Rhodesian-born Julie Anne Edwards, founder of the Hoyoko Wildlife Trust, has been actively involved in the conservation of wildlife for the past 25 years.
Her book Hoyoko tells the story of how in 1987 she and a colleague set off riding bicycles across Africa, from Glasgow, Scotland to Zimbabwe. This was to help save the Black Rhino in the Zambezi Valley from severe poaching, raising more than one million dollars for Zimbabwe’s Rhino Survival, “Operation Stronghold” Campaign. In 1991 she rode on horseback through the rugged Zambezi Valley from Kasane to Kariba following the course of the Zambezi River, visiting rural communities and giving talks to school village children. On this trek she saw the last rhino in Chete Safari Area. In 2010, she launched out across the Kalahari with her team on horseback to raise funds for the development of high security rhino sanctuary and expansion ranges.
Julie recently spoke to Exclus1ves’ Graeme Shackleford about her remarkable and important work.
EB: For our readers who are unfamiliar with you and your work, can you describe yourself in 20 words?
Julie Anne: Doing my part in my life in any way I can to help our natural world and wildlife. It requires all the help it can get, as we continually drive out the wildlife to expand further and further with urban development and ever increasing human population. Hokoyo Wildlife Trust www.hokoyowildife.org and www.julieannedwards.com sums it up.
EB: What inspired you to take up the cause of wildlife conservation?
Julie Anne: It came from a young age with my love of the great African outdoors and my love of animals. In 1986, having travelled to spend time with the Kalahari Bushmen and returning back to civilization, I witnessed the changes taking place in my own country after independence where there was suddenly an influx of humans. The environment was being destroyed to make way for housing and development, and suddenly that freedom seemed so much further away. The air in the towns was polluted; people had little regard for the nature around them and were only hell-bent on making a living out of it, never mind the consequences. To me it seemed disrespectful to the land, people, wildlife and country. The Bushmen valued water as their gold!
EB: Your book Hoyoko contains many personal stories of a life lived close to the land and all its creatures. Your deep love for the wildlife of Africa has inspired much courage in you, evident by the fact that, in 1987, you and your colleague Charlene Hewat, set out from Glasgow, Scotland, on bicycles to cross Europe and then head down into Africa! Can you tell us how that came about?
Julie Anne: People who read my book will understand the story in its entirety, but basically this passion for nature came through from my parents and from growing up in Rhodesia and spending my adult years in the now Zimbabwe. I also recall an environmental film I once saw at school when I was 9 years old. The school I went to only had 12 pupils and was located in the bush. The film we watched was on pollution, and how shocked I was at the sight of the over-development and waste from human expansion and development. Noise, air, environmental pollution! I sure was glad to be living in Africa away from all that development in the big cities of developed countries.
EB: I’m sure that a trip that epic must have many good memories for you. Is there anything that stands out, anything that you would consider the most memorable event while on that trip?
Julie Anne: Meeting Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick, Peter Jenkins, and other wildlife celebrities including George Adamson; visiting some of the National Parks and rhino sanctuaries of East Africa; crossing the Nubian Desert in the Eastern Sahara in northern Sudan; cycling all the way down the Nile River from Port Alexandra to Aswan… to name a few!
EB: How did your journey change you as a person?
Julie Anne: I have done many journeys from the time I was born, exploring the African landscapes. I was not changed as a person by the Ride for Rhino – it merely reinforced how I was brought up: to be conscious of our heritage, both wildlife and cultural; to work together to protect and safeguard this from over-development. Communities must have a voice in this, as they are the very people living close to the wildlife. It was wonderful to finally see East Africa and its wildlife. I learned a lot about by interviewed by so many journalists and seeing so many famous people and all the exposure we got. But, like I said, this did not change who I was or who I am today. I use this now for the benefit of conservation.
EB: Can you tell us about the work that you are doing now?
Julie Anne: I’m establishing sanctuaries specifically focusing on the Black Rhino through my Hokoyo Wildife Trust – Wildlife Safari Adventures for Rhino Conservation with a percentage of profits all going to rhino conservation and development projects to support community and the rhino.
EB: The poaching of wildlife is something that occurs all the time, but only sometimes makes the evening news. The poaching of rhinos, given the sordid events in the headlines in South Africa at the moment, is something that has everyone talking. Do you think that governments and the law are doing enough to aid conservationists in their work?
Julie Anne: This is not about governments and the law doing enough to aid conservationists. It is the responsibility of all governments and people to respect their wildlife heritage and protect biodiversity, for in the end humans depend on this for our very survival i.e. clean water, jobs through ecotourism development, rural communities depend on the natural resources for their survival. The poaching of Africa’s wildlife is seriously out of control with ad hoc poaching now on an even larger scale than before. In Zimbabwe for example, now that the farms are not producing sufficient food, communities have turned on the wildlife for sources of food, some even eating baboons! Hunting in the National Park, especially elephant and plains game. Animals are being caught in snares and dying a tragic death. Wake up, world, to the responsibility of taking care of the indigenous resources – if we call ourselves civil human beings we must all do our part!
EB: How can members of the general public get involved in conservation and anti-poaching efforts?
EB: Part of the proceeds from the sale of Hoyoko are donated to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is a wonderful thing. How else can people support your work?
Julie Anne: Visit www.hokoyowildife.org – we have a list of projects which people can support
EB: Do you have a message for our readers?