Words by Yolande Kruger, Pictures by Yolande Kruger & Penny Parker
Africa is untamed, rugged and breathtakingly beautiful. It offers the adventurous traveller a kaleidoscope of experiences that will imprint itself on the soul. From stark desert landscapes to lush green plains teeming with wildlife, Africa is unique in its diversity and sheer splendour.
Yet, sadly, Africa is also a continent mercilessly targeted by poachers which are stripping it of its wildlife and threatening one of its most majestic inhabitants with extinction. In the last decade, Central Africa has lost 64% of its African Elephant population as a result of the ivory trade. A staggering 30 000 elephants are killed every year, and these gentle giants are faced with a battle for survival.
Enter the all-woman crew of the Elephant Ignite Expedition, a group of passionate ladies from vastly different walks of life who embarked on a 16 000km, 100 day journey through 10 African countries to cast a spotlight on the poaching crisis. The expedition departed from Sibaya Casino and Entertainment complex in KZN on Women’s Day, 9th of August, and focused on community upliftment, youth education, public awareness of wildlife crime and poaching, and a fundraising drive to support the organisations that are fighting the battles on the frontline.
Travelling through South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi and Kenya, the ladies visited 37 conservation organisations and distributed 20 000 educational booklets to schools and communities along the way. The crew self-funded their participation costs and all proceeds from the fundraising campaigns were directed to the supported projects.
The Elephant Ignite Expedition was one of the conservation projects for 2016 of the registered NPO named Blue Sky Society Trust. Expedition leader of the trust, Carla Geyser, had this to say: “Each and every one of us has the ability to make a difference, no matter how big or small. We set out determined to ignite a fire in the world that could fight in the war raging against our wildlife. We finished 100 days later, stronger than ever, and more dedicated to do more. I am exceptionally proud and honoured to have organised and led this crew of amazing ladies with such big hearts, and to have raised awareness, connected organisations, and (I hope) come up with some solutions of how we can initiate change.”
The team consisted of six permanent crew members who completed the entire journey, and seven alternating crew who joined for shorter periods. Each permanent crew member had a stake in the planning; and, on the expedition, the duties were shared between all team members. A duty roster ensured that the workload was covered and each person pulled her weight.
The duty categories included cooking, washing up, maintenance, safety, and offduty. Maintenance involved setting up the camp chairs and tables, making the fire, and spraying all tents with a special mosquitorepellent. The Safety person had to charge two-way radios and GPSs for the following day’s use. She also had to remain with the vehicles during stops to ensure that no-one tampered with them, and run extra checks on locks or items left behind. Security is key when travelling in Africa.
Three fully-kitted safari vehicles sponsored by Avis 4×4 Safari Rentals/Overland 360 were the mode of travel and home for 100 days. The 4×4 Ford Ranger proved itself a reliable, all-terrain workhorse.
The ladies prepared for off-road driving under the watchful eye of 4×4 instructors, and braved a selection of difficult obstacles during their training sessions. These included rough ditches, fearsome hills, steep declines, rough sand, mud, and water. In spite of the added weight of a “mini motel” on the back, the Ford Rangers performed brilliantly.
There were nervous giggles and sweaty palms along the way, but the instructors had to grudgingly admit that the ladies actually nailed every aspect of the training – including tyre changes and basic mechanical fixes.
Travelling through some of Africa’s most scenic regions was one of the most memorable experiences for this tough-asnails group. Constantly on the move, they covered long distances under challenging driving conditions − but took it all in their stride with lots of laughter, the odd tear and an unwavering sense of sisterhood. For us, this was a mind-blowing and humbling journey. We hope we’ve “ignited” an interest in conservation and taking the road less travelled.