In the Bush, At Close Range
By Rola Tassabehji, Contributor
How One YPO Member is Contributing to Wildlife Conservation
Ten years ago, Dex Kotze, co-founder and owner of jewelery company Jenna Clifford Designs (Pty) Ltd, decided to shift his life priority from his business to protecting Africa’s diminishing wildlife. Leveraging his 30-year career and network in the private sector, he has since embarked on a journey fed by his deep passion for Africa’s wildlife and wildlife photography.
“Although luxury jewelry is still my main business, over the last few years, I took the view that at the end of the day how much you give back is what matters and began to apply my business skills to the conservation world,” says Kotze. “I considered the population upsurge — by 2100, Africa will be home to 4.4 billion people, four times its current population — the detrimental affects of climate change and on top of that the current poaching crisis and asked myself how can I make a difference?”
As a parent with three daughters, Kotze recognized early on the potential of engaging youth using film and powerful social media platforms to bring about change to Africa’s depleting wildlife. In 2012, he began a conservation internship program for young adult children of YPO members so they can become global ambassadors to wildlife conservation. Since then, 58 participants from around the world have joined these trips, spending a month in the bush participating in hands-on research, going on game drives and visiting rhino orphanages.
In addition to conservation training, the participants also learn technical skills in order to produce a final short documentary on endangered wildlife for distribution across multiple social media platforms. “What evolves is not only conservation education but development of other life skills in leadership, team building, researching, writing, and film making in addition to directly contributing to the country’s wild life conservation efforts and eco-tourism sector,” adds Kotze.
The original YPO program, which still runs every July and August, was converted into a nonprofit company in 2015. The Youth 4 African Wildlife maintained the same objective, namely to generate global ambassadors for spreading wildlife conservation efforts.
“I extended the conservation internships to local communities to expand this life-changing experience using film, photography and experiential research,” says Kotze. In less than five years, these efforts have contributed to more than USD75,000 toward various conservation initiatives, including rhino translocations to Botswana and helping students start careers in conservation.
The poaching crisis
In 2014, Kotze became involved in organizing global marches, including the Global March For Elephants Rhinos & Lions, to raise awareness of the detrimental impact of the effect of demand of ivory in eradicating the species. His newest co-venture, The Now or Never African Wildlife Trust, is an alliance of nongovernment organizations that rescue, rehabilitate and release rhino orphans in secure stronghold game reserves and help protect the big tuskers in east Africa.
For Kotze, the case for the initiative is urgently compelling for the world and in particular South Africa, home to 80 percent of the world’s rhino population. “Rhino poaching started in 2008 in South Africa and each year we loose more than 1,000 rhinos due to an insatiable Asian demand for horn. Amid this unprecedented poaching crisis, our objective is to find and locate these orphans, using aviation and technology to rescue and rehabilitate them,” says Kotze.
Still following his passion for wildlife conservation and photojournalism, and using his helicopter piloting skills, Kotze now spends most of his time in his farm with his family in Mpumalanga, eastern South Africa, from where he flies regularly to the bush as a conservation educator and to Johannesburg to look after the family business interests.
The long battle ahead
While his programs for youth continue to expand, with an innovative YPO program coming up in 2017 (Tracking the Silent African Giants), Kotze recognizes the battle is far from over. “Wildlife crime exceeds USD20 billion a year and those involved are also active in human trafficking and other crimes. Wildlife trafficking is a form of organized criminal activity, so it is a global challenge.” Yet he remains optimistic about the power of getting people, especially youth, to experience on-the-ground intervention through technology-based solutions such as GPS tracking devices and collaring for scientific research.
He is especially optimistic about partnering with the private sector and leveraging private-sector thinking and networks. “There is significant appetite by business leaders and their families to get to know and invest in impact conservation finance, so I think there is more opportunity to tap into people’s fascination with endangered animals. If I can influence 50 children and 20 business leaders a year, then the objective is achieved as they become ambassadors for conservation of endanged wildlife. My experience shows that it does work.”