women in conservation Archives - Rhino Review


By Conservation


“The more I work in conservation, the more I realize the strength and kindness of women and the enormous part they play in conserving mother earth,” Petronel Nieuwoudt states with confidence and conviction.

Passion, determination, caring, and conviction are qualities ingrained in this energetic conservationist, the founder and driving force behind Care for The Wild—Rhino Sanctuary (CFWRS). The sanctuary, near Barberton in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Lowveld, is totally devoted to the care and rehabilitation of African wild animals—and is also only one of a few specializing in the hand-rearing and care of orphaned and injured baby rhinos.

Aside from her immediate challenge of rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing orphaned rhinos, her vision is to secure a viable free-ranging African White and Black Rhinoceros population at the sanctuary as the nucleus population for future generations of rhino.

“I am often asked how I became involved in this work,” she says, “but you don’t get involved, you’re born with it. I reckon God appointed me to look after the animals, so you had better not get in my way.” There is a steely edge behind her ready smile.

Petronel started her career in the Endangered Species Protection Unit (a specialized unit of the Police), where she held the rank of captain. In 1999 she left the police service and started The Game Capture School. With more than 20 years of experience in the care and conservation of wild animals, she more recently consolidated her efforts in developing the sanctuary of today.

Time is of the essence to save orphaned rhinos. A dedicated helicopter is available to track, find, and secure injured and/or orphaned rhinos. The air rescue team is supported by a highly qualified veterinary team and ground support vehicles that transport the rhino to the CFWRS holding facilities. Most of the orphaned rhinos come from the Kruger National Park, where their mothers were poached.

The early and fragile stages of their rehabilitation and care are hugely important. “When a baby rhino comes in, it has been badly traumatized,” Petronel explains. “You must remember that it has just seen its mom being killed. There’ve been guns, noise, people, blood … .” So, there is an understandable fear of humans, and this has to be overcome. Trust has to be built before any orphan can be reintegrated with other rhinos.

Working with baby rhinos has its challenges, but so does the care and handling of fully-grown rhinos. And to this end, Care for Wild Rhino has developed a state-of-the-art rehab facility that gives injured and sick adult rhinos the best chance at survival and recovery.

Petronel also has a passion for helping and uplifting the surrounding communities in the area. Her heart is not only with animals but the people of Africa as well. Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary has created more than 300 jobs for previously disadvantaged people.

“Our work has to be inclusive of the surrounding communities; otherwise we will not be able to save the rhino from extinction,” Petronel remarks while walking through the newly developed vegetable gardens. She knows that if she can teach the mothers to grow veggies, she can give them hope and make sure their children will not go hungry.

Petronel also believes that the role of women in conservation is critical for future generations. “We, as women, look after and teach our children. They see the world through our eyes until they are big enough to see it through their own. Women are the hope for the future because they influence how children see their own destiny.”


By Conservation


“Until you dig a hole, you plant a tree, you water it and make it survive, you haven’t done a thing. You are just talking.”

If ever there was a “Mother of African Conservation” in modern times, it would have to be the late Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and the author of four books. Born in rural Kenya in 1940, this redoubtable woman had a distinguished academic career culminating in a Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy.

The first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, Professor Maathai became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate professor in 1976 and 1977, respectively. In both cases, she was the first woman to attain those positions in the region. She was also honored with honorary doctorates from several universities around the world, including Yale.

Wangari Maathai was internationally recognized for her persistent struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation. She addressed the UN on several occasions and spoke on behalf of women at special sessions of the General Assembly. She was also listed on UNEP’s Global 500 Hall of Fame and named one of the 100 heroines of the world. In June 1997, she was elected by Earth Times as one of 100 persons in the world who have made a difference in the environmental arena. Professor Maathai was also received honorary doctoral degrees from several institutions around the world: William’s College, MA, USA (1990), Hobart & William Smith Colleges (1994), University of Norway (1997) and Yale University (2004).

In 1976, during her service with the National Council of Women, she introduced the idea of planting trees with the people and developed it into a broad-based, grassroots organization. The Green Belt Movement’s primary focus remains the planting of trees with women groups to conserve the environment and improve their quality of life. During her life, Wangari Maathai assisted women in planting more than 20 million trees on their farms and on schools and church compounds.

Wangari Maathai’s dramatic story is eloquently told in the film Taking Root. It celebrates her simple act of planting trees that grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, protect human rights, and defend democracy.

This charismatic woman remains an iconic inspiration for all, but especially African women. Her encouragement continues to reach out. “African women, in general, need to know that it’s okay for them to be the way they are—to see the way they are as a strength, and to be liberated from fear and from silence.”


By Conservation


Growing up close to the Okavango Delta, living in harmony with nature and wildlife has always been an important part of Luwi Nguluka’s life. Now, as Awareness Manager of Wildlife Crime Prevention in Zambia, this energetic conservationist plays a key role in spreading awareness about the detrimental effects of the illegal wildlife trade.

Since 2017, Luwi has led a media campaign centered around the bushmeat trade, helping to make her fellow Zambians aware of the dangers of consuming meat from wild animals—a common practice in her home country. The illegal bushmeat trade is, in all probability, the single greatest threat to wildlife in Zambia, with bushmeat poaching reducing prey populations significantly over the last few decades.

Recently, the spread of the coronavirus underscored the risks of bushmeat consumption. “If the source really is pangolins, we need to start paying even more attention to this practice,” Luwi told the Shannon Elizabeth Foundation. “There is no reason why we should be eating pangolins or trading in their scales.”

Luwi has always been passionate about inclusivity and diversity in the conservation field and has made it her mission to help forge a gender-equal industry in Zambia. The Women for Conservation initiative—which gives Zambian women who work in or are interested in wildlife conservation a chance to meet regularly, share ideas, and support each other—was also initiated by her.

While Luwi was fortunate enough to grow up in a supportive family that encouraged her to pursue a career in conservation, she found it challenging to be taken seriously when she first entered the field. “I often walked into meetings where, at the back of my mind, I knew people were thinking that I’m just a little girl and that I can’t possibly know what I’m talking about. I felt the need to overcompensate by being slightly more aggressive than I ordinarily had to in order to be taken seriously.” Over time, however, Luwi learned how to make her voice heard, achieving much success along the way.

Luwi encourages younger women to enter the field of conservation, even if they have an academic background that doesn’t seem to fit. “There is no one-size-fits-all formula for getting into conservation. There are all sorts of jobs and opportunities available, so don’t let what you studied hold you back.”

On International Women’s Day 2020, Luwi’s message to the women of Africa is this: “There is nothing you cannot do if you put your mind to it. You are as capable, as equipped, and as powerful as anyone else on the planet.”