As Head of Wildlife at Shamwari Private Game Reserve for more than 20 years, veterinarian Dr Johan Joubert is in the unique position of caring for both wild animals and Born Free’s rescued big cats.
Shamwari, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, is a 250km2 haven for wild animals and also home to Born Free’s two big cat rescue centres.
“It always feels good to be part of a system where animals live free and natural processes continue naturally,” he says. “It is also very special to know that Born Free animals depend on our care - therefore decisions related to their health is a serious responsibility. The fact that rescued Born Free animals cannot be released into the wild is such an important message to convey to the public to ensure that we end captive conditions for wildlife.”
As well as being the guardian for all wildlife at Shamwari, Johan has been the lead vet on many Born Free rescues, including last year’s rehoming of lions Nelson and Ciam, and his favourite – the 2015 rescue of lion brothers Jora and Black from a circus wagon in Bulgaria.
“The Bulgarians were all very special and had a real interest in the rescue as well as our team,” Johan recalls. “They did their very best to improve the condition of both starving lions to get them stronger for the journey to South Africa.”
Shamwari has played a key role in reintroducing wildlife back to the Eastern Cape. Conservation success stories include the red-billed oxpecker, the flightless dung beetle and the Cape mountain zebra. Add to this sophisticated species monitoring and some of the most advanced anti-poaching units in the country, and it’s clear that conservation is at the heart of everything Johan does.
“Conservation projects have to be sustainable,” Johan explains. “Our duty will be to conserve what we have and to do our best to restore what we can. This means we have to get the interest and the support of the next generation. We have to take the responsibility to find ways that Africans can benefit from conservation in Africa in such a way that they will ensure the future of African wildlife.”
Johan’s vision for the future is reassuringly hopeful. “In 20 years, I do not see African wildlife being replaced by livestock overgrazing and destroying natural vegetation. I do not see elephants being slaughtered to leave a vulnerable few such as rhino,” he concludes. “I see international visitors supporting African wildlife through tourism and education. I see African parks being visited by local Africans proud of the fact that they contribute to the best biodiversity in the world.”