Matyholweni… in the bushOn the 17th March 2012, the WildREACH team embarked on a journey to Addo National Elephant Park with 16 inquisitive high school students on board. Filled with nerves, hope and excitement the children from various Grahamstown high schools began getting to know our WildREACH team on the bus trip. Every student had something about them, but one thing that stood out above the rest was their shared passion for animals.
We received a warm welcome at Addo from Derek and Etta Hewitt, two passionate individuals filled with the most intriguing knowledge of South Africa’s diverse ecosystem. While enjoying steaming vetkoek prepared by the Hewitts, the students were drawn in by Etta’s history on medical flowers and their extensive purposes. Smiles covered every face as certain plants were found to be close to home for most of the children. As Etta taught them, they returned the favour by giving the local names of the plants in their home languages. Before heading towards the elephant park, we were introduced to the local Golden Orb spider. Mesmerised by the reflective web, the children began jotting down notes on their first encounter of a foreign species.
With the elephant park approaching, we were informed that the park is the most bio diverse park in the world. With an array of unusual plants, and even more unusual animals, the children entered the park with anticipation proudly wearing their WildREACH t-shirts. As the local Addo dung beetle was passed around the two busses, the journey of learning to appreciate our delicate and beautiful environment began. The children’s’ notebooks started filling up with exhilarating animal encounters such as spotting an elephant grazing, zebra and ostrich roaming, and Pumba the warthog ambling around the park. Etta and Derek were an endless supply of fun facts, keeping the children on their toes. With sweets to be won, the spot quizzes kept all ears open and filled the busses with a comical atmosphere.
We reached our own watering hole where the kids enjoyed hotdogs as we chatted to them about their experience in the park. I was captivated by Nobhthembu, a girl in Grade 9. I found out that this was her first encounter with the African bush. Her description of the whole experience moved me, making the day so worthwhile. “Something about the smell of the air, I felt connected to nature and smelt fresh air for the first time in my life. I am now the proudest South African.” After lunch we were treated to a presentation by Naledi, a student doing her practical work at the Addo National Elephant Park for her Game Ranging diploma. Her presentation opened our minds to the possibilities of working in a conservation park. She inspired the eager listeners by explaining all the different career paths and positions within the elephant park. After her presentation, Tim took the stage with an exciting presentation on what WildREACH is all about and why protecting our wildlife, and diverse ecosystems, is so important.
While heading back to Grahamstown, we quizzed the children one last time, handing out the grand prize of chocolate and biscuits. The children proved that they had not only been introduced to an array of now plants and animals, but to a new appreciation for our wildlife too. The best part was that we as the WildREACH team not only taught, but we learnt so much too… That is the beauty of being wild enough to reach out.By Sarah Taylor - WildREACH Media Representative.