When Simon Wilson entered our #MedivetRhino photo competition via Facebook last year, he never expected to be chosen to fly out on a dream trip to South Africa.
So when he received a phone call from us to congratulate him on his winning entry, he was undoubtedly over the moon.
In May, we flew Simon and his wife and daughter out to Port Elizabeth to stay with Dr William Fowlds, our Medivet Saving the Rhino project co-ordinator, and we recently caught up with them to find out what they got up to on their adventure, and why they called it a “trip of a lifetime”.
Day 1 - Sunday 21st May
When we arrived at the lodge in Port Elizabeth, we were greeted by Amber and Francois, both members of Dr Fowlds’ team. The lodge has been home to the Fowlds family for generations, and the relationship between vet, conservationship and the land are incredibly important.
We enjoyed watching warthogs later that day whilst relaxing at the lodge’s swimming pool.
Day 2 - Monday 22nd May
We met Will Fowlds, supported by Medivet, whose passion for the animals he worked with was infectious and deep rooted. We had the privilege of joining Will and his team on his mission to sedate and move two male Buffalo – not a straightforward task in the morning mist. When caught, we were given the opportunity to actually administer injections of antibiotics and vitamins to these majestic and huge beasts; not a usual Monday morning task back home! We were immediately struck by the respect the whole team had for each other and for the animals they worked with and lived among. That afternoon saw our first game drive, which was amazing. Our path was soon passed by a cheetah family, before seeing zebras, elephant, giraffe and our first encounter with the most majestic animal of all, and the focus of our adventure; the endangered white Rhino. We then enjoyed a sundowner, as the sun set across the plains of Amakhala, with our guide telling us the stories of the place and the animals; context is everything.
Day 3 - Tuesday 23rd May
We visited the Medivet Rhino Rehabilitation Enclosure, which has been sponsored by Medivet’s clients through the donations they’ve made to the campaign. We saw how the facility helps rhino survivors and orphans, as well as the important role Medivet play in rescue and rehabilitation work. This was a fantastic opportunity for us to see the difference being made.This visit was then followed by a session with Will Fowlds, where he talked about the challenge of protecting the rhino from poaching. Will is involved in a number of projects aimed at stopping poaching directly and indirectly, by challenging criminal gangs and trying to reduce the demand of the rhino horn by raising awareness. We explored ideas about how we can raise awareness when we returned home in the UK.
We then went on an afternoon game drive and we made our first encounter with the majestic lions, as well as a group of elephants.
Day 4 - Wednesday 24th May
We went on a walking safari (and learnt a lot about what animal poo can show us!), then visited the Coaching for Conservation project, which gives local children an insight into issues relating to conservation and anti-poaching. We learnt a game based on the plight of the rhino, which our daughter will take back to her own school. Their slogan was “respect yourself, respect each other and respect your environment”.
Later that afternoon, a river cruise brought a different video of the beauty and residents of the reserve, as well as three encounters with the rhino!
Day 5 - Thursday 25th May
We went out with Will and his team to assist an immobilisation procedure with buffalo.
Then we visited the new anti-poaching village where we saw the anti-poaching plane and drones in action. The use of modern technology to try and combat an age-old problem is vital in this project.
Medivet clients have helped to fund a Bloodhound Doberman “cold scent” tracking dog, named Ella, who will help the anti-poaching unit track where poachers have been and gone. Sadly she was away on a training course, so we didn’t get to meet her.
We also had the privilege of joining Will and his team on an emergency visit to another reserve to a family of cheetah, but despite best efforts, the team and drone did not find them. We learnt that there is a lot of waiting and watching for wildlife vets!
We finished the day with a sunset game drive, where we saw a big group of giraffe and watched the sunset on what is known as 'God's window', where you can see most of the reserve. It was awesome!
Day 6 - Friday 26th May
We enjoyed our final sunrise and breakfast on the reserve before saying our goodbyes.
We are so grateful for the opportunity to share in the life of the game reserve, for the friends that we made, for Will Fowlds and his team of committed and dedicated staff.
We had a wonderful trip to South Africa. We came away inspired by the work going on to protect the rhino and other endangered species, but shocked by the reality of poaching. We will never forget this adventure, and this trip will always be in our hearts.
Thank you Medivet!
It was a pleasure to sponsor Simon’s trip to South Africa. We’re delighted he and his family had such a wonderful time, and that seeing the reality close-up has inspired them to want to help.
If you would like to help us, Will Fowlds, and the Wilderness Foundation Africa to continue making a difference, please sponsor a few pennies to our Saving the Rhino campaign, either by visiting your local Medivet practice or online here.
Thank you everyone for your continued support – together we will put an end to this awful wildlife crime.