William Altoft first traveled to Zimbabwe in 2009, sparking a love for the country and an interest in all things Africa. He returned to Zimbabwe this past year to volunteer at a new project centered on conservation and education. When not volunteering abroad, he studies Wildlife and Practical Conservation at the University of Salford in the UK, where he is entering his final year.The project that I’ve been off in Zimbabwe helping at this summer is CNCZ: Children and Nature Conservation Zimbabwe Trust. It’s a young project and primarily revolves around going to schools and teaching conservation lessons, but there is also a wildlife research element to it. The project was conceived and started by a Zimbabwean friend of mine named Evans Mabiza and is currently, and hopefully continually, based in Matobo Hills National Park, Zimbabwe. The project’s emblem is the Southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri), a bird endangered everywhere it is found in Southern Africa, except in Zimbabwe. CNCZ wants to know why it does so well there.
The farewell lunch was with a former colleague who is heading off to Tanzania (can you see me turning green with envy?) for at least a year and maybe forever. We met at Il Corvo, which I’d been dying to go to ever since it moved from the Pike Place Market hill climb to just a couple of blocks away from my office. For some reason I had yet to make it; maybe because it takes a little effort to get there early if you don’t want to wait outside in a long line in the rain. Il Corvo, which means “the crow,” is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11am to 3pm. Three pasta dishes are offered daily based on the season and the chef’s whim, and when they run out you have to go somewhere else. It’s a tiny place and we were lucky to get a table at 11:30am, as just a few minutes later the line was out the door and up the street.
We had reservations at the slick white marble chef’s counter, and as soon as we were seated we started to peruse the cocktail menu. It was a beautiful evening with light streaming in through the glass storefront, and the Patti McGee drink sounded like the perfect potion to start things off with. It was a lovely concoction of pink peppercorn vodka, shiso, rhubarb and lemon – light and refreshing with a slightly spicy, earthy twist. I’m not completely sure how the ingredients of the cocktail fit in, but Patti McGee was the 1965 Woman’s First National Skateboard Champion, just in case you were wondering. Craig went in the opposite direction with his choice of Coughlin’s 3rd Law. This is a reference from the movie Cocktail, a film I’ve never seen so I’ve yet to figure out what the 3rd law is, but it proved to be a luxurious elixir of scotch, cynar, maraschino, and grapefruit bitters.
Former Woodland Park Zoo Director David Hancocks’ summed up Hansa’s life, some of the abuse she endured, and the reason behind her breeding in a June 2007 article for the Seattle Post Intelligencer following the calf’s death: Hansa’s Short Life One of Deprivation.
If Woodland Park Zoo is to be believed, Alyne Fortgang and Nancy Pennington, the two polite women seated opposite me and the co-founders behind Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, are “extremists” bent on undoing all the good the Zoo has created by insisting the occupants of its elephant exhibit be moved to one of two sanctuaries to allow them to live out the rest of their days in a space and climate more suitable to their species’ status as Earth’s largest land animal.
It’s gotten to the point where the Zoo can no longer ignore the science of elephants, and they can’t ignore public opinion. And at this point, they can no longer ignore the media. The time has come for the Zoo to finally take care of the problem and let the elephants go.
I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess. Nancy did repeatedly insist I have some banana bread during our interview, also offering me almond milk for my coffee as Dougal and Jimmy, her two very intimidating canine man-eaters, sat on her lap eyeing me menacingly the entire time. And Alyne, Nancy’s pachyderm partner in crime, did gesticulate passionately while describing where the Zoo has failed Watoto, Bamboo, and Chai, and where zoos in general are failing elephants. I can only imagine these two ladies, average age in their mid-sixties, clad in black balaclavas with crowbars in hand doing whatever it is “extremists” like them do under the cover of darkness and disguise.
Like many of Woodland Park Zoo’s other assessments, they miss the mark completely.
Craig and I had just returned from our first global volunteering experience in Zimbabwe and we were so head over heels that it felt like our hearts had literally been ripped out of our chests as we reluctantly re-engaged with our “real” lives. To this day, we’re pretty sure our hearts are still being held hostage in Africa and patiently waiting for our return. That experience was the beginning of a life-changing passion for us and we were eager to meet others who had also traveled to global destinations and volunteered with animals, either working to conserve endangered species or helping with rescued animals in sanctuary. We had questions and concerns, dreams and ideas. But what we didn’t have were resources for first-hand knowledge beyond those we met during our time in Africa, most of whom didn’t have any more experience than we did.
As a child, I would spin my globe with my eyes shut, then I’d touch it to stop the spinning, open my eyes and wherever my finger landed I said to myself that I would go there.
Cut to a year or so later when I first heard about Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. As I started to do my research I posed a question to some of the volunteer friends we had made asking if anyone knew about ENP, and a friend of a virtual friend suggested I get acquainted with Barb Hautanen. Living in the U.S., Barb was an experienced world traveler and global volunteer and she was, literally, at ENP at the time of my inquiry. I contacted her immediately, and ever since she has been kind enough to allow me to pester her on several occasions to glean some of her sage advice.
Since that initial introduction I’ve followed tales of Barb’s adventures as she’s traveled to destinations such as Thailand, India, Nepal, and Romania, to name just a few. Barb has been able to consistently incorporate travel and volunteering into her life and I’ve been eager to learn her secrets, ask some questions, and discover what makes