Wendy and John have long anticipated. They’ll be welcoming in species that don’t currently reside on their reserve including rhino, lions, cheetah, elephants and buffalo. 

Why Dehorn a Rhino?
Poaching rhino for their horns is a huge issue and the horns have a market value of £250’000 (about $80k per kilogram on the black market). 95% of poaching happens in the national parks who don’t have the budget or capacity to dehorn their rhinos. Each day we learnt about a different challenge – one of the most memorable days was when we participated in the dehorning of a female rhino and her calf. Removing the rhino’s horn is done as a preventative measure to disincentivize poachers. I was shaken by the experience, but was assured that it’s completely harmless just like us having a manicure…although way more expensive!

What is Biodiversity and Why is it Important?
It means the variety life in an area - animals, plants, insects, microorganisms. Actually, one of the biggest challenges faced is the healthy balance of species. We cannot save elephants without saving termites. We cannot save pangolins without saving ants. And we cannot save any of them without saving wild areas from destruction. Everything within an ecosystem is connected in marvellously complex ways.

How Is Over Population Managed?
I was really shocked to learn how overpopulation is managed. I guess for a British woman working from my design studio in London, the thought of culling elephants is crazy. But to manage a population for the overall good of the survival of wildlife, making decisions such as these is an everyday part of conservation. The choices are to buy more land – which is Wild Tomorrow's strategy, or to cull, hunt or sell, each option presenting its own challenge.

What Surprised me the Most?
That Lions and Leopards eat Cheetahs! Cheetahs are hugely at risk of extinction due to habitat loss, climate change and hunting by humans. Siting a family of cheetahs was a highlight, they are stunningly graceful, playful and beautiful cats.
You Too Can get Involved!
Wild Tomorrow host biannual conservation experience trips for groups of 10 people – if you’re interested in wildlife and keen to learn about conservation I wholeheartedly recommend participating. They operate with full transparency, and you get to visit all the charities they support seeing first-hand how your donation is utilised. Enquire here. 
I am not an expert and there may be some facts that I might have misinterpreted, but one things for sure - I am excited to keep learning about conservation (and hope you are too!)