Upon Reflection 2020


As 2020 finally comes to a close, I am grateful for so many things. First off, I am grateful I am still here, writing this for you now. I am thankful you are still here, able to read this now. And dolefully, there are so many that just aren’t able to say that. To anyone who lost a loved one this past year, or any year really, we are deeply sorry. There’s no worse sadness or pain than losing someone you love, and no words will ever be enough.2020 was a year where the physical pandemic truly rivaled the mental and emotional trauma so many people have endured. The worldwide lockdown deeply affected every one of us confined to our homes for long, lonely weeks on end. We felt caged and separated from our friends and family. Ironically, however, our absence from the landscape meant the exact opposite for so many other creatures. Some had never experienced that kind of freedom or peace before. For a few short months, when pretty much the entire world went into a group hibernation, the rest of the planet woke up and began to heal and thrive.Tourism everywhere came to a grinding halt due to Covid-19, and so did conservation revenue. So, as restrictions in South Africa began to ease, the Shannon Elizabeth Foundation took the gap to head out into the field and distribute some much-needed relief. We jumped into action and created our program, Ranger Relief, to help support the men and women who put their lives on the line every day for our precious wildlife.

Our first stop was Port Elizabeth, where we caught up with Brett Barlow and his precious black rhino rescue, Munu. Munu is completely blind, and the park authorities where he was discovered were either going to put him down or let nature take its course, meaning that the lions would take him. But we all know that rhinos are extremely endangered, and Munu’s particular sub-species of black rhino is particularly rare, with only 254 left in South Africa. So, Brett fought to become Munu’s lifelong caregiver, and now he is! And what’s really exciting is that the Shannon Elizabeth Foundation has partnered with Brett and Munu to be their official charity arm. To learn more about Munu, please visit us here. And to donate directly to Munu’s care, food and wellbeing, please donate here. Welcome to the family Brett and Munu!

Next, we made our way to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and met up with the great Dr. Dave Cooper. Dave has been the Principal Veterinarian for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife since 1994. He is also the Founder of African Wildlife Vets, a non-profit dedicated to providing veterinary services to threatened and endangered species. We were honored to buy some rhino feed to support their work and the precious rhinos they are tirelessly protecting. We also pledged to pay for some of the canine unit costs in the park over the next year. So, as expenses arise there, the bills can be sent to us to pay directly.

Next, we visited Manyoni Private Game Reserve in Mkuze. There we sponsored a rhino dehorning and offered support for their anti-poaching team. Before our trip, they had reached out and asked for help to obtain some much-needed supplies. So, we sourced some equipment for them and were excited to deliver some headlamps and torches to support their missions.

We then spent some time with the Wild Tomorrow Fund taking a look at their properties and programs. They were so generous to take quite a bit of time with us. They introduced us to some of their incredible neighbors and partners (including Manyoni) and drove us through some of the beautiful and critical pieces of land they had acquired. One of their current projects is building a school, called a Crèche Complex here in South Africa, in partnership with the Africa Foundation. We have committed to buying the kitchen equipment needed and to feed the kids every day for the first two years the school is open! We are so excited about this project, and we’re humbled to be a small part of this journey with them.

Additionally, we donated some binoculars to uThekela Marine Reserve. Sadly, we didn’t get to visit them this time around. But the Wild Tomorrow Fund reached out to us to help, and they will be delivering the supplies to them for us. Thank you, WTF.

Next, we visited the Zululand Rhino Orphanage. We were tipped off ahead of time that the women who run the orphanage were desperate for some warm clothes. So, we were thrilled to surprise them with new jackets, pants, socks, and sturdy shoes. Then we got to meet the orphans. There’s just nothing as incredible and moving as a rhino baby. I can’t even describe the feeling. It’s exciting and heart-breaking, all at the same time. And we were more than happy to be able to pledge four months of milk for the babies there.

