THE UBUNTU WILDLIFE SANCTUARY MAKING MASSIVE INTERNATIONAL WAVES IN THE CONSERVATION INDUSTRY.
Jurg Olsen is an animal behaviour expert and has been working with wildlife for over 18 years. Having gained vital experience at his former home, Jukani, he has now embarked on a whole new adventure of becoming a sanctuary manager of newly established rescue sanctuary, Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary which is 900-hectares in size and situated in the North-West province.
Jurg founded the Ubuntu: Spirit of Africa Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Sanctuary NPC in 2015 with the sole purpose of rescuing captive and free roaming wildlife species from undesirable situations, and incidents of poaching. In 2016 he managed the capture and relocation of 3 pregnant black rhino cows and 4 white rhinos from a reserve in Limpopo. The animals were being slaughtered in a poaching spree and the reserve had lost 3 rhinos to poachers with another 4 wounded in a week long poaching attack.
In 2017 he assisted two other sanctuaries implementing management systems for cheetah and elephant. In 2018 he was contacted by a colleague in Argentina to assist with the rescue of 5 tigers, 2 ligers and 4 lions from a zoo in La Rijoha. He explains how he approached his international team and applied for approval of support by Salesforce.com – which plays a valuable part in the Ubuntu development.
As a result, they were fortunate in receiving approval and the decision was made to relocate the animals to their new home at the Ukuthanda Lodge in the North West Province of SA. The Ukuthanda Lodge is owned by Frits and Santie janse van Resnburg, key members of the Ubuntu family. Sharing the Olsen`s commitment and passion to conserve our wildlife heritage, Frits and Santie co-founded the Ubuntu: Spirit of Africa Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Sanctuary NPC on this land. The rescue sanctuary is not open to the general public.
Jurg highlights that their approach is not only focused on wildlife rescues but also to develop conservation education within local schools.
“I am not convinced by the claimed conservation education programs of wildlife sanctuaries receiving hundreds of tourists doing "animal watching". Having managed such a facility for many years I personally witnessed that these facilities are operated for profit only although being promoted as non-profits...the animals are the attraction needed for tourists to spend their money, and the so called conservation education programs, to pull wool over the eyes of these tourists and wildlife activists making them believe they are contributing to conservation.” he says.
Setting up a sanctuary is no easy task and often comes with challenges. Jurg talks us through having had some difficult situations and challenges to overcome.
“Unfortunately, in this industry it is not so much about rescuing animals but more about egos, money and monopolizing an area or section of the industry. Most people are in this business for the incorrect reasons, which is incredibly sad. We are still facing many challenges which need to be addressed, such as we need to assist the school we have adopted with basic needs such as running water, ablution facilities, electricity, fixing up the existing classes for learners...then we have the upcoming project of our Argentinean rescue, all costs associated with this mammoth task, such as transport, vet care, camp construction etc. So, we still have a great deal of challenges ahead for us, but it is a small speedbump that we will overcome, with all the support we have.” he concludes.
But it is not only Jurg who has a passion for wildlife and the Ubuntu Sanctuary. His wife, Karen, is also an impactful driving force behind the success of the sanctuary, who specialises in animal welfare, diets, health and husbandry projects. Karen and Jurg are the founders of the Ubuntu NPC, but do not serve as directors on the board. He explains that whilst they are the sanctuary managers, they will advise the board on projects, management and things happening on the ground, but ultimately the decision to proceed with a rescue or project is for the board of directors to decide. By doing it this way, Jurg feels that they can concentrate on the needs of the animals, their social projects and managing the sanctuary. Ubuntu does not just "speak" rescue, but furthermore, they go out there and make it happen...no matter the cost or situation.
When it comes to rescue success stories, Ubuntu is in the begging phases of their operations, but have successfully welcomed 5 lions to their sanctuary – one male (Adam), one female (Eve-Floria) and 3 cubs, all from different backgrounds.
Adam's situation was brought to their attention by a good friend of Jurg’s, who raised Adam as a cub. She knew about the dire situation he was in facing, in a matter of weeks’ time = death.
“The 4 females that were with him in the camp had already been killed for their skins and bones, and he was also due for the bullet. We were not prepared, we had no camp erected, no funds and no vet on call. The Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary project was supposed to only kick off with the Argentina rescue which will only be happening later this year. But, knowing the situation and the fate he faced, I fought the permits through, we pushed hard and managed to finish a safe and secure camp in record time, made sure we got all the correct inspections actioned and drove the 600km’s with a bunch of our “Salesforce” volunteers, who had no knowledge what they were doing or getting themselves into. On our arrival at the breeding farm, it came to light that the appointed vet was completely out of her league and at minute 99, we had to arrange another vet, who then managed to dart, assess his health, assist us with the loading of Adam, in the dark and we drove back through the night, with the big cat back to Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary."
