The seduction of nature

By Jamie Joseph
I have a muse. His visits are as rare as a leopard sighting, but when he does claw his way through my mind, it’s a sudden rush of the senses that steals my breath and sends me rummaging for a pen and paper.
I’ve spent the past few months in Southern Africa, darting between poaching crisis writing assignments, and on the 4th of January I flew out of Zimbabwe and returned to South Africa’s Limpopo bush. Throughout the month of January I will be contributing my storytelling skills to the Youth 4 African Wildlife Internship, and I will also be picking up a few new skills, this time behind the lens of a DSLR camera.
Youth 4 African Wildlife is a four week internship directed at young adults between the ages of 18 and 29. The internship is a unique opportunity to live and learn amongst Africa’s iconic species, but what really piqued my interest was that this internship integrates conservation with communications; social media, photography and documentary film making.
There are two American students of the bushveld participating in this programme, and it’s great to see young people from outside of Africa take such a keen interest in protecting Africa’s most precious. Mary, age 26, has a background in psychology, and has spent the last few days researching and observing the emotional behaviour of rhinos and elephants. She flew in from California via Nairobi, Kenya, where she spent a week at the David Sheldrick elephant orphanage. Yesterday we took a little road trip and visited The Rhino Orphanage, where I was based for ten days in October, and it was an opportunity for Mary to compare the behaviour of rhino orphans to elephant orphans.
Billy is just 18 years old, and fresh out of school he is at a crossroad in his life; to either become a ranger, or start a music label. This is Billy’s third trip to the African bush, and it was suggested on the third night, over a few bars of hip hop, that he use music as a force for good and write some lyrics about the plight of Africa’s wild. There is certainly no lack of inspiration around us.
Guided by our terrific Team Leader Fortunate M. Phaka, I’ve spent these past few days taking my first ever photographs with a camera that has a zoom and aperture settings. Finally, I have seen the light! I used to think taking photos would be a burden; that it would distract me from the narrative, but in hindsight I do believe it’s making me a better writer. We’re spending six hours a day in the bush, and I don’t always pull out the camera, sometimes I just lean into the moment, but it really is a burst of pleasure to look back at the photos I do take, and say with a reminiscent smile, “Yes, it’s all coming back to me now…”
dragonflyPhoto credit: Jamie Joseph
And ‘zoom’ is now my new best buddy, because it means I can pay more attention to the little things, literally, like yesterday when I zoomed in on a dragonfly. Usually it would just be this thing that buzzes past, but now I am starting to see beauty in the details. And I see things in angles, moving in stealth mode, poised to pounce on the perfect shot.
We’ve watched the cheetah brothers attempting a hunt, giraffes necking, fish eagles swooping, impalas brawling, and rhinos just cruisin’, but my favourite so far has been an elephant herd of ten enjoying themselves at a watering hole. The herd is led by a young matriarch, and she is acutely attentive to the little ones. I watched, fascinated, as she patiently helped one of the teenagers slurp water. Her devotion is undeniable.
Matriarch_little_guyPhoto credit: Jamie Joseph
ele_muddy_feetPhoto credit: Jamie Joseph
As the family moved away from the watering hole they ventured straight past our Land Cruiser, so close they could almost reach out with their trunks and touch us. Once again, amongst the stillness of humans, I could hear my breathing start to rise; a slow, deep pant, like it had many other times during my close encounters with elephants. To be in the presence of giants; so powerless, and yet so in awe of them, is an extraordinary experience. Driving back on the red rocky road, like a rollercoaster before the plunge, I felt my muse come to me; that rare rush of the senses, and once again I scrambled for a pen and paper, succumbing to the seduction of nature.
Elephants epitomize all that is good about family, which makes it even more heart wrenching to think about all the families that are torn apart every day, and the thousands of elephants every year that witness their mother, their father, or their siblings murdered by the hand of man.

This is murder in the name of greed, blood ivory in the name of status. And in the race for new Asian thinking, the youth of China and other demand countries have a vital role to play. They need to tell their parents and their grandparents that enough is enough! How does it honour their culture to decimate mother nature’s creatures?
The sins of the father must end in this generation.

Jamie Joseph is a writer and environmental activist currently reporting from the frontline of Africa’s poaching crisis. Follow her journey on and through Facebook and Twitter.
fortunate_rhinoPhoto credit: Fortunate M. Phaka
billy_landscapePhoto credit: Billy Challenger
mary_lionPhoto credit: Mary Obeyd