Planet Earth is in dire need of solutions. Astronomer Carl Sagan once said that we have a responsibility "to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." Our campaign Saving Earth focuses on nature and wildlife conservation and this column will feature stories on the pressing needs of our planet and hopefulness of our fight.
When it comes to saving the planet, the fight goes much further than one person. However, a few individuals lead the way, notably, conservationists in different parts of the world who work to raise awareness about the threats against wildlife. Personalities like Jane Goodall and Sir David Attenborough have been leading the way for many years, and there are other conservationists who do the same.
Two of those conservationists are Marlice van Vuuren and Dr Rudie van Vuuren, who established the Naankuse Foundation Wildlife Sanctuary in Namibia. You may have heard about the sanctuary since Hollywood darling Angelina Jolie has long been supporting Naankuse. In fact, Jolie and her then-husband, Brad Pitt chose the sanctuary to become a partner of the Shiloh Jolie-Pitt Foundation, in honor of their Namibian-born daughter.
The sanctuary was founded with the aim of conserving the land, cultures and wildlife of Namibia and accommodates orphaned and injured animals that cannot be released safely back into the wild. Animals including leopards, lions, cheetah, wild dogs and baboons are all housed in purpose-built enclosures. It also works to improve the health and well-being of the ancient yet marginalized San Bushmen of Namibia, to prevent land degradation and stand at the forefront of human-wildlife conflict mitigation by undertaking critical conservation and research projects to ensure a thriving future for Namibia’s majestic wildlife.
MEA Worldwide (MEAWW) caught up with the van Vuurens to discuss their work and what lies ahead for the future of conservation work. For Marlice, wildlife conservation was always a part of her life -- her parents had worked for the rehabilitation of injured and old animals. She also grew up closely with the San people and is one of only a handful of White people who can speak one of their languages.
The van Vuurens believe that with the advent of social media, the conversation around wildlife conservation has become easier as "you can reach billions of people in a few hours," which they believe helps the goal of conservation. They also believe that the fight against climate change and the fight for conservation needs to be mentioned in the conversation as climate change is a function of technology and population size. Rudie tells us, "In Africa, we suffer a lot from climate change though we don't contribute to climate change," adding that Namibia had recently gone through one of the worst droughts in 180 years.
They also believe that there needs to be continued research and that the research needs to produce evidence that has to be made public and get traction. They also add that high-profile people must drive the message home and praised Jolie for the work she does in helping promote the Naankuse Foundation Wildlife Sanctuary.
The current situation -- the ongoing coronavirus pandemic -- is rooted in humanity's lack of respect for wildlife according to the van Vuurens, as we put animals through tremendous trauma. Rudie, who is a physician, told us, "When we cross the animal-human barrier, we have to live with the consequences of that. Illegal wildlife trade [stresses the animals] and their immune systems change, the pathogens change. Those changed pathogens are harmful to us but it's our own fault."
While the pandemic has disrupted normal life, it hasn't stopped the van Vuurens's work in conservation, though they caution that there are different elements that are being taken advantage of, leading to an increase in poaching and illegal fishing. They also add that their funding has come to a total standstill because much of their funds came from ecotourism and was the drive behind their conservation work.
Rudie also tells us that governments need to buy into the protection of biodiversity and take the evidence that researchers produce and make legislations. He adds that they need to take a firm stance against the illegal wildlife trade and to protect the environment.
If you would like to donate to the Naankuse Foundation, you can go here. You can also "adopt an animal" at the sanctuary, sponsor education for the San Bushman children, or sponsor a patient at the Naankuse Lifeline Clinic.