Continuing on, we got to spend a little time with the stellar team from Phinda. We all rose at the break of dawn and sponsored and assisted with dehorning three rhinos. When a park or reserve sees a huge decrease in poaching after dehorning their rhinos, you really can’t argue with that. Yes, we would all prefer for the horns to stay on the rhinos where they belong. But unfortunately, we live in a world right now that has made rhino horns more valuable than gold and cocaine. So, until we can convince everyone that rhino horns have no medicinal value and that they aren’t a status symbol, we have to continue doing whatever it takes to keep the remaining rhinos healthy and safe. Phinda is an incredible conservation model, and we were excited to assist them wherever we possibly could. Thank you to Dale, Simon, and the entire team at Phinda and Bayala Private Safari Lodge.

Then we headed to the Care For Wild Rhino Sanctuary and spent the day with the great Petronel Nieuwoudt. Petronel is a powerhouse and has probably created the best model there is of a rhino orphanage. She has turned a lifetime of wisdom into a display of conservation like none we’ve ever seen. But as we all know, there’s always room to expand and grow. To help, we have agreed to assist with a couple of her programs. These will be announced as we get them up and running with her. Stay tuned!

Next, we were off to the incredible Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves. We had the great privilege of spending time with Jaco Mol and his team at the park’s airwing and then Don English, Regional Ranger and conservation legend. Last-minute one morning, we went out on a mission with the great Pete Buss, the park’s Veterinary Senior Manager. The call came in that two rhinos were near a fence line and needed to be dehorned immediately. So, we all jumped in the chopper, and off we went.

During this visit to Kruger, we truly started seeing a common thread. Whenever we asked people what was working best for them in the war on poaching, it became evident that their canine units have been a real game-changer. So, we couldn’t pass up on the chance to meet with Johan de Beer, Canine Manager for Kruger, and the extraordinary dogs who have been saving the lives of so many rhinos. We consequentially pledged to help pay some bills for Johan and have since undertaken to buy meds for 45 dogs. With even more than that many animals to care for, you can imagine how quickly the expenses accumulate. Sometimes the dogs pay the ultimate price, and it’s with a heavy heart we report that Antie, one of these incredible “K9s”, was not able to pull through after a recent mission. He was flown to a couple of different vets, but sadly he succumbed to heatstroke and a stressed heart. Our condolences go out to Johan and the whole SanParks team—Antie’s passing has been a massive loss to everyone who knew and loved him.Out of our experiences of the many canine units working to protect wildlife, our new program has been born—Animals Protecting Animals. We love it! And yes, this will be a program you’ll see us working quite hard on in 2021. If canines are making that much of a difference, then we know this is an area where we must support both the dogs and their handlers however we can. And since dog rescue is at the root of this foundation, I think it’s quite poetic.Last but definitely not least, we rounded out our journey at the breath-taking Savanna Game Lodge—definitely a place to go to spoil yourself. There you’ll also find one of the best game rangers in South Africa, some of the yummiest food we’ve ever had—from an all-female kitchen staff!—and thriving community projects. Their Khumba Ncila (Touching Tails) project simply blew us away. The focus is on helping the neighboring community and their animals by giving support, education, and care for all their livestock and pets, as well as aiding homeless animals in need. They also told us about a nursing home project they have partnered with—it now comfortably houses 70 elderly residents in the nearby community. Their work is incredible, and we truly look forward to offering them support soon.

A very special thank you to everyone who was so kind to us on our journey around South Africa and to all of our donors who make the work that we do possible! And also, to designer Dalia Macphee who created some beautiful blankets for the animals which we distributed all along the way. Dalia has dressed me for countless events, and now she’s dressing the animals in Africa—how cool is that?

We at the Shannon Elizabeth Foundation had an incredible time, worked hard, made a lot of commitments for donations and partnerships, and were honestly the happiest we’d been in a long time. If you’re interested in sponsoring a trip like this one in the future and experiencing firsthand the joys, trials, and tribulations of this work in the wild, please contact us today. There’s nothing like getting mud on your boots and working in the bush in Africa. We have decided there must be a lot more of that in our future and a lot less sitting behind a computer in an office. After the year we all just had, everyone can agree that being in nature is literally just what the doctor ordered!