This note was written by a supporter who joined the PARCA Board on a trip to Botswana where we met with our Great Plains Conservation partners.  Please enjoy!

So, how was your trip?

Given that a group of us, the 3 PARCA officers included, traveled to Botswana over the Thanksgiving holiday, this is a common question as we venture back into the hustle and bustle of everyday life in America. When someone asks this question, I have a hard time putting my experience into words.  I began the trip being excited about going on a safari – a bucket list item I never thought I’d be able to cross off until my kids were grown.  I made it through the 20 hour trip and as soon as we arrived at camp, we hopped in the truck to begin our first safari. I was immediately struck when I saw the beauty of the plains, a vast open area for animals to roam free, the sweet smell of sage, the pungent smell of elephant dung, and the calming presence of the Selinda spillway, exuding life. We saw all kinds of animals – big cats, elephants, giraffes, impala, zebras, and buffalo. I was blown away by their beauty and, in some cases, their shear massiveness, how they elegantly walked through the plains, how healthy they looked. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My only reference in America was in zoos or circuses, and we all know what horrible impacts these have on the vitality of these animals. It was striking to see the difference.

But the trip was not only about taking pictures of the animals.  It was to learn about PARCA’s partner, Great Plains Conservation, and their work.  Great Plains protects endangered animals and their lands, gives back to the surrounding communities by supporting schools, educating kids, and employing adults, and educates the world about poaching, the wildlife trade, and trophy hunting and the devastating effects these activities have. Botswana is one of the few African countries which has banned safari hunting and because of this, many of the endangered animals like big cats (lions, leopards, and cheetahs) and elephants have begun to flourish again. This is crucial to sustaining their species and the hope is as they continue to breed, they will begin to migrate to other areas where they have been previously decimated, breathing new life.

We spent a lot of time learning about the successes Great Plains has had and saw the effects on our daily drives. It was marvelous to witness, but one animal we didn’t have an opportunity to see wandering around the plains was the rhino. We didn’t see a single one.  Great Plains has partnered with &Beyond on Rhinos Without Borders, an effort whose goal is to repopulate areas of Botswana with rhino.  All species of rhino are threatened or critical endangered and are heavily poached for their horn.  You could feel the void without this member of the “Big 5.”  I realized how vigorously we must support organizations, like PARCA, whose goal is to raise money to protect rhino.  They too need to benefit from Botswana’s zero-tolerance policy on poaching so they can begin to flourish like the elephants and big cats we saw on the plains.  If we don’t focus on rhino conservation, not only will they be wiped out in the next few decades, but other animals and plant life will be threatened.  We need to continue to educate the world that rhino horns have no medicinal benefit. Literally, a species’ survival is in our hands.

I left Africa feeling different, knowing I would have to get involved in animal conservation somehow. I learned a tremendous amount, and my love, passion, respect and desire to protect these animals has grown exponentially.

So, when someone asks again, “How was your trip?”

My response – Life changing.