FreeMe Wildlife works on the preservation and protection of wildlife affected by human-wildlife conflicts. It focuses on rehabilitating and releasing wildlife as part of biodiversity protection, management and species reintroduction programmes into previously altered landscapes. The organisation is also involved in community and citizen science projects such as the Owl Box Project, which increases awareness for the role nocturnal predators play in an ecosystem, and the Islands of Hope Programme, working with schools, eco-estates, and nature reserves to link wildlife corridors and green spaces. FreeMe Wildlife runs education and outreach programmes, teaching a 12-month biodiversity programme from grassroots level up, facilitates children’s camps and presents talks to schools, clubs and the like. The facility is permitted to work with all indigenous wildlife species in Kwazulu-Natal, including endangered, threatened and protected species. Representatives sit on the national South African Bird Ringing Scheme Committee and the national lead task team, working on protocols to combat the threat lead poisoning has on the environment and vulnerable species such as cranes and vultures. FreeMe Wildlife is the only wildlife rehabilitation centre providing DNA samples to the South African National Biodiversity Institute as part of its Barcode of Wildlife and GEFF7 projects, which assists officials with implementing the Cites regulations to prevent the illegal poaching and trafficking of endangered species. On a local level, the organisation also assists law enforcement in providing necropsy reports for poaching incidents. The focus of FreeMe Wildlife is to inspire an involved and educated empathy for wildlife and the environment.
What’s been your/the organisation’s greatest achievement in your field?
Wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and release, as well as public education and engagement.
Please provide specific examples of how your organisation’s practices and work have a positive effect on the environment
- Species reintroduction programmes: increasing biodiversity.
- Research: submitting data, morphometrics and DNA samples that not only assist with species research and conservation but also with the South African National Biodiversity Biobank and GEF7 projects.
- Training and teaching programmes: increasing the understanding, appreciation and conservation of biodiversity and the environment.
- Establishing green corridors.
- Community projects: create an awareness for the dangers of poisons and encouraging environmentally friendly pest control.
What are some of the biggest environmental challenges faced by South Africans today?
A lack of connection to the environment and an understanding that a healthy environment equates to a healthy population. Ignorance of the value of wild species and biodiversity, and not viewing wild animals as either food or a threat, but understanding that life is all inextricably linked, and every creature has a role to play in the environment and that healthy ecosystems are reliant on species diversity. Clean air and water and healthy soils start with encouraging life, not destroying it. Biodiverse environments need to be protected and preserved, not exploited.
Our theme this year is Celebrating Environment Heroes. What do you believe could be the repercussions for millions of people in South Africa and the continent if we do not tackle problems exacerbated by climate change, encompassing issues like drought, floods, fires, extreme heat, biodiversity loss, and pollution of air and water?
The repercussions of not tackling these problems are that there will inevitably be a fatal effect on people. Our environment will become hostile to our survival. It will become more and more difficult to sustain agriculture and food security. Homes and jobs will be lost. Diseases will become more prevalent. Clean water and air will become scarce resources. Mental illness will become more prevalent as the deep connection to the natural world is destroyed.