As the saying goes, "We may not have made a difference in world...but we did make the worlds difference for Adam". he tells us.
The beautiful lioness is named, Eve-Floria, who came from a breeding farm in Limpopo and although she had been treated much better than Adam, her end destination was the same, a bullet. The Ubuntu team convinced the owner to sell her to them as a partner for Adam...and the rest is history. He is said to be crazy about her and her about him. Jurg even goes on to describe it as “a match made in heaven, we couldn’t be happier.”
But what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to a rescue mission? The Ubuntu Sanctuary has a quality support team in place. When an urgent rescue is brought to the sanctuary’s attention the managers will contact the Ubuntu directors, their experienced advisors - such as businessman, Brian Abrahamson - and get their input as to whether or not they will continue and commit, or find other means of rescuing these animals by involving other facilities which they have close ties with. Should they choose to proceed with the rescue, the Ubuntu team then has to apply for permits, get vet checks done, arrange transport and vets for tranquilizing the animal, and the process commences. It is in no means a quick process when saving the lives of these animals. The Ubuntu team also has the support of Danny Kolodynski who serves as the UK Manager; Lacey Gray a productions manager based in Los Angeles; and Natasja de Winter who is involved in the rescue operations internationally.
Whilst the Ubuntu Sanctuary is receiving daily requests, it is that of the Argentina rescue that has their attention at present. This involves a big rescue project and Jurg explains how they are in the process of auctioning a workable plan and putting all the pieces in place, so that with adequate funding to rescue the poor animals, and fundraising goals met, they can proceed. Another big project that is a matter of urgency is the school upgrade. The Ubuntu Sanctuary team has seen how difficult it is for the children that attend the school to apply basic daily skills and explains that they cannot educate the children on conservation, when they are being faced with basic need deficiencies such as being hungry.
“We need to help them in order for them to help us going forward… They are the future in conservation and education. The community is our backbone against poaching. We are employing from the community, we do skill transfer programs and we also contribute back to the community in the form of the school upgrade as well as the upliftment programs we have established.” Jurg explains.
Being an outdoors man, and full of adventure, Jurg is also hoping to take part in 3 of the 4, Desert Races, which can be described as some of the most grueling races - considered to be the toughest in the world, this year!
“I plan to participate and by doing so I will be able to draw a lot of attention towards and raise funds for Ubuntu Wildlife Sanctuary, the school and the sponsors and donors. Next year my aim will be to participate in all 5 races and become the first South African to complete 5 races.” he says.
When it comes to any animal sanctuary and the sensitive, yet important, topics of cub-petting and breeding, Jurg reassures us that they will not breed any animals at their sanctuary. The females will be sterilized and/or males vasectomised. Jurg Olsen believes in working towards finding solutions for unacceptable practices such as cub petting, but he doesn’t believe in using and promoting the emotion and sensation created by these practices as a marketing tool for a wildlife tourism product.
“We do not believe that breeding in captivity, is contributing to conservation in any form. So we have a strict no breeding policy. And under no circumstances will we allow cub petting. We will not be allowing any form of human/animal interaction. This is a sanctuary not a tourist facility and it is not open to the public.” – Jurg Olsen.
No sanctuary would be able to run successfully without funding. Funding so far has been privately done, but Ubuntu hopes to raise funds from international donors and sponsors. But most importantly, Ubuntuhopes to also get support from local South Africa supporters and sponsors.
“Ubuntu is South African and I believe we should set the example by getting involved in local sanctuaries, before we can expect the international community to support us. We need our local businesses to support us and show their commitment to preserving wildlife. After all as locals we have the wildlife just outside our front door, so shouldn’t we be setting the precedent?” Jurg adds.
As for the animals and what to look forward to next... The Ubuntu sanctuary boasts the exact vegetation that these animals would be experiencing if they were free in the wild – a perfect fit. They have successfully commenced with a number of rescue missions, whereby a lion and tiger from Argentina will officially be putting their paws on pure South African soil, at the end of this month (February 2019). Thereafter, they have another tiger joining the ‘family’ during the March/April period, followed by the rest of the La Rioja tigers and Lions coming to Ubuntu in batches of two or three animals per month.
Should you wish to get involved/donate or sponsor Jurg Olsen in his 4 Deserts quest please contact Kirsty on firstname.lastname@example.org
For more info, visit www.ubuntuwildlifesanctuary.com
Photo Credit: Maxine Prins - Moomba Foundation