I felt lost when we moved from the Kalahari and did not know what to do with myself. As my arms began to heal I realised what a terrible mistake I had made in giving up the work at the KRC. But it was too late to go back and I was now stuck in suburbia where I did not want to be. I do not want to rehash all the reasons why we sold, just to tell you a little of what we have been up to since leaving the KRC and what our thoughts are for the future.
I tried to find animal welfare work around me and seemed to come up against a brick wall every time. The SPCA didn’t need, or have anything for me to do. The Penguin Sanctuary and Monkey sanctuary were both too far away for me to be of any help there. So what was I going to do?
That year I was kept busy organising special and successful evenings for the donkeys. The next year I raised money for the Rita’s baboons in Limpopo and Francois Hugo’s seals in Cape Town.
With so much time on my hands I used to read a lot about the work done by Sea Shepherd. I loved Paul Watson’s aggressive and no- nonsense attitude and one day I asked Chris if he would mind if I went away for a month and volunteered for Sea Shepherd. (He unkindly claimed that he would be happy to get a rest from me for a month-I’ll get him for that!) So I applied, was accepted as a volunteer and off I went. Here is that little story:-
The Sea Shepherd ship, named the ‘Steve Irwin’ after the famous Australian TV conservationist, was docked in Melbourne harbour and there the crew of volunteers was working hard to prepare her for her next campaign to stop the illegal whaling by the Japanese in Antarctica.
Volunteer work for Sea Shepherd was brutally hard work. Melbourne was cold and windy, with misty mornings and some rain during the month I was there, making working conditions very uncomfortable.
The crew was made up of young volunteers from all parts of the world. At the age of sixty, I was by far the oldest crew member. By comparison, the ship’s manager, Ben, was only 25 years old. So I was concerned that I might not be able to fit in. But I need not have worried. There was an initiation ceremony. This meant jumping off the high side of this 53-meter-long vessel into the icy cold, dark and dirty water of Melbourne harbour. I decided that, to prove myself to the younger generation, I had to enter into this madness. So off came the shoes and the jumper, and over I went, shouting “make way for granny”. The surprised look on the kids’ faces made it all worthwhile, even though I thought I was about to have a heart attack when I hit that freezing cold water. I swam to the side and got out but couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering. That leap bridged the age gap and from then on I was accepted as a fully initiated crew member.
The dedication of the permanent crew was an inspiration and I really felt that I was in the company of like-minded people. These young activists are not paid, and all their food comes by donation. We ate whatever was donated, so if no one donated, say, fruit for a week, we went without fruit. The onshore volunteers were people living and working in Melbourne who devote their time after work to come and help on the ship. We had carpenters, welders and even those who just came to do a late night watch for us, to give the ship volunteers a chance to get some sleep. The ship did tours, but only over the weekends. Visitors used to bring food with them.
Because this is a working ship it would be difficult to do tours with so much work going on during the week. On the weekends we tidied the ship a little and showed visitors around. We were given one and a half days off a week to go and do what we wanted. Because I am not so fond of cities I spent most of my days-off working on the ship.
Duties started at 9am after breakfast. They included, welding, carpentry, chipping rust, painting, cleaning, and sorting out the tools. Everyday chores included mopping the galley floor, scullery, sweeping and mopping the passage ways, garbage removal, and cleaning the heads (bathrooms).
Everyone had to do these chores at least four times a week over and above the other jobs. So every week we would put our names down on a schedule.
Out of compassion for animals, no animal products were consumed on this ship. Meals were all vegan, and Zin, the young lady who cooked for us, was wonderful. We often came down for lunch or dinner and there would be scones, muffins or chocolate chip cookies. Great treats. I have never tasted such wonderful choc chip cookies and I have never seen cookies disappear so quickly.
Watches were either four or six hour duties. The ship had to have someone on watch 24/7 and these were allocated to the volunteer crew every week.
My favourite watch was 8pm to midnight and the one I did not like was midnight to 4am. I never seemed to be able to sleep before or after that shift.
I was lucky enough to have animal welfare friends in Melbourne, Phil and Trix Wollen of the Winsome Constance Kindness Trust. Phil is a successful merchant banker who donates millions to deserving animal welfare groups all over the world. Kindness House in Melbourne is a multi-storey commercial development funded by the Trust and given free of charge to animal welfare groups. It was a privilege to meet and spend time with such a motivated philanthropist.
He and Trix very kindly took off a day to drive me out to the Healesville Sanctuary, where I saw some interesting and delightful Aussie wildlife. A lovely sanctuary, also run with volunteers, clean and spacious, and the animals looked very contented. I even got to tickle a kangaroo. Of course the Koalas only tucked their heads in deeper to their tummies when I told them that I wanted to take them home with me. I never got to see their little faces.
Melbourne city is very clean and has a great cosmopolitan feeling, with lots of restaurants with their outdoor tables and chairs. For a vegan it is wonderful. No matter where I went in Melbourne, I was able to get soy milk in my coffee or hot chocolate. The supermarkets cater to vegetarians and I could see it would be a pleasure shopping for vegetarian food in Australia.
It has been an incredible experience, truly wonderful to work with such dedicated young people and I am so proud to have been given the opportunity to be a shepherd even if it was for so short a time. May the Steve Irwin and her selfless crew go full steam ahead and help save all the whales now and in the future.
When I returned home I was all inspired by the dedication and upbeat attitude of the volunteers on the ship. I decided to continue with volunteer work. The next volunteer work I was to do was to help out at CROW, the Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife, in Durban. I knew they were always busy and needed help. I flew from George to Durban and spent two weeks there, working hands on with the birds and animals. Very interesting to see how other people run a rehab centre. I learnt a lot, even though my experience was with Kalahari wildlife, whereas most of CROW’s rescues are of garden birds and small mammals.
When I got home I told Chris that I no longer wanted to spend my life in suburbia and that I wondered if he would be interested in selling the house and moving to an area where we could set up another rehab centre. Having learnt a lot from my many mistakes I would do things differently the next time.
As always Chris was open to my suggestion and ready to back me once again and we put the house on the market. We spent a little time travelling around the Baviaanskloof looking around to see if we would be able to afford to buy a farm there once we sold our house. This is a wilderness area of outstanding natural beauty. See www.baviaanskloof.net
What was great about the many trips up to the Baviaans was that I met a lot of the local people and went in to meet the practicing vets. The next thing I knew I was getting calls from the vets to fetch raptors that had come into their surgery. I rehabbed a jackal buzzard and two steppe buzzards which was so rewarding especially seeing them released and again seen many months later. I coloured the tip of the tail feathers with mercurochrome so that we could recognise them.
So to close off, we were fortunate enough to sell our house in these tough economic times, and buy a little piece of wilderness (175 ha) in the Klein Karoo near Ladismith, where we can rescue and help the wildlife in that area. I specifically want to start a vulture breeding program because all the Cape Vultures have, over the years, disappeared due to poisoning etc.
Chris was up in the Addo Elephant Park only to see rotting carcasses and no vultures. Time to help bring them back and if that is all I ever do with the rest of my life it will be worth it. So now my life’s ambition, if given a second chance, is to start a breeding program for the Cape Vulture and hopefully, in my life time, see them back flying in Addo Elephant Park and the areas they used to inhabit.