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Published in the Northglen News on Friday 30 March 2018

The world’s last surviving male northern white rhino

Umhlanga resident and conservationist, Carla Geyser, has expressed her sadness at the death of Sudan, the world’s last surviving male northern white rhino. The rhino died after months of poor health, his carers said in a statement. Geyser is the founder of the Blue Sky Society Trust, an NPO working to preserve and improve life for people, animals, and communities in need. Sudan, who was 45 when he died, was suffering from a string of infections in his advanced age.

His death comes as rhino populations around the world teeter on the brink of extinction, largely due to poaching. According to reports, only two now remain – his daughter, Najin, and granddaughter, Fatu. Sudan was brought to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya from a zoo in the Czech Republic in 2009. Geyser, who met Sudan during the Elephant Ignite Expedition in 2016 said meeting Sudan was an unexpected honour for both her and the team.

Shock and sadness at the death of Sudan

“It was a bittersweet experience, as we all felt completely embarrassed and disappointed in the human race that we had done this to him. I cannot describe that feeling to you in words, when you are there staring extinction in the eyes, listening to his heavy breath which is now no longer. It`s a very emotional and helpless feeling. It was also a wake-up call for us. If we don’t act now this is what could happen to our southern white rhino, our elephant, our pangolin, our lions and the list goes on. Extinction is forever.”

Save these species from extinction

“I firmly believe that each and every one of us has the power to make a difference. I try to do my part by leading humanitarian and conservation expeditions in and around Africa. You may be involved in education or online media. Together we are stronger and we need to work hand in hand and come up with solutions to try and solve this open festering wound that we have created. We still have so much worth fighting for.”

Phinda Elephant immobilization

This article is part of a series of journal entries from the Elephant Ignite Expedition, 2016. 

DAY 2: The following morning was an early start at 06h30. Simon had arranged for the EIE crew to be involved in an elephant immobilisation, which was hugely exciting for all of us. I remember telling Natalie Dumbrill, an EIE crew member from the UK, that it wasn’t normal to be a part of an immobilisation before you even saw an Impala. This was her first trip to Africa and it had already been a mind-blowing experience for her. The vet, Mike Toft, briefed the crew on what was happening, why it was happening, and how to act. You could have heard a pin drop.

The reason for the immobilisation was to take blood from a Cow as part of their Elephant Contraception Programme. Mike and the aircrew set off in the helicopter to find her, and the rest of the ground crew jumped in the back of the Phinda vehicle and sped along the bumpy roads, hanging on for dear life to get to where they’d found and darted her.  She went down effortlessly, and Dr. Toft and the Phinda crew immediately jumped to work, measuring her padded feet (which elephants use to communicate over great distances by subsonic vibrations), taking blood samples for DNA, and measuring her tusks.

Up close with an elephant

It was so surreal, as well as being my first experience of being up so close to an elephant. Let’s not forget that these animals are wild and a female cow can weight up to 4 tonnes. She was still quite young and wasn’t yet fully grown. As soon as all the work had been done, Dr. Toft ushered us back to our vehicle so that he could administer the antidote to wake her up. The safety of the elephants is always a priority and Phinda run a very slick operation in making sure that the elephant is under as little stress as possible.

It was incredible to be able to touch her leathery skin, feel her glassy teeth, smell her warm breath, and hear her snore and she lay there on the ground while being measured and assessed so that the team could gather data to learn more about her.

After a quick helicopter flip, we drove to another section of the Game Reserve where we watched the team take off the foot collar of a six-year-old Black Rhino that was going to be moved to another location. Black Rhinos are angry animals, and he went down with a fight. After taking the collar off, and treating a few wounds that occurred during the immobilisation, he was back on track. Taking his anger out on every poor sapling and bush that was in his way, he eventually trotted off and disappeared into the thick bush.

Our first border crossing into Swaziland

Charlie then gave the EIE crew a quick lesson in how to fix a tyre puncture with a puncture repair kit, as well as how to change a tyre. After the crash course, we were confident that we knew what to do! We were on our way again – towards the Swaziland border post of Golela. The town of Golela is situated on the southern border with Swaziland, 45km from Pongola. Formerly spelt Gollel, the name is of Swazi origin, said to mean ‘place of game’. This was a hunting ground of the Nyawo tribe in former times and was also the place where the Swazi and Zulu kings use to meet to have an ‘indaba’.

