World Nature Conservation Day, celebrated on July 28, aims to draw attention to the conservation status of some of the most critically endangered species of wild fauna and flora, and to drive discussions towards their conservation.
Local author, artist and anthropologist, Ashling McCarthy, believes that nature conservation, and the protection of both key species and their habitats is the responsibility of multiple stakeholders. From community members to landowners, government to big corporations, individuals to collectives, we all have a role to play.
“I grew up in a bush and bird-mad family. My parents, who had moved to South Africa from Ireland, fell in love with the country when they moved to the small, rural town of Hluhluwe. When my family moved to Durban, the bush remained an integral part of our life, and my fondest childhood memories are of our regular trips to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve,” says Ashling.
She strongly believes that this love of the natural world that her parents instilled in her and her siblings was an important aspect of her upbringing. “We developed a deep love and respect for both flora and fauna, and an understanding that it was our responsibility to protect them and the environment they inhabited. This began with the easiest forms of respect, such as not littering or wasting water.”
Over the years, working in the sphere of community and social development, Ashling has seen first-hand the devastation that poor decisions have on our natural world.
“When I wrote my first novel, ‘Down at Jika Jika Tavern’, I focused on rhino poaching as the game farm we were involved in lost six rhinos to poaching. Through my work as a craft developer, I saw how over-harvesting of certain plants for weaving meant that women had to travel further afield and pay far more for their raw materials. While documenting a wattle clearing project, I learnt that invader plant species have a terrible impact on catchment areas, contributing to diminishing water sources and ultimately changing land usage.”
Ashling believes that restoration requires a communal effort that is inclusive of the lived realities of those who stand to bear the brunt of our collectively poor conservation efforts.
“Education, as always, is vital. And in my experience, inviting people to experience the very places we hope to protect for future generations, is the best place to start. Recently I met a wonderful Community Conservation Officer, Simon Nxumalo, of Mkhuze Game Reserve. Simon connects the game reserve to the community surrounding it. Many years ago, when he began his new role, he introduced himself to the community. Their reaction was ambivalent; they did not see how the reserve affected them and vice versa. It wasn’t until Simon arranged an excursion for some of the elders into the game reserve, that a connection was created. And just as my parents had done for my sisters and me, these parents wanted their children to have the chance to create their own connections.”
Ashling’s first book ‘Down at Jika Jika Tavern’, explores the role belief and culture have on wildlife crime and is available from leading book stores and online via Takealot and Kindle. To book a 1 hour talk (aimed at grade 10 – 12 learners) email [email protected]. During her talk, Ashling discusses the power of using creative writing to explore social challenges and also provides tips and advice for aspiring writers.
For further information please visit: www.ashlingmccarthy.co.za