Safari Camp Stories: The Last Decade, New Beginnings

by Sophie Barrett, guide at Garonga

From the whole team here at Garonga Safari Camp and Little Garonga, we would like to start off this blog wishing all our guests (past, present and future) and readers the happiest of new years and a very very happy start to a new decade! The start of a new year is often a time for reflection and resolutions. We re-evaluate our lives and our habits and promise to do better over the next twelve months. My plea to you all is to make this the year and the decade where our changes are focused on living environmentally consciously and sustainably.

At their outset I think the 2020s promise to be a decade of change, there is a distinctive whiff of potential in the air – and there needs to be. In her last Instagram post of 2019 Greta Thunberg said, “This coming decade humanity will decide it’s future. Let’s make it the best one we can. We have to do the impossible. So let’s get started ”.

African Wild Dogs, IUCN Red List, Garonga, Safari CampAfrican Wild Dogs, IUCN Red List, Garonga, Safari CampAfrican Wild Dogs, IUCN Red List, Garonga, Safari CampAfrican Wild Dogs, IUCN Red List, Garonga, Safari CampAfrican Wild Dogs, IUCN Red List, Garonga, Safari CampAfrican Wild Dogs, IUCN Red List, Garonga, Safari Camp

African Wild Dogs listed as Endangered with extinction on the IUCN Red List, estimated adults remaining in the wild 1,409 © Sophie Barrett

I find it humbling that a girl who, just this month, has turned 17, who is not yet considered an ‘adult’ by the standards of our society has taken up the mantle to teach those of us who have spent decades more inhabiting our planet about the peril our planet faces due to our  own actions.  In December 2019 Greta became the youngest ever recipient of the Time Magazine Person of the Year Award. She received the award for succeeding in “creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change. She has offered a moral clarion call to those who are willing to act, and hurled shame on those who are not.” and: “For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads.”. Not a bad CV to have all before you have left secondary school.

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Cheetahs listed as vulnerable with extinction on the IUCN Red List, estimated adults remaining in the wild 6,674 © Sophie Barrett

Now Greta is, bizarrely, considered to be a controversial figure. For those who are climate focused and climate aware she is often hailed as a hero whilst other see her simply as a profit of doom, a modern-day fear-monger. But whatever your personal thoughts on her she is undeniably having an impact. Greta has seen the science and the conclusions drawn by ‘more qualified’ individuals and, instead of turning away from it as the rest of us are wont to do, she is calling for action and gathering followers every day. Regardless of whether you agree with what she is saying or not Greta has managed to put climate change on the agenda and that is a pretty impressive feat for a schoolgirl.

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African Savannah Elephant listed as Vulnerable with extinction on the IUCN Red List, estimated to be extinct in the wild by 2040 at current rates © Sophie Barrett

I am often asked by guests how I came to find myself in the wilds of the African bush and I answer that conservation is my driving passion. I cannot bear the thought of living in a world that we no longer share with elephants, rhinos, lions, giraffe, cheetah, wild dogs, pangolins and countless other breathtakingly incredible species. Aware as I am of how horribly pressing the time-frames that we are dealing with before we lose these species in their entirety are, I would not be able to sleep at night if I wasn’t trying to prevent such a soul wrenching loss from happening. The question that quickly follows is usually a bewildered, but what difference can you as one person really make? And it is a fair question but one that I think entirely misses the point. As humans we are capable of pretty much anything we put our minds to, we just need the right motivation and the most incredible feats can be achieved. The eternally wonderful Jane Goodall once said “What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make.”. At the beginning of this decade I am sitting and reflecting on my ability to make a difference. Often we are only limited by what we believe is possible. I look at young Greta and smile seeing the impact that one girl is making on the world. Another of my inspirations is Lawrence Anthony, a man who didn’t take no for an answer and achieved things for the protection of animals that even if I list them here will inspire incredulous cries of ‘not possible’.

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African Buffalo listed as Near Threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List, population trend decreasing © Sophie Barrett

It is an immense privilege to have my job, to spend my days searching for and quietly observing and interpreting the lives and behaviour of species whose very existence is threatened by the way we live our lives. Nature has unbelievable lessons to teach us, it reflects the best parts of ourselves. One of the main lessons is patience, but mixed in you will find tolerance, love and joy. The more I observe the more I marvel at the remarkable balance that exists in nature with each species fitting like a puzzle piece amongst its neighbours. I believe we have a responsibility to these species as well as to ourselves to fight to ensure that the start of the next decade is not the start of their last.

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Lion listed as Vulnerable with extinction on the IUCN Red List, further listed as “possibly extinct” in much of its former range © Sophie Barrett

So, finally the immortal question of what can we do? How can we help? The human population is reaching scary numbers. Estimates are that by 2050 we will number 9 billion humans, I think seeing that number in digits gives an idea of how terrifyingly vast it is… 9,000,000,000. Change starts with a resolution, with one small step and with a determination to alter the code by which we live our lives. All I can ask of you is to make your 2020 resolution: ‘Be kind to our planet’. Recycle, where products or packaging are not recyclable take them back to the shop you bought them from and make them their problem to dispose of, it won’t magically make them recyclable but at least it will bring awareness and trigger motivation to stop creating non-recyclable packaging!

Eat locally and sustainably, be mindful of the carbon footprint of your food. You don’t have to suddenly become vegan but try and eat fruit and vegetables that are grown locally and are in season. Make sure your meat and fish is being farmed sustainably and is not travelling across the world to get to your plate. Think green, make use of public transport where you can, as the weather improves walk or cycle to your destination. Take bags from home to the supermarket, if you forget take your trolley to your car and load your shopping loose. Take note of the natural beauty around you and look after it. Educate those around you and encourage others to make these small life changes too. Ditch single use water bottles and make the effort to avoid single-use containers be they coffee cups or food packaging.

As John Lennon said “Imagine” if by 2050, 9 billion people have made these small changes that will be a hell of a change to be a part of. And okay, we need to be realistic by 2050 it is highly unlikely all 9 billion individuals will have made these changes but all change starts with one brave person and change is often infectious. Imagine what impact we can have if half or even a third of the world population is living with respect for the environment by 2050.

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Leopard listed as Vulnerable with extinction on the IUCN Red List, further listed as “extinct” and “possibly extinct” in much of its former range © Sophie Barrett

As the motivation for change increases and gains momentum I can’t wait to see what technological advances we come up with to combat the issues we, our planet and all those we share it with are currently facing! For those social media savvy readers you may well have taken part in the #10yearchallenge at the end of last year. I am asking you to set yourselves a new one, one that looks to the future and to all the positive change we can make over the decade to come. Happy 2020 – let’s make it count!

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Temminck’s Ground Pangolin listed as Vulnerable with extinction on the IUCN Red List, population trend is decreasing. Pangolins are the most trafficked animal in the world © Sophie Barrett

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© Sophie Barrett