We stayed at  Brown’s Tented Camp in Royal Jozini Big Six Estate that night, which is a rustic campsite located in the foothills of the Lubombo mountains and overlooks the northern part of Jozini Dam. The terrain was exceptionally dry and you could see the drought was most definitely taking effect on the animals and vegetation. Digs Pascoe from Space for Elephants came to chat to the crew, and Jay and Ruth (who run the camp) joined us for dinner. The night was FREEZING, and the air was filled with the calls of Fiery-necked Nightjars, the high pitched cry of a Black-backed Jackal, and the faint grunting of a hippo in the distance.

A few weeks back, I mentioned that it’s been a year since the Elephant Ignite Expedition – a year since we left South Africa, turned the key in the ignition, and pointed our Avis Safari 4×4 vehicles (aptly named Courage, Hope and Love) north, for a life-changing adventure… I haven’t had the courage (until now) to put our journey into writing – it was such an intense, personal experience for me. I still sometimes feel like it was all a dream! Today is the first of many journal entries about the expedition – I want to share the incredible work that we did, as well as the wonderful organisations and projects that opened our eyes, and the brave unsung heroes we met along the way. So here we go…

Departure Day: Tuesday 9th August 2016 (Women’s Day)

The line of vehicles and Harley Davidsons snaked their way towards Ballito on the M4 road…such an emotional sight. They gave us a final wave and a hoot and then veered off in another direction. Their short escorted trip had ended and ours was about to start. We were on our own. The drive to Thula Thula went quite quickly and as you can imagine, there was quite a lot of banter on the radio – going over the day’s proceedings, some laughter, and so much excitement in the air. Yolande Kruger and Shannon Saunders were driving with me in the front. And we were taking turns to drive as reporters kept calling for last-minute comments about our journey.

The drive to Thula Thula took about two and a half hours. Once we arrived, we went straight to the Rhino Orphanage (which was sadly attacked earlier this year and has since closed down). We met with the team that was in charge of looking after these tiny orphans – a heartbreaking job and a reality-check because our wildlife is constantly in danger due to poaching. It was also a strong reminder of why we needed to go out there into Africa in the first place, and support these organisations that are protecting our wildlife.

Afterwards, Francoise Malby Anthony (wife of the late Lawrence Anthony ) put on a spread for lunch (even the monkeys were trying to get at the food) and arranged for a game drive to go and see “Lawrence’s elephants”. As you can imagine, Nana, Frankie, Mandla and the rest of the herd put on such a great performance. It was like they knew what we were doing and had to come and wish us a safe journey. The energy that surrounded us was tangible. We did a few interviews with the 50/50 team under the acacia trees and then departed for Phinda Game Reserve, where we were spending our first night at Bayete Camp.

We arrived after dark…

On the dust road to Phinda, we had lost the 50/50 crew, so I had to go and find them on the road to Sodwana. We eventually found them and drove them back to where we were setting up camp. Camp setup was a chore that we would have to do for the next 100 days. It was our first night of sleeping in our vehicles, so it took a while for everyone to set up their beds.

Afterwards, we sat around the fire and chatted to David Bozas, Simon Naylor (Phinda Farm Manager), Cilla Pickering (Elephant Researcher) and Charlie Thompson (Phinda workshop). It was so interesting listening to David telling his stories of the elephant encounters he’d experienced alongside Lawrence Anthony. The sparks from the fire floated upwards like dancing fireflies and the stars flickered in the night sky. This was the start of our daily experiences in  Africa.  Ildiko Bischott, our EIE crew member from Netherlands, celebrated her birthday in true African style with a fine feast, and then we all settled into our “beds” for the night with full stomachs and happy hearts.

Elephants Alive Carla Geyser
“My life is insignificant…I need to do more.”

That’s what I was thinking when I started Blue Sky Society Trust in 2012. I’ve always been a big dreamer, but it was time to do something – something big. There had been a strange emptiness in my soul that I needed to fill – that void that lives in some of us; what’s sometimes referred to as a ‘mid-life crisis’. I was on the downhill slope to 40, and the time for change was now or never…  I thank my lucky stars every single day since making that frightening, life-changing decision.

