In a bid to raise awareness on rhino conservation, a former nurse and her husband are running, horse riding and cycling through Southern Africa, educating schoolchildren and speaking to game reserve owners along the way.
The team of Isabelle Wolf-Gillespie and Lloyd Gillespie passed through Cape Town early last week and are now up the west coast, closing in on the Namibian border.
It’s Isabelle who is doing all the hard work though, as Lloyd, who used to run horse safaris in the Eastern Cape, was advised not to partake in the hard physical exercise due an old injury, although the did train for the odyssey with Isabelle.
He is thus providing support and logistics for their Rhino Knights initiative, as Isabelle runs about 21km a day and cycles the remainder to make up 100km per day. The couple decided to hold the horse riding for now due to safety concerns for the horses on South African roads but will be incorporating horses in the journey once they cross into Namibia
On the way Wolf-Gillespie and her husband Lloyd Gillespie are visiting as many schools as possible where they talk to pupils about conservation and the importance of protecting the rhino, having addressed over 20 schools so far.
They are also visiting private game parks and discussing conservation techniques with the owners and conservationists as part of a southern African survey to determine the perception of the problem and perceptions of the best solution, said Lloyd.
So far, they have discovered that people are “very” divided on how best to deal with the scourge of rhino poaching, he said.
People wanting to contribute toward rhino conservation also ask how best to choose between so many organisations involved in conservation efforts.
Additionally, the different approaches organisations take toward conservation is confusing to many people.
However, Lloyd believes all efforts to protect the rhino are laudable, as long as public money is not being abused.
“The most important thing is that the bigger the voice (for rhino conservation), the bigger the demand to get people in power to make changes.”
One of the most divisive questions emerging from their survey was whether or not to trade in rhino horn as a means of limiting demand.
But he said they’ve been surprised how much they didn’t know about rhino conservation, despite having spent the last two years researching it, speaking to the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation and Magqubu Ntombela Foundation, with whom they are partnered, he said he’s found out he “knows nothing”.
“It’s highly complex. There are different stakeholders involved in rhino conservation and different ideas on how to go about it.”
No stranger to ambitious projects, the couple successfully circumnavigated South Africa on horseback in 2010 to raise money and awareness for African Horse Sickness before settling in the Natal midlands to plan their next adventure.
Lloyd said while there is a lot of confusion about rhino conservation, with about 200 organisations involved fighting for their conservation, what was most important was that awareness around rhino conservation was being raised.
Although over 300 rhino have been killed for their horns this year, with 668 killed in 2012, “where would be be if there weren’t 200 organisations fighting for rhino?”, Lloyd said. – Steve Kretzmann