“As I write this I’m sitting under a tree with doves cooing and a weaver bird chattering above me. There is nothing quite as grounding as being surrounded by nature. As humans we lose so much in our cages of concrete and steel. We are led to believe that we control the world when with the flip of a switch we make the room temperature just perfect. Living outdoors brings perspective and places us humans as simply part of nature and not the center of the universe”. – Margrit Harris, a real-life wildlife hero who is saving African animals.
Meet the Woman Saving African Animals
Margrit Harris is the Founder of Nikela, a non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving Africa’s wildlife. Margrit and her husband, Russ, launched Nikela in 2010 as a response to the great crimes that were being perpetrated against Africa’s incredible wildlife. Margrit’s organisation, Nikela contributes 100% of its donations to on-ground conservation efforts, and supports major efforts to stop rhino poaching, curb the escalating wildlife trafficking industry and end canned lion hunting. We had the privilege of speaking with Margrit who has shared both her passions and experiences with us in this captivating interview.
Margrit, you have enjoyed a very extensive and varied career in the field of wildlife conservation, was there a particular moment that you felt drove you to pursue a career in wildlife conservation?
I was a late starter! Although I grew up in South Africa, was exposed to wildlife and had parents who cared, I didn’t get involved in wildlife conservation until I was in my late 50’s. It was actually a bird and a $100 bill that got it all started.
My husband and I spent five years in the Philippines. This former tropical paradise has been stripped of its forests and spectacular bird species. During our first year there we visited three bird sanctuaries. Two were filled with the most gorgeous array of colorful birds. On our return four years later all that was left were empty rusty cages.
On visiting my parents in South Africa we heard of similar alarming declines of wildlife in Africa. And while at Shannon Hoffman’s flight show at the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary my heart was somehow touched, as was Russ’ who dropped his ‘just-in-case’ emergency $100 bill into the donation box.
After that I knew I had to do something. Not being independently wealthy we had to get creative.
There are so many atrocities occurring against our world’s wildlife, what motivates you to continue championing for animals in the face of so many barriers?
That is really an easy one… it’s the dedication of people like Shannon, Silke who rescues primates, Peter who protects rhino, Marnus who saves wild lions, and Lisa who fights for the pangolin, who inspire me beyond belief. It’s the ‘little guys’ the small conservationists who give their all to the wild animals or birds they love. It’s sharing their stories and raising some funds that keep me focused on hope despite the surrounding despair.
What has been the most difficult part of your career, what barriers have you faced in your work, and how have you overcome them?
Nikela is nonprofit where all the donations (100% of them) go to help people saving wildlife. So the biggest challenge for us (my husband and I) has been to support ourselves while running Nikela. For the first four years everything we did was strictly via the internet after our first Wildlife Tour in 2010 to visit those we wanted to help. So we worked part time making as much money as we could. Then in early 2014 Russ said, “If we play it right we can retire and spend half the year in Africa.” Sold! Now we live very simply in a Land Rover with a roof top tent traveling Africa in search of those doing good for wildlife, for most of the year. When in the U.S. we also live on wheels in an RV. The best part is, we love it, despite the challenges of living outdoors when it rains, dealing with sporadic access to hot showers and a very limited wardrobe.
Why do you think animals are so important? For our skeptical readers, what would you say to them to encourage them to appreciate the importance of animals?
As I write this I’m sitting under a tree with doves cooing and a weaver bird chattering above me. There is nothing quite as grounding as being surrounded by nature. As humans we lose so much in our cages of concrete and steel. We are led to believe that we control the world when with the flip of a switch we make the room temperature just perfect. Living outdoors brings perspective and places us humans as simply part of nature and not the center of the universe. So, to answer your question, animals and birds besides their unique individual beauty and being living breathing beings, their very existence give us humans the perspective we need for a grounded contented life.
What has been the highlight of your career (if you could choose just one)?
My career was as a psychotherapist and then a management consultant. My sojourn in the realm of wildlife conservation… well, that’s my vocation, my mission, my life.
If you had any advice to give to our readers that would inspire them to become champions for our world’s wildlife, what would it be?
Becoming a champion for anything, be it wildlife, the homeless, or orphaned kids in India… it’s not a brain thing, it’s a heart thing. For those who have a passion about wildlife my invitation would be to get involved in any way you can. Volunteer, become an activist, donate, do what your situation allows with the skills you have. But whatever you do, act, and act now. Click here to visit Nikela.
“There is a land that has been devastated by destruction; lifeless and grey, it has been poisoned by toxic oil and waste that corrupt the earth. Poachers have captured the land and are destroying entire animal species, preying on them in the quiet of the night. Join us in WORLD OF THE WILD as we embark on this terrifying, yet beautiful journey to save some of the most precious species on earth.”