A decade or so ago, travel and adventure filmmaker Alti Fouché was disillusioned with rhino conservation projects. Despite her team risking their lives exposing the tragedies of poaching, she had seen few results. Recently she reconnected with nature and the rhino cause through the important work done by Insimbi Legacy Projects.
Rhino poaching. Honestly, I feel that should be enough of a call to action. I reckon we all have a responsibility to contribute to the conservation of our natural world. In fact, the situation is now so serious that each and every one of us should be getting actively involved in some way. As a travel and adventure filmmaker, I have recently undertaken to change my entire approach to content creation to ensure it is centered around raising awareness about conservation efforts. But rhino conservation? It has become a loaded term with such terrible stigmas surrounding it that I tend to steer clear of the subject altogether.
From 2010 to 2013, when the rapid growth in rhino poaching numbers was shocking everyone around the world, I was working as an investigative journalist on an environmental television show that made quite a few attempts to expose the corruption that was feeding the fire. I will never forget the last story we produced on the subject. We worked closely with an inside informant as well as the authorities and put some of our crew’s lives in very serious danger for this exposé. The operation was successful: we set up a sting where we managed to sell a rhino horn to a foreign government official right in front of the Vietnamese embassy. And we caught it all on camera.
At the time it felt like a breakthrough and that it was absolutely worth the risk. But then the case died a slow, suspicious death and none of the exposed parties suffered any consequences. Rhinos were still being poached at an unprecedented rate and the statistics continued on that terrifying upward curve for a few more years. If I think back to it a decade later, I am of the impression that none of our efforts made the slightest difference. I blamed the whole rhino poaching saga on nothing more than greed and a lack of consequences for those found guilty. Back then, I realised two things: when the authorities that should be protecting our wildlife are the same authorities who are enabling the illegal trade, then there is nothing I can do about it as a filmmaker. And secondly, that stories about these issues – no matter how serious or graphic – don’t magically shock people into getting involved in the fight. If anything, it intimidates them right out of it.
So, I turned away from investigative journalism and have simply been trying to showcase the beauty and the importance of our balance with nature, hoping that positive conservation stories and examples of how one can make a difference will inspire people to get involved. I’d like to think this approach has a more positive impact in general, but I know for a fact that it is a lot easier on my mental health.
All of which explains why I was in two minds when I received an invitation to partake in an “Adventure With A Cause” weekend. This would be a weekend away where you are actively involved in anti-poaching efforts and every cent of profit goes towards rhino conservation. I had been completely out of touch with the rhino situation, but when I saw the itinerary, I was sold. There would be rhino monitoring, foot and vehicle patrols, telemetry, tracking, an obstacle course, tactical shooting, survival techniques, stargazing, wildlife conservation and game drives. It all sounded like a proper adventure. Just as I started wondering if I would be up to the challenge physically, I saw that you only have to be moderately fit and children are also very welcome. So I should be fine.
The Insimbi Initiative
The “Adventure With A Cause” weekend is an initiative by Insimbi Legacy Projects (ILP), a non-profit company founded by Carmela Lattanzi in 2018. Carmela’s vision is for private rhino owners to work together with law enforcement authorities and prosecutors for one cause: to prevent rhino poaching on private land and to protect as many individual animals as possible. Even though there are some statistics indicating that the poaching is declining in the national parks, research suggests that nearly half of South Africa’s white rhinos are now in private hands. So, all things considered, this vision seems to me a sound one. What’s more, while we are still working on edging out the corruption within our legal system, prevention is part-way to cure.
The weekend was hosted at an undisclosed location in Northern Limpopo, and it really was a superb experience. The first order of business was a game drive with Michelle Hurley, field guide and rhino whisperer. We got to spend time watching the rhinos while Michelle told us some interesting stories about the individuals. Information sessions and activities were hosted by Group 73 and Anton Jongbloed, who has a law enforcement background and is the Operations Director of ILP. Group 73 is a collaboration of highly skilled individuals from various backgrounds including but not limited to the SANDF Special Forces and the SA Police Special Task Force. All G73 training is facilitated under the management of former Special Forces Major, Joseph McIntyre. I really appreciate the fact that these highly skilled people care enough to not only dedicate their lives to the cause, but also to volunteer their free time to make initiatives like this one possible.
On Friday night Anton briefed us on preparation, the property, patrol techniques and hand signals, and then we went out on a real foot patrol. This is when guests are directly contributing to anti-poaching efforts as these weekends take place over the full moon and extra boots on the ground scare off potential poachers.
Saturday was action-packed, starting with an earlymorning game drive followed by a delicious breakfast. The tactical shooting was definitely a highlight. Anton is clearly very passionate about firearms, and after an overview on weapon safety we each had a turn to engage in a mock contact situation with targets representing both poachers and hostages.
We also had a survival class, where we learned valuable things that can easily mean the difference between life and death. First we built a shelter and made fire with nothing but a flint, then we were shown how to treat a bullet wound, how to collect water from thin air, what communication signals to use for air support, how to determine if something is edible, how to navigate direction by day or night – and a bunch more.
While the skills learned are a valuable take-away, it was also a unique opportunity to meet like-minded people. The fact that we took part in the activities in groups definitely made for a few laughs. That said, even amidst all the fun and adrenaline Anton never let us forget the seriousness of these reallife situations which field rangers find themselves in all the time. Protecting rhinos is a war in the true sense of the word. In the late afternoon the organisers hit us with a simulated contact scenario, and we tried our best to apply all the new knowledge and skills we had at our disposal to handle a situation when under pressure. I don’t want to spoil the surprise for anyone intending to join one of these weekends, but I can say that it was an unexpected experience that I’ll never forget.
Sunday was a leisurely morning where we did individual memory tests and learned how to approach a crime scene and collect evidence in a manner that would allow it to hold up in court. I have never before even thought of half the things included in this adventure, and now I feel confident that if I had to find myself under similar circumstances in real life, I would be an asset to the situation and perhaps even be able to save a life.
I can recommend this “Adventure With A Cause” to anyone who wants to break away for a weekend and experience something new and interesting rather than lazing around a pool. I think it is especially important for families with older kids. This will no doubt blow their minds, and if we’re lucky it could just inspire them to get involved in conservation. It takes only one spark to start a fire. It is also nice to know the money you have spent on the experience goes straight back into protecting these privately-owned rhinos.
Are You up for the challenge?
Join Insimbi Legacy Projects for an adventure-filled weekend in which you will personally be involved in rhino protection and conservation, while making memories walking in the shadows of these magnificent creatures.
15 – 17 April 13 – 15 May
9 – 11 September 7 – 9 October
4 – 6 November 9 – 11 December
• Standard Adventure with a Cause package: R3 150 per person sharing (R3 780 for single)
• Family package (2 adults and 2 kids under 12): R7 300
• 4 x adults sharing one unit: R11 500
• Corporate Sharing rate (exclusive weekend): R3 950 per person
• Corporate Single rate (exclusive weekend – min 6 guests sharing): R4 200
*The two-night package includes accommodation, meals, T-shirt and a certificate for each particpants. It excludes drinks (cash bar available).CONTACT: +27 83 448 5820 | email@example.com