Saving nature with compassion
Dr Madelein Grundlingh is a well-known name in environmental circles and she firmly believes that only education and knowledge can change human attitudes and actions, especially destructive and negative human behaviour and actions towards our environment and all other living species.
“Our environment and wildlife are just fine… the human’s attitude towards it is not,” says this passionate woman who has dedicated her life to nurture compassion for and a connection with nature and all things alive.
“Our human species is fast asleep, and we have unfortunately created a society that wants us to stay asleep. It has made us commercial zombies. If we were awake, we would realise the wonderful privilege we have to live on this fantastic and beautiful planet.”
Madelein, whose thesis for her masters and doctoral degrees were chosen as the best thesis in South Africa submitted in Biological Sciences, is the founder and chairman of the Wildlife Education Foundation (WEF) that focuses on sustainable development and wildlife conservation through education. And this all started with board games and playing cards!
“I have always believed people will learn more if they enjoy and play while learning. So I decided to develope wildlife board games and playing cards for children. In those days, before computers, I drew and designed everything on paper. I also developed and wrote various learners’ textbooks and created interactive educational DVDs and wildlife posters.” This eventually paved her way to become a consultant on sustainable development and wildlife conservation for the Mandela Conservation Trust for children in the Kruger National Park.
“I wanted to broaden the Trust’s education programme to urban children, but they did not want to do it. My mother taught us: You can do anything. Just do it. If something bugs you and you can do something about it, don’t wait for someone else, just do it. And so I did, and that is how WEF was born.”
Since 2008 she has actively been doing wildlife presentations, workshops and courses, reaching almost 200 000 learners and educators during conservation visits to schools alone. She has also been involved with the ‘Go Green’ projects at various schools and is the driving force behind the WEF’s national Enviro-Hero projects.
“These programmes are aimed at reaching all the kids in South Africa. We introduce them to new and wonderful things, making them excited about nature and wildlife, and helping them to rediscover their place within the ‘bigger picture of life’. Only by getting our youth passionate and involved in discovering the magic of life on earth for themselves, will we be able to install a lasting respect and compassion towards their environment and all other living species on earth. We want every child to do something for the environment, becoming an Enviro-Hero.”
Does she think she is making a difference? “Yes I do. I can see it in the children. Our aim is to create compassion for and an emotional bond with nature. Many children do not know where they fit in. We teach them that there is a place for them in nature. You always fit into nature. It is a magical place and it is beautiful. And the beauty of animals is still in children,” she says.
Madelein is also a passionate wildlife photographer and was the researcher and script writer for the popular Bush Radar and Wild Ltd television programmes. She has recently published two new spectacular books on Africa’s mammals, and the income generated from the sale of these books are ultilised by the WEF. She was awarded SANParks prestigious annual KUDU Award for her individual contribution towards environmental education and capacity building in South Africa.
For the past two years she has been extensively involved with conservation education programmes, courses and wildlife conferences at a conservation centre and biobank for endangered wildlife species at Ukutula in the Brits area in North West.
“I believe with this bigger conservation platform, and the assistance of a media partner, a much larger audience can be addressed on our serious conservation issues and challenges.”
Any free time she has, she spends with her daughter, a videographer, in the bush where they shoot wildlife footage for their documentary programmes. “I will go mad if I don’t get to the bush at least once a week. What is more beautiful than nature? It is a magical place that gives us purpose and peace. All we as humans have to do on this earth is to have a good, positive experience. We don’t bring anything into this world and we don’t take anything out. The secret of the world is, more is less and less is more. Everyone can make a difference to help save our environment, but do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.”
Read more about WEF on wild.org.za
A lucky reader can win Dr Madelein Grundlingh’s book Africa’s Mammals – discovering 101 species. Simply complete the entry form below to enter by 30 September 2018.