GoAbroad Interview

Chris Kelly - Director

Chris Kelly - Director

Inspired by his parents love for nature and wild places, Chris developed a passion for conservation at a very young age. Almost every weekend and holiday of his childhood was spent outdoors exploring, bird watching, and experiencing everything that nature had to offer. This later grew into a deep passion for endangered species conservation, which is what Wildlife ACT is dedicated to today. Wildlife ACT was undoubtedly created, in part, because of Chris’s parents, who were always encouraging him to follow his dreams and to do what he loved.

You grew up visiting game reserves in South Africa and developed a passion for wildlife. Have you always imagined yourself becoming the director of an organization like Wildlife ACT?

I always knew I would be heavily involved in hands-on conservation, and for a long time, I dreamed of becoming a wildlife vet. But I found the urge to be in the field just too great and I left the idea of studying further for another day. 

Man measuring a vulture

How did you join forces with Simon and Johan to establish Wildlife ACT?

Simon and I were working in the field as wildlife monitors, monitoring wild dog and black rhino respectively. We realised that there was a need within the provincial parks of KwaZulu-Natal to have dedicated wildlife monitors assisting the conservation managers with the daily monitoring of their endangered priority species. All too often researchers had to be relied upon to collect this valuable information, yet not always being able to provide managers with what they were looking for. So, we developed self-funded Management Orientated Monitoring Systems for these parks, with the conservation managers in mind.

Man putting a tracking device on a cheetah

What makes Wildlife ACT unique?

The Wildlife ACT “family”. From the directors to our managers to our field staff, we are all super passionate about conservation, and in what we are trying to achieve. We are a fairly small entity, but we are making a huge difference to endangered species and the game reserves we work with every day. Together we work hard and and continue build important relationships and partnerships.

Are each one of Wildlife ACT’s projects conceptualized and developed?

Wildlife ACT strives to save endangered species, so this is where our focus lies. In each case, focusing on supporting protected areas with long-term management orientated monitoring systems. We work together with managers to advise and understand what needs to done, which is the easy part. We then look at what funding models can be implemented sustainably.

Some projects are volunteer conducive, some are not. For example, monitoring African Wild dogs successfully (for the most part) needs to be done from a 4X4 vehicle, mostly because you need to cover ground quickly in order to find them and get the information you require. Wild dogs are also very active and usually in large groups, so a few more eyes in the monitoring team is also essential. Black Rhino on the other hand require a slightly different technique - on foot and two people is enough. In this case, we look toward other funding options.

Man putting a tracking device on an elephant

What does a typical day of volunteering look like for those who join Wildlife ACT?

Although the work itself varies from project to project, it all takes place in protected wildlife areas focusing on endangered and threatened species conservation. You will work as part of a team with our experienced wildlife monitors, and the work involves tracking and monitoring these various species and collecting important data and information crucial for their management. We only work in small teams of no more than five volunteers per project, so everyone is involved and gets a hands-on experience, which also allows for one-on-one time with the monitor. The days can be full and long, but the work is important.

If you could spend a year working on one of Wildlife ACT’s projects as a volunteer, which one would you choose and why?

This is very hard for me to choose, because they all have their highlights and specials. But, I would say uMkhuze. It is one of the busiest projects; the work can be intense, very long days in the field, with not much time for afternoon sleeps and book reading. It is also beautiful and diverse, a true example of real Africa.

Wildlife ACT staff caring for an animal

What do you love most about your job?

It is a lifestyle, not a job, and I enjoy every moment of it. There are so many things I love about it, but most of all because it is where I find myself most comfortable, working with wildlife and knowing that the work we do is important for our planet, and ultimately our survival.

Why do you think funding for wildlife conservation initiatives in Africa is so essential?

As the the population continues to grow and the economy in most of Africa weakens, our protected areas are becoming extremely fragile. Conservation priorities continue to be pushed aside, and what is left of government funding and drive is being utilised elsewhere. Other means of funding and support is therefore of huge importance to save these wild places and our endangered species. 

Wildlife ACT staff transporting animals

What is the number one way people around the world can support the protection of animals in Africa?

Awareness. The more people that know about the truth, and what is happening out there, the better. We need more ambassadors and supporters to stand together for the cause.

Can you tell us anything new or exciting happening at Wildlife ACT in 2017?

We are continuously growing and we have some exciting new potential expansions. But for now we are focusing on what we have at hand, which will allow us to continue to grow our conservation efforts and ensure our impact increases each year.