The thing is, I had no financial support, no backup plan; I just knew that I needed to do something sooner rather than later. Some people go out and buy fancy cars, or go on lavish holidays … my big leap was to jump feet-first into starting a non-profit organisation that raises money for humanitarian and conservation projects! I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew in my gut that it was the right thing for me to do.

Ever since an early age, I remember wanting to go and join Greenpeace, and throw myself in front of Chinese shipping trawlers in the hope of saving a whale. Fast-forward a few years, and I’m making a difference in my own little unique way. I like to think that I am a person that tackles life’s little challenges in a very distinctive and creative way…Carla Geyser adventure travel

Life-changing decisions and adventures

I have a very active mind that never stops planning means and ways to raise money for worthwhile projects. As you well know, one of these ideas was my Elephant Ignite Expedition that I headed up last year. I cannot believe that it’s been nearly a year since we left South Africa, turned the key in the ignition, and pointed our Avis Safari 4×4 vehicles (aptly named Courage, Hope and Love) north, for a life-changing adventure…

My eyes were opened to so many organisations, people and projects that are doing incredible work, with a never ending flow of challenges that are thrown at them on a daily basis. I was inspired by the work these brave people are doing. It left me wanting to do more.

This year, I’ve been cabin-bound, plotting and planning incredible expeditions for next year. It has been a challenge, both emotionally and financially. Africa always seems to clear my head and feed my soul, but this year I haven’t had my fix. As you know, I’ve started a fundraising project called ‘Journeys with Purpose’ where I’m linking adventure travel with conservation projects, and I am currently working on four exciting unique adventures for 2018.

Elephants Alive Carla GeyserAdventure Travel and Conservation in Africa

I’ve also partnered with Want Expeditions, who are a tour operating company based in USA. I’m not a tour operator – I’ve always just wanted to take people into Africa to experience her beauty and raise money for projects whose stories need to be told. One of the organisations that I’m currently raising money for is Elephants Alive, and we are running a Givengain campaign at the moment – trying to raise money for a 40-year-old male bull elephant called “Matambu”, who is partially blind in both eyes and needs an eye operation to save him.

I’m not sure why I’m so desperate to help this guy. We all know that I LOVE elephants and that their compassion and family orientation inspires me; maybe it’s that, but maybe I feel Matambu is heading towards that 40-year-old ‘something’ crisis that a lot of us go through, and needs our help. If you are able to assist in any way, please donate? Even if it’s a few pennies, cents, or quarters. Every bit helps.

In the next few weeks, I will be blogging about my Elephant Ignite Expedition – I haven’t had the courage to put our trip into writing yet. It’s something that I need to do ……but something I have been reluctant to share because it was such a personal life-changing experience for each and every Elephant Ignite Crew member. I still sometimes feel like it was all a dream. I hope to give you some insight to the incredible work that we did and to the wonderful, brave unsung heroes we met along the way.

Carla Geyser Sunset cruise LivingstoneI look forward to travelling with you someday and letting Mama Africa creep into your soul!

Asante Sane,

Carla Geyser

Soul 2 Sole Shoe Drop at Phikiswayo Junior Primary School
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On Wednesday 24th May, our teams set off in convoy from Durban in the early morning, heading for the Ntunzuma / Newlands area for a special shoe drop delivery of new school shoes for Phikiswayo Junior Primary School. On arrival, with the help of students from Clifton School and Durban Girls College,  we jumped into action, setting up branding, making sure the shoes were laced and packing the gift bags of shoe polish and socks so that distribution would run smoothly.

