Saturday, January 21, 2017

What does a Namibian rhino and a Canadian muskox have in common...?

When we started to plan our trip to Canada, we realised that, with the boys a little bigger now, we should start to introduce a different perspective to our travels, have our trips be more  just about us having different experiences and more about adding value to what we believe and stand for.

With this in mind, we thought about how we could introduce a 'cause' or a 'mission' to our eminent trip to Canada over Christmas 2016, through which we could add value to our trip, our own personal lives and also make a difference. Immediately the benefactor of our Brandberg Rhino Run and Cycle Tour sprang to mind: The Namibian non-profit organisation Save The Rhino Trust. The work that this organisation do in Namibia and globally in both raising awareness of the plight of the senseless poaching of the critically endangered black rhino, as well as physically protecting said animals in the field from the onslaught of the poachers is phenomenal. Field teams work tirelessly, day and night, staying in rudimentary field camps for weeks on end, tracking the rhinos, very often putting their own lives on the line when confronting poachers. Considering the temperature extremes of the arid Kunene region, with daily maximums of 40 °C plus, and night time temperatures sometimes below zero, one can only behold these rhino warriors with the utmost respect for what they do.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, in the far north of Canada close to the arctic circle, a group of passionate scientists and volunteers are dedicated to take care of orphaned and injured animals at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. Animals protected on the 280+ ha piece of land includes 13 species of northern Canadian mammals, including the rocky mountain elk, Alaska/Yukon moose, muskox, wood bison, Canada lynx and the arctic fox.


Alaska/Yukon Moose

Although these animals are very comfortable staying at the Wildlife Preserve within their large enclosures and within their natural habitats, the little town of Whitehorse in The Yukon experiences winter temperatures of sometimes below -40°C, with only five or six hours of day light (11 am to 4.30 pm), which is arguably not the most comfortable conditions for humans to be outside feeding hungry animals or checking on a recovering patient. The scientists, care givers and volunteers work the same hours, summer and winter, to receive and care for injured animals, present visitors with various daily tours and also perform ongoing daily chores of feeding residents and cleaning animal enclosures.

The Yukon Wildlife Preserve is a non-profit organisation, similar to Save The Rhino Trust, Namibia, and although is is partially government funded by a fixed annual amount, the deficit is made up by visitors, youth camps and other educational programs.

We visited the Yukon Wildlife Preserve in 2012, and were very impressed by the efficiency and dedication of the caregivers and researchers at the Preserve. It was clear that the Preserve is well-managed by a group of passionate people, and spending time at the facility (albeit in freezing cold temperatures) was an incredible experience for us. Visiting The Yukon for the first time, it was the perfect opportunity for us to view some of the native mammal species in their natural habitat, all within an hour or two's hike from the very informative reception office.

In this light it was thus very apt and easy for us to choose the Yukon Wildlife Preserve as the northern hemisphere partner organisation for our effort to introduce two worthy causes, worlds apart but similar in the kind of environmental extremes in which they have to work and in the dedication and passion both extrude.

Before leaving Namibia we received a care package from Save The Rhino Trust Namibia, dedicated to the Yukon Wild Life Preserve in Whitehorse, Canada, comprising of a handwritten note of kinship from SRT's CEO Mr Simson Uri-Khob, a portrait on canvas of a Namibian rhino as well as other Namibian and rhino mementos.

On 6 January 2017 we were received by Mr Greg Meredith, Executive Director of the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. We presented him with the care package and special note of kinship, all the way from Namibia, and he was clearly moved by the gesture, especially after learning about the plight of our rhinos and the exceptional work done by SRT. On his turn he presented us also with a limited print of a muskox, signed by Mr Peter Karsten, founding president of Canada's Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, which we humbly received on SRT's behalf.

Nico presenting Mr Greg Meredith with the canvas portrait from SRT Namibia.

Nico receiving the signed poster of the Canadian muskox on behalf of SRT from Greg.

Greg receives his beautiful pewter rhino pin, compliments of SRT.

Outside temperatures of -32͒℃

Greg took us for a very delightful and informative personal tour of the Preserve. We were thankful to be viewing most of the animals from the comfort of his car, only briefly stepping outside for photos, as the outside air temperature was well below -30°C. Out two boys were now old enough to appreciate more of seeing the animals in their natural environment. Greg, with his practised eye, would point out some of the animals to us, and it was a whole lot of fun the try to locate some of the very well-camouflaged animals within their snowy habitats. The Canada lynx was possibly the hardest to spot, while the two arctic foxes were an all time favourite, presenting themselves kindly for the perfect photo opportunity.

Beautiful little arctic fox.

