What has driven this world-record adventurer to raise over £300,000 for conservation through her How Many Elephants campaign?
n 6 June 2019 Holly Budge will be joined at the Royal Geographical Society in London by National Geographic Explorer and biologist Dr Niall McCann and African Bush Camps founder Beks Ndlovu for an evening of Stories from the Front Line of Elephant Conservation.
We’re really looking forward to attending, and learning more about their work to protect this iconic species, particularly in Zimbabwe, where Niall and Beks are based. Niall’s project, in the Chizarira National Park, has received funding support from How Many Elephants.
If you haven’t yet bought tickets, you can get them here.
Holly has two world records to her name, being the first woman to skydive Everest and to race semi-wild horses 100km across Mongolia in just nine days. She’s an acclaimed artist and passionate conservationist who has committed herself to raising funds and awareness of the plight of elephants in Africa.
But what makes her tick? Where does this drive come from? What has she learnt along the way and are we winning the conservation battle? She shared her thoughts with us from her training camp in New Zealand, ahead of her visit to London.
What ignited the passion in you to commit your life to conservation?
The defining moment came when I stopped listening to the naysayers who told me I lacked direction and purpose. Working in the field of conservation is tough: there is often no road map, it can be overwhelming and emotionally draining. For the most part, I work alone or remotely, which can be lonely. At times I felt like I was hitting my head against a brick wall and not making any progress or impact, but a small voice inside kept whispering ‘keep going’.
I signed up to study for a Masters degree in Sustainable Design six years ago and this changed the course of my life. I embarked on a very passionate journey researching the African elephant crisis and this led me to founding How Many Elephants, a design-led campaign to inspire and educate a global audience about the devastating impacts of the ivory trade.
I use design as a powerful communication tool to bridge the gap between scientific information and human connection in wildlife conservation. As more people have become aware of my work, momentum has picked up and many opportunities have presented themselves. My life is now rich in purpose – but definitely not in bank balance!
To date you have raised over £300,000 for conservation charities. Give us some examples where you feel particularly proud of the impact of that support.
Through my campaign, How Many Elephants, I currently work closely with three excellent direct-action initiatives doing extremely valuable work in Africa: The Black Mambas (South Africa’s first and only all-women anti-poaching team), Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust and National Park Rescue. Every penny of the money we invest is spent on their anti-poaching projects, including buying equipment, technology and uniforms for the rangers, plus running costs and fuel. I feel particularly proud of the patrol vehicle I bought the Black Mambas.
What impressed you most about the Black Mambas?
Their passion. I accompanied them in their day-to-day work and observed them from afar too. The intense passion for their work was inspiring, humbling and powerful. Everyone has their own fight in this tangled web of wildlife conservation. Not only are The Black Mambas on the frontline, they are also role models in their communities and to women around the world.
What did you learn from seeing them at work?
I accompanied them on morning and night patrols, checking the fence lines for incursions, dismantling snares and monitoring the wildlife. But what I learnt was these women not only nurture and look after the wildlife but each other, their families and communities too.
They run a programme called the Bush Babies, teaching over 800 children to respect and appreciate their natural surroundings and observe and conserve wildlife. They also try to show them an alternative to poaching.
Many of these women are victims of poverty, abuse and disease. Joining the Black Mambas has empowered them, allowing them to improve their lives and those in their communities too. They wear their uniforms with great pride and inspire many young women to want to join the Black Mambas. They really align with my life motto: Think Big, Dream Bigger.
Why are elephants important to our ecosystem?
Elephants are ecosystem engineers. To give one example among many: with their sheer size and weight, they leave deep footprints in the ground. As these fill up with water they act as micro habitats for at least 61 different macro-invertebrate species ranging from mosquito larvae to tadpoles. The potential extinction of African elephants in the wild will have an extremely detrimental effect on the environment. If the elephants go extinct, an entire ecosystem could follow.
What’s your advice to readers who are planning a trip to Africa? Any suggestions for cool places to go or things to do?
My advice is to be clear on your objective. If you want to volunteer your time and skills to help make a difference, I would recommend getting in touch with Transfrontier Africa in South Africa or Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust in Zimbabwe. Both of these organisations offer fantastic opportunities for volunteers to get their hands dirty getting involved in wildlife conservation.
If you are looking for a spot of luxury, I would recommend Somalisa Camp, owned by African Bush Camps, in Zimbabwe. It is a place where tranquillity meets adventure, where one moment you are sipping a gin and tonic, listening to the distant roar of a lion, and the next you are gazing over at a family of elephants at your doorstep.
Do you see signs of us getting control of elephant poaching?
There are definitely reasons to be optimistic in pockets of Africa. For example, I work with an anti-poaching initiative in Zimbabwe called National Park Rescue. They operate in Chizarira National Park, often described as one of the most beautiful parks in Zimbabwe, and have transformed it from a poachers’ paradise into a thriving park with well-trained and highly-motivated rangers. No elephants have been poached there since they started. I raise much-needed funds for National Park Rescue through How Many Elephants.
What role does tourism have in the fight to protect wildlife and wilderness habitats?
Tour operators have an important responsibility to play an active role in conserving wildlife and the people who live alongside it. I am petitioning for travel companies who benefit from the wildlife to donate a percentage of their profits to rural African communities close to the national parks, some of whom see no benefit from tourism or from the animals alive.
It’s good to see that there are responsible travel companies working hard to make a difference, but it needs to be commonplace.
To get involved with my global visual petition, visit www.howmanyelephants.co/#petition
‘Stories from the Front Line of Elephant Conservation in Africa’ will take place at the Royal Geographical Society at 1 Kensington Gore, London, on 6 June 2019 (6.30pm). All proceeds will go to How Many Elephants.
The speakers will be:
Holly Budge, founder of How Many Elephants: Holly will share personal stories, from reaching the summit of Everest to immersing herself with The Black Mambas, an all-women anti-poaching team in South Africa. British Airways called her “one of the UK’s most accomplished female adventurers”.
Dr Niall McCann, National Geographic Explorer, and biologist: Niall is the Director of Conservation for National Park Rescue. He’ll talk about the work they are doing in Chizarira National Park in Zimbabwe, where they have transformed a poacher’s paradise into a thriving park, with well-trained and motivated rangers. “We’re really proud to say that not a single elephant has been lost to poaching since we started working here,” he says.
Beks Ndlovu, guide and founder of African Bush Camps, and headline sponsor for the evening: Through African Bush Camps and its foundation, Beks became not only a tour operator but a social entrepreneur. He is one of the most enterprising players in African tourism today. He will show you how to incorporate travel with conservation.
Buy your tickets here.