The headmistress hustled the children into a line outside the prefabricated classroom to receive their much-needed shoes. The students from Clifton and Durban Girls College got stuck in, interacting with the children and placing new shoes on their feet. Afterward, Milena addressed the children, and Thuli translated to make sure the message was received and understood. Principal Ndaba then addressed the children and ‘Soul 2 Sole’ crew…

Soul 2 Sole Shoe Drop at Phikiswayo Junior Primary SchoolSoul 2 Sole Shoe Drop at Phikiswayo Junior Primary School

 

A heartfelt thank you

The Phikiswayo Primary School teachers, parents, and pupils would like to extend their most sincere gratitude to Blue Sky Society and Lion Match for their donations to our needy pupils. We really are appreciative of the relationship that you have formed with our school and our pupils. Our learners are now able to attend school daily and have gained a sense of pride in their school – this is all due to your initiative. The school, as well as its pupils, hope to meet with you again in the near future. You really have left a mark. Thank you again for your efforts. They are truly appreciated!
– Z. Ndaba (Principal of Phikiswayo Junior Primary)

In total, the pupils of Phikiswayo Junior Primary School received:

  • 100 pairs of school shoes
  • 100 units of shoe polish
  • 100 pairs of gray socks

Shoe drop success!

About Soul 2 Sole

It’s still hard to believe that in South Africa, there are over 7 million children who have never owned or worn a pair of brand new school shoes. These children have become accustomed to walking barefoot through our rough Africa terrain. In an ideal world, each child should have a pair of shoes to protect their feet from the hard ground, hot tar, or muddy puddles.

For most western children, a pair of shoes is not a luxury, and children grow up accustomed to having many pairs of shoes, and so they take shoes for granted. The essence of the ‘Soul 2 Sole’ project is to provide a pair of shoes to as many of these children in South Africa as possible. This small gesture can make a profound impact on the dignity of the child, and also give them hope for the future.

It all starts with a pair of shoes. Blue Sky Society Trust started the ‘Soul 2 Sole’ initiative in 2014, and this is the second year that we have partnered with Lion Match Group on this worthwhile project. There is nothing quite so humbling as handing over a pair of new shoes to a child knowing that this one small gesture can impact and improve their lives.

 

Soul 2 Sole Shoe Drop at Phikiswayo Junior Primary SchoolSoul 2 Sole Shoe Drop at Phikiswayo Junior Primary School

elephant collaring
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“You just have to get in your car and turn the key to travel into Africa.”

Those were Kingsley Holgate’s words to me, and it really is that simple. People are often afraid to travel through Africa, completely unaware of the vastness and beauty that lies beyond what they’ve seen on TV.

I started Blue Sky Society Trust in 2012 to raise funds for humanitarian and conservation projects around Africa, and started taking people with me on expeditions, to share my passion and open people’s hearts and minds to what Africa has to offer.

elephant collaring

Conservation Expeditions

With Kingsley Holgate as a mentor, I learned how to keep a sense of humour when travelling through border posts or road blocks, as well as why you should avoid travelling in the dark (animals tend to migrate to the road for warmth). Along with the tricks of the trade, he also taught me to slow down and enjoy the experience.

So in 2016, I led the Elephant Ignite Expedition, travelling 15,787km over 100 days, through 10 countries (South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya) – proving that an all-female expedition could safely travel through Africa.

It was incredible to see the life-changing effect that the journey had on people. Africa gets under your skin…into your soul. And I realised that I wanted to share this with more people, to share the life-changing experience of adventure and travel combined with hands-on work that makes a difference in the world.

Kasungu Waterpump

Adventure + Travel + Making a Difference

The purpose of the Elephant Ignite Expedition was to raise awareness and funds for elephants to fight the ongoing elephant poaching crisis, and in 100 days, we visited 37 different wildlife organisations doing incredible work, and donated over R400,000 to six elephant projects where we met the teams on the ground, and saw first-hand the wonderful work that they’re doing.

And now in March 2018, I’ll be leading the Journeys With Purpose expedition through remote parts of South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, taking a limited number of people to some extraordinary places and conservation projects.

Every expedition is once-off; never to be repeated. It’s not for everyone though – it’s a fundraising initiative so you might have to get your hands dirty, help paint a school, or build a beehive fence. But it is a unique experience – sitting under the African sky, taking in the sunset and stars, cooking over a campfire, and listening to hyena cry in the night alongside the call of jackals…

Don’t miss out

If a 4×4 self-drive adventure gets your heart going, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to journey with purpose. We’ll be collaring elephants, visiting Tuli Wilderness Camp and the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, canoeing at Mana Pools, and taking in a few world heritage sites along the way…

Contact Carla Geyser on carla@blueskysociety.co.za to find out more!

* Originally published by Embark on a journey with purpose through Africa