Just before the World Tour event at Jeffrey’s Bay kicked off, three times World Champion Mick Fanning and reigning Women’s World Champion Tyler Wright decided to take a trip that took them beyond surfing – a trip that took them into the pristine South African wilderness on a mission for something much bigger than just waves.
It was a journey taken to help support and learn more about up-and-coming conservation organisation WildArk – all done from the vast expanse of the stunning Pridelands Conservancy, just outside the town of Hoedspruit, South Africa.
For Mick, an ambassador for WildArk, this was his second trip with the organisation. Just last year he travelled to Alaska to help raise awareness for the pristine Bristol Bay wilderness, under threat from Pebble Mine. For Tyler, it was a first-time and one-of-a-kind experience.
The journey started on Pridelands, a 4500-hectare former buffalo hunting farm that WildArk founders Mark and Sophie Hutchinson of Australia are rehabilitating into a wildlife conservancy. The couple’s mission is to drop fences into the adjacent reserve to extend the wildlife corridor of the Greater Kruger region, in line with the company’s mission to create more space for biodiversity worldwide.
“Coming to Africa to see Pridelands was something I had dreamt of,” said Mick. “To be able to see for myself the difference between this property that hasn’t had elephants on it for 60 years, versus the other more natural systems next door was eye opening. It’s crazy to think that it’s only some wire and a few wooden poles separating the wildlife on one side of it from this pristine wilderness area on the other and it’s time to let them all in.”
“The focus of this trip was to showcase the different aspects of South African conservation, both the opportunities and challenges,” explained WildArk founder Mark Hutchinson. “We hoped to take the athletes on an educational, fun and inspiring journey, meeting the people on the ground who are doing what they can for wildlife.”
After spending a day on Pridelands, the duo visited the neighbouring York Private Nature Reserve where the fences were dropped to the Greater Kruger many years ago and is now home to free roaming elephant and other big five game.
On York, they were introduced to warden Rian Ahlers who heads up anti-poaching for the property and delivered an overview of the challenges in the area.
“You’ve heard about all the bad stuff that’s happening to the wildlife in Africa but to come out here and see what’s going on first hand, gives you a greater appreciation for just how much work is going in to preserve these areas for future generations to enjoy,” said Tyler.
The team then visited the South African Wildlife College to meet with Colonel Otch Otto who heads up the tactical command and control centre for all operations within Greater Kruger Environmental Protection Zone GKEPF.
The facility, combined with its resident K9 unit, well trained field rangers and aerial surveillance fleet, all play a key role in anti-poaching operations of the Joint Protection Zone.
At this stage of the trip there was a special demonstration from the K9 unit tracker dogs – a demonstration that revealed the dogs’ expertise in sniffing out rhino horn as well as apprehending a ‘poacher’. The role of poacher was played by Mick Fanning, who dressed in a protection suit before being tackled to the ground by one of the trained dogs.
From here the team headed to Londolozi, a commercial safari lodge that epitomises luxury in ecotourism in South Africa to show how wildlife can be protected through tourism, education and community. The impact of the experience with WildArk in South Africa was significant and recognisable.
Mick and Tyler both relished the time away from the pressures of their daily lives and jobs, to be out in nature, connecting with the wilderness and experiencing some amazing wildlife. The knowledge gained from learning about efforts being made by both local and global initiatives to protect and conserve species and biodiversity for future generations was truly immense.
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