By Edenne Kapinga
Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, I came to South Africa because I was attracted to nature. I was convinced to find an appropriate environment to learn more about nature. Currently completing my NDiploma in Nature Conservation, I was looking for the perfect place to start my nature conservation application. That is when I found the Cape Leopard Trust.
Coming straight from Johannesburg, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what the Western Cape would be like. I remember thinking that it felt different - almost as if I was in another country. The fear of the unknown got into me, I was a bit lost. But as soon as I faced the beautiful night sky glowing with countless stars, I knew I would be fine. It was my adventure…
On that same day, I was introduced to some of my responsibilities as the intern for the Cape Leopard Trust. I was so proud of myself and at the same time instructions were overflowing, it was too much to remember after a drive of 25 hours in the bus, from Johannesburg to Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve in the Cederberg Mountains. It didn’t matter anyway, my eagerness to learn was so present, I had this incredible opportunity and I wanted to do my very best.
The following morning was my first hike - I was so excited!!! With my backpack, my binoculars and some fruit, I jumped in the bus with all the children and Hadley drove us to the “Eikeboom trail”, which is one of my favorite places in the Cederberg. That was the first time I met Dr Quinton Martins. He impressed me so much with all the detailed information he used to teach the kids. I didn’t know whether I should just stare at him while he was talking or take some notes of what he was saying. Right above our heads was a pair of Verreaux Eagles, so majestic and beautiful, one could see that they knew they were the rulers of the sky.
With time, I was able to set up the campsite for the kids, making sure that everything was ready and in place before they arrived. I could understand the concept behind the design of the “Toktokkie campsite” as it puts children in a position that enables them to act sustainably by recycling, using solar energy and eco-toilets. Soon after, I was capable of teaching the children how to put up a tent and take it down in 5 minutes; conduct a walk in the Fynbos biome, where we talked about nature, plants and animals, and most importantly the value of every living organism, including its role in its environment.
I have learned to set up a camera trap around the campsite with the children. They enjoyed that activity because they realized that they are not the only creatures within that space and they should therefore respect everything around them. I had the opportunity to visit amazing places such as Truijtieskraal and Stadsaal with some rock formations that take my breath away. Not just for its beauty but also because of the historical richness. The Rock Art Heritage Site with all its drawings inspired me with respect and admiration for the San people who lived in the very same land thousands of years ago.
I cannot forget that day at Stadsaal where the kids, Hadley and I were seated on one huge rock with baboons on the opposite side of us, in complete silence. At that moment I understood why we share 98% of our DNA with baboons. As much as we were studying them, they were also studying us and wanted to come closer. As we realized it, we decided to continue our exploration. It was one of the favorite moment those children had on that camp.
During my time with the Cape Leopard Trust, I was introduced to Biomimicry by my co-intern Samuel Chevallier who showed to the children and I that the most important thing is not to learn about nature but to learn from nature through different life principles that enabled nature to adapt and evolve through years and different conditions.
My internship has given me the opportunity to see the wonders of nature but also discover myself through simple experiences that have shaped the way I see people, nature and every living things that depends on it. I found myself being immersed into teaching children, inspiring them through different activities, building an awareness of their environment and encouraging them to care about nature; also to help them realize that nature is not a thing to be afraid of, they can instead respect it and learn from it.
I have learned to give away the knowledge that I have, reminding myself that this knowledge is not to be kept but should be made available to teach the youth.
They are the future!!