Wild is Life

From humble beginnings of a few rescued wild orphans in their back yard, Harare based Wild is Life has grown into a full fledged wildlife orphanage and rehabilitation rescue centre. One Planet Rating co-founder Richard Lindberg recently visited Wild is Life and was struck by the genuine passion and commitment shown by the caretakers and staff.

Founded by Roxy Danckwerts, Wild is Life today looks after over 100 animals. Accepting all kinds of orphaned, sick or injured animals, the centre cares for them after which if possible they are released back to the wild or continue to live at the sanctuary.

 – Their cornerstone philosophy “One by One” – respecting each animal in their care as an individual and a sentient being sums up my experience there pretty well says Richard.  You really felt that the animals’ unique personalities were allowed to blossom and we wanted to highlight the centre as a prime example of the extremely important work that takes place to save magnificent wildlife for future generations. Read the interview with Jos Danckwerts from Wild is Life to find out more.

OPR: You promote yourself as a fusion of humanity and wildlife. Tell us more about this.

Jos: At Wild is Life we have developed what we call a “Culture of Care”. Wild is Life is a sanctuary for animals and a place of learning for humans. We treat animals as individuals, and all animals are given their needs. The sanctuary employs more than 40 people full time and hosts about 3000 guests a year from all over the world. Each guest is given an intimate experience whereby they can see animals up close and learn their individual stories as well as the plight of their species as a whole.

OPR: What kind of wildlife and insights can one expect from a visit to Wild Is Life?

Jos: 15 wild animals species, amounting to more than 100 individual rescued animals reside at Wild is Life, all rescued form differing circumstances in Zimbabwe. There are interesting interspecies relations and interactions. Guests will learn about the individual animals’ stories and “personalities”/characters. Guests will also learn, up close and personal, about wider issues about the species, as well as meet with the dedicated handlers whom care for the animals each day. Wild is Life is not a park but a home, for animals and humans alike. Endangered species that one can see at Wild is Life include pangolin, elephants, lions, cheetah.

Guests are able to interact with the giraffes but not the elephants, the reason being that the elephants are part of a long term program that will one day allow them to be released back to the wild, and hence cannot be too familiar with humans.

OPR: The sanctuary was setup in 1998. This period since has seen some rough years for the country. How did you manage to wade through that and build this haven? 

Jos: Yes Wild is Life started in 1998 at the beginning of a very turbulent time for the country, and partly in response to the turmoil happening throughout the country, in which animals were not spared. Through hard work, blood, sweat and tears we managed to survive, all driven by a sense of love and duty to the natural world. Thanks to the loyal and long standing relations with all of the staff on the farm and the surrounding local communities Wild is Life and Danckwerts Farm, was not taken over. It is a family organization, supported by a family farming business and as such has managed to maintain unity and perseverance and unwavering dedication to the land and its inhabitants.

OPR: You are even home to the Pangolin – an animal, which unfortunately happens to be the world’s most trafficked animal. Millions have been traded and killed in the last decade. Tell us more about this mammal and what is the Trust doing to protect this species, which is on the verge of extinction.

Jos: We are very privileged to be able to care and look after Marimba, who has been with us for 10 years (with the same handler) and who was brought to us a young orphaned pangolin. Zimbabwe has made progress with authorities and organizations working together to protect this mythical animal. For most of the people who visit Wild Is Life, it is their first time to see a pangolin. No touching is allowed but they can see her closely, it is a truly unique and humbling experience and sure to make a life long memory.

OPR: Could you tell us about the sister project – ZEN – The Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery and the work you are doing there?

Jos: Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery (ZEN) was founded by Wild is Life in 2014. ZEN was started in response to the wide scale poaching epidemic that is still affecting our elephant population. When mother cow elephants are killed, young milk dependent elephants cannot survive and will die of starvation. Wild is Life has long been of the philosophy that every individual matters hence our saying “One by One” and so we felt the need to create a facility and a program where elephant orphans can be given a second chance at life. The project is an ambitious project and being conducted in partnership with Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority, Forestry Commission Zimbabwe, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The first elephants will be moved the reintroduction facility, now reaching completion, in the Panda Masuie Forest Area, part of the biggest conservation area in the world, the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. 33 400 hectares (84 600 acres) has been leased and secured by ZEN for the purpose of the release aspect of the project.

ZEN is Wild is Life’s biggest and most ambitious initiative yet and is expanding the organization to a whole new level. However we will always remain committed to our philosophy that all individuals matter.

OPR: How could one get involved with the Wild Is Life Trust? And tell us about the ‘Embrace an Animal’ programme?

Jos: There are three ways to get involved. The first, and best, is to actually visit Wild is Life so you can learn more and connect with these animals while having a beautiful afternoon in Africa with all the proceeds going towards the animal’s welfare and upkeep. The second is the adoption programme – which is what the “embrace an animal programme” has evolved into. This program allows for people to adopt certain animals at the sanctuary and thereby getting an exclusive insight into the animals progress as well as photographs and certificates to authenticate your contribution. Lastly, people can make direct donations through the Wild is Life or Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery websites, that can be for the sanctuary as a whole or for specific aspects of the program, all the way from buying fruits for the monkeys to buying a 4×4 vehicle for the anti poaching operations – and everything in between.

OPR: Something you’d like to share with our readers on why Zimbabwe needs to make it on to their list of must see destinations?

Jos: Zimbabwe is a very special country, home to one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world (Victoria Falls), beautifully wild and diverse landscapes, abundant wildlife and most especially warm and proud people. Zimbabwe is also very peaceful and safe and has one of the best climates of the world. Zimbabwe has been through a turbulent time but there has never been a better time to visit Zimbabwe. By visiting the country and embracing its beauty and majesty and connecting with its people you will be contributing to the sustainable development and welfare of its people, wildlife and ecosystems. Zimbabweans are peaceful proud and incredibly humble people who are warm and welcoming. There is something very special about Zimbabwe that you too will feel when you visit.

Been to Wild is Life?

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