We were taken through the hospital of the Preserve, where weak orphans and injured animals such as raptors and owls are treated. The Preserve employs a veterinarian that operates on injured animals, and autopsies are performed on all carcasses. It was incredibly enlightening to learn how this dedicated group of people perform work we have grown accustomed to seeing in Namibia, with our great number of wildlife rescue operations here locally, but under equally harsh but totally opposite environmental conditions.

We remain grateful for the time and effort Mr Meredith took to receive and show us around, and humbly in awe at what the staff of the Preserve achieves year in and out.

Upon our return to Namibia we conveyed the gift from The Yukon Wildlife Preserve to the board of trustees of Save The Rhino Trust Namibia. An excerpt from the note by Greg to SRT follows:

"When reviewing the SRT web site I am very impressed with the efforts with which your SRT team is tackling this most important conservation initiative. I commend SRT’s Management and Field Teams as well as Board of Trustees for the outstanding work you all do to protect rhinos and educate the public on how we might all be better conservation leaders."

The gift and overall message of mutual respect, appreciation and attempt to create awareness of the cause was received very well.

Nico presenting the CEO of SRT, Mr Simson Uri-Khob, with the gift from Yukon Wildlife Preserve.

Hannelie presenting Simson with the Yukon Wildlife Preserve pin.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

An absolute perfect first day of the year.

To say that today was the quintessential 'Touch and Go' day would be the understatement of the.. well... year. But we are Africans, and as we all know, Africans know how to make plans.

When we decided to come to Canada last year, the Hubs and I started scouring the web for races to run during our planned visit. When I came across the (32nd!) annual Vancouver Resolution Run scheduled for 1 January 2017, we were elated and entered ourselves promptly. This was in August already. Free technical jackets for early bird registrations had absolutely nothing to do with this.

Vancouver, being in Canada, can get very cold in winter, but since it is at the coast it doesn't snow as much as in the interior of the country. Unless the Scholtze wants to have a white Christmas. Then Vancouver receives a LOT of snow!

Yesterday, the 31st of December, was overcast all day and snow fell for most of the day. When we came home late afternoon, snow had accumulated in the streets where we are staying, and parking our little rented vehicle was a huge mission - it slipped and almost got stuck in the piles of snow next to the road! Snow kept on falling, and as the night skies cleared, temperatures started to drop into the negatives... We were so excited for our planned family run on New Year's day, but I started to doubt if we would be able to make our way across town for the 10am start in these conditions, completely new to us desert dwelling Namibians!

For starters, we didn't have a clue how we would fit our rented double stroller into the trunk of our tiny car. The Hubs and I tried briefly outside in the snow yesterday, but then gave up. We contemplated taking the bus, but that would mean leaving home before sunrise, two hours before the start of the race, and standing around in the cold.

This morning we woke up to a stunningly beautiful, frozen, sunny Vancouver New Year's day. The snow of the past few days had swaddled the entire landscape in a soft, white blanket. It was a sight to behold!

Rice Lake, Lynn Valley, just up the road.

North Vancouver.

After we pried open the car doors, which were frozen shut, the Hubs managed to fit the double stroller in the tiny car with some seating rearrangements. Donning the entire content of our suitcases, we set off for downtown.

The guys and gals from Denman Running Room really went all out to make this run a memorable one. The route followed 5km on the seawall around Stanley Park, and even passed through a light house, the boys loved it! Some sections were really icy, while we ran on fresh snow in other areas; a real technical trail in the heart of Vancouver - so much to love!

The highlight for me was that the boys really loved running short sections in the beginning, and how they were both so excited to run the last section towards to finish line. Zee thought everyone ran in aid of rhinos again (he thinks all races are Rhino Runs), and he was pretty impressed with the turnout (melting my heart).

After the race we all huddled inside the store where they had hot chocolate, juice, bananas, bars and to-die-for choc-chip cookies. We warmed up a bit while celebrating our terrific start to what promises to be a beautiful year, before we headed out for a stroll and sledding on the snowy north shore foothills. (Yes we froze. Yes, we had several meltdowns by kids and some adults. No, we don't have it all down to a tee but we TRY, we always try...) But more on trying and failing and trying some more in another post ;)

We ran the Resolution Run in Swakopmund last year, but the start was at midnight instead of the 10 am Vancouver start this year. I suppose a midnight run in this cold might have been a tad different to the Swakop cold, so luckily it was during the day. Hopefully we will be able to turn this into a family tradition of sorts, wherever we will find ourselves on future New Years days.

Denman Resolution Run #32, around 200 entries!

Fresh snow/sludge, Stanley Park.

'Ice skating' waiting to start the race.

Happy New Year, dear readers, and thank you for being part of our journey!