Conservation is at the forefront of every conversation right now, as Africa is paving the road to becoming the conservation continent. All eyes are on us to ensure our words are being put into action, and where some of us do it from the continent itself, others, like Thornybush Co-Founder Jennifer Fox is tackling the conversation from a more global scale.
As she travels between her homes in the UK and Hoedspruit, South Africa we managed to catch up with our very own anti-poaching wonder woman for a quick one-on-one to find out her views on conservation, what she’s up to and help share some insight as to what’s happening on the ground at Thornybush.
Conservation to me means many things but can be summarised as a shared responsibility to safeguard our natural world. In practical terms, it means ultimately protecting, preserving and managing all the natural resources such as the plants, animals, their habitats, and the resulting delicate ecosystem that weaves it all together.
I believe conservation is also all about adopting long-term sustainable practices aimed at maintaining biodiversity, which in turn prevents the extinction of species, and ensures the long-term viability of ecosystems for future generations of both animals and humans so that we can pass on a thriving planet. I strongly believe we all have a duty to do so.
I don’t have a pre-determined Conservation role at Thornybush, (I am supposed to be retired LOL!!), but you never retire from your passion; so I view my role as one of the long-term owners, to bring a wider international audience to appreciate and want to protect the wildlife at Thornybush, and for all of the African continent, but particularly South Africa. Some call me a Wildlife Ambassador.
That first step in conservation is almost always, to promote a curiosity and passion for the wildlife for a wider population that possibly has never been on safari or even knows much about wild animals and their habitats. It is often difficult for someone who has never seen a wild animal living free to truly appreciate how beautiful it is, and therefore want to protect it. Once they have come and seen it with their own eyes, then the wildlife has another automatic Ambassador for them.
One of my regular joys is watching a first-timer on Safari seeing the wildlife and the bush with their own eyes for the very first time. They always have their breath taken away with the beauty. I never tire of the wonderment in their eyes, even after 28 years!
I think Thornybush plays an essential role in conservation at large, in that we are all about protecting biodiversity, conserving wildlife populations, and promoting sustainable practices within the region. We have been very dedicated to conservation efforts in South Africa for many decades in 5 key areas.
We have always focused on the conservation and preservation of diverse African wildlife species, including the Famous Big Five (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo) and numerous other species. The reserve works tirelessly to maintain healthy populations, protect their habitats, and ensure their long-term survival. Examples have been the re-introduction of Black Rhino, Cheetah, Civet etc to name but a few.
Thornybush actively manages and restores habitats within the reserve for example controlled burning, erosion control, invasive species management, and reforestation to maintain and enhance the biodiversity and ecological balance of the area.
Poaching continues to pose a very significant threat to wildlife populations across South Africa, particularly for animals like rhinos that are targeted for their horns.
We employ some highly skilled anti-poaching units which include our K-9 unit, which I am particularly excited about. The dogs have added a formidable edge to our anti-poaching efforts in the fight to protect our species and are highly successful as a deterrent to would-be intruders. We also invest a substantial amount in advanced technology and surveillance systems, including drones, to combat poaching activities and protect endangered species.
Wildlife cannot exist without the communities being engaged in also wanting to protect it. We have long recognized the vital importance of actively engaging with local communities to ensure the success of conservation efforts. The reserve works with nearby communities to provide education (help in the schools), employment opportunities (in our lodges & on the Reserve), and initiatives (such as village vegetable gardens that flourish) that promote sustainable livelihoods. This helps to build support for conservation and reduce human-wildlife conflicts.
Thornybush continues to contribute to scientific research and monitoring programs with other Reserves, NGO etc, aimed at understanding ecosystem dynamics, animal behaviour, and the impacts of any conservation strategies that we adopt. This data is used to inform management decisions and improve conservation practices not only for us, but other Reserves across South Africa too.
All my adult life, I have focused on counteracting wildlife crime in Asia, which means trying to bring awareness in Asia and the Middle East, NOT to buy Ivory, Rhino Horn or Pangolin for example. When I lived there for many decades, I gave weekly presentations to Embassies, Business Delegations and Schools.
Today, I am focusing on 3 main projects: minimizing our environmental footprint by Conserving water, energy, usage and other resources by being mindful of our consumption.
This first step is to come on a safari and see our beautiful reserve! As a guest, getting out and engaging in some of our conservation programs is a must. Taking a tour to the Community Village, or seeing a demonstration from the K-9 unit. These are impactful experiences that really bring home the bigger picture of what we’re trying to do. Even more so after you’ve experienced a Big Five game drive and felt the magic of the African bush we are trying so hard to protect.
Follow Jennifer Fox as she spreads awareness via her Instagram account here.