Book chronicles efforts to save injured and orphaned animals in Africa

12/01/10 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:


Africa is known for its herds of wild animals – but many of them are endangered because of hunting, habitat destruction, and climate change.

WMNF spoke with an author who visited a wildlife foundation in Namibia that rescues injured and orphaned animals. Barbara Bennett is professor of English at North Carolina State University. Her book about the experience and the family that runs the Harnas Wildlife Foundation is called “Soul of a Lion – One Woman’s Quest to Rescue Africa’s Wildlife Refugees.”

"It was started by a woman named Marieta van der Merwe who was originally a cattle farmer, but she started rescuing wild animals. Injured, orphaned, abandoned wild animals in the late 70's and eventually sold off her whole cattle business and turned all of her land and all of her energy toward this animal sanctuary. Right now she has over 400 animals, like lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes. meerkats, baboons. It's a pretty amazing place, she's giving all of them a second chance at life."

And you mentioned a lot of different animal species there, why are there so many orphaned animals in Africa and in Namibia?

"The animals arrive there in different ways, sometimes they are orphaned because their mothers are shot by farmers or poachers and they find that there's a baby clinging to the mother baboon, or there are cheetah cubs and rather than just shoot the babies which used to be done because they can't take care of themselves, Marieta has convinced local people in Namibia to bring her the animals and let her raise them so that's one way. Sometimes they're caught in traps and unfortunately a large number of them were pets, that people thought it was a really good idea to have a baby leopard in their house and then it got out of hand and they had no place to send this half tamed leopard so the animals arrive there in different ways but they all have one thing in common is that they have no place else to go and would probably be dead if it were not for Marieta."

In addition to just saving these individual animals they've also done, on this farm, some captive breeding, how could that help these species?

"Well, for example, the African wild dog is the second most endangered carnivore in Africa. Most people don't even know or recognize this animal and it's dying out so quickly and so she's doing this breeding and finding new places to release these packs of dogs so they don't go completely extinct. You know, you mess with one little corner of the web and everything else is affected and she's trying to help maintain that balance."

And it's not just charismatic animals that you think about when you think about Africa, lions and cheetahs, it's also things like hyenas, isn't that right, at this ranch?

"That's right, she has hyenas and warthogs, you know, crocodiles, she's got some animals that you wouldn't think of as worthy of being saved or they're not cute and cuddly so people aren't drawn to save them but, you know, every animal in the chain is necessary and she sees the importance of saving all animals, whether or not they're the animals you would pick to cuddle up to."

We're speaking with Barbara Bennett, she's the author of "Soul of a Lion". Barbara, tell us about your experiences there, you were a volunteer at this farm and what were some of the memorable experiences that you've had there?

"Well, yes, I went first as a volunteer, I wanted to do something kind of meaningful with some time that I had off. I did everything from feeding baby baboons bottles, I cleaned enclosures, I had one amazing experience where I had gotten very close to a couple of female cheetahs and I slept out in their enclosure with the one night and they just cuddled up and purred with me all night long, it was just magical, and there are some times I have some scars to show for some encounters that didn't go so smoothly but it has been worht it. It's changed me, it's made me a different person, a better person by having involved myself in the lives of these animals."

If our listeners want to learn anything more about Namibia's endangered animals, where can they go to find out?

"The first place to go would be to the website of Harnas, that's and you can find out how you can help, you can find out about individual species and what danger they're in. There's a lot of good information on that site, you can find out how to volunteer like I did. Go to Namibia and see for yourself."

Harnas Wildlife Foundation

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