Giving a hoot

Giving a hoot

Hartbeespoort owl conservationist and writer, Danelle Murray, is a woman of many talents with many stories to tell. Danelle and her husband, Brendan, run an owl rescue centre in Hartbeespoort and she has just published a book, My Dark Country: A culture of violence, about the family’s traumatic experiences as victims of several violent crimes.

For a child to be comforted by an owl is possibly one of the strangest things you have heard, but then Danelle Murray is not your everyday woman. This 34-year-old mother of two’s chance encounter with a barn owl when she was eight, has steered her life in a very unforeseen direction.
“Owls have been woven into my life story since I was eight. My first encounter was after my family home was invaded by armed robbers and my parents severely assaulted. We left our home for a month after the attack and on our first night back home, my mother asked me to feed the dogs outside. I was terrified. I stood there in the dark, paralysed with fear and then I heard a strange hissing sound from above my head. I looked up and there was a barn owl on the water tower watching me. He was beautiful and I suddenly believed he was there to watch over me. And here I am today, watching over owls and protecting them. Life is strange,” she says.
What this little girl, who found comfort in an owl, did not know was that she would have to face the same trauma again and again in the future. Danelle and her husband were kidnapped and held at gunpoint in 2007. “We were coming out of a restaurant and three armed men grabbed us, pushed us in the car and drove us to a veld where they were held captive. In 2013 Brendan left the house one night to feed the owls and an armed robber surprised him. “We were held at gunpoint and robbed.”

“I love what I am doing, where we are and what we have, and experiencing what we did made me appreciate it more.”

This was not the end. The family was again robbed a number of times after that. “We got to a stage where we had nothing. We both worked and as soon as we were back on track, everything was taken from us. One day we were talking about what the use was of working so hard to get back on your feet, just to lose it all again. And we thought, why not then do something we are at least passionate about. Our passion is nature and conservation and seeing that Brendan had been involved with raptures, owl conservation was a natural choice.”
They moved out of town and their conservation journey began. Today, at any given time, at least 70 owls are being cared for at the owl rescue centre on the foothills of the Magaliesberg. “Besides the rehabilitation and care for injured and orphaned owls, we feel very strongly about education and the use of poison. We are actively campaigning and educating in order to convince people and businesses to stop using poison in order to save our owl populations.”
The couple has recently come up with the innovative idea to build owl boxes from recycled plastic. “The pollution from plastic has been a concern for us for a long time and we thought it would be perfect to combine the two projects. It is time-consuming and labour intensive, but it is working and I feel we are doing more in conserving our planet.”

My Dark Country, that was published in December, is her memoirs of the family’s dark hours, life as a conservationist and of course the owls.
“The title also refers to the nocturnal life of the owl, as a large amount of our work is done at night time. I started writing the book in 2013 and it was a way for me to work through the traumatic experiences and to deal with it. I love what I am doing, where we are and what we have, and experiencing what we did made me appreciate it more.”
A quote from her book reads:
“There, with my feet planted firmly on the harsh, torrid ground, I made a promise to myself. I promised that I would never tire of the splendour of my whereabouts. I would never look up at the mountain and not appreciate it for its magnificence.”
Follow Danelle on facebook: My Dark Country or Owl Rescue Centre. The centre can be contacted on 082 719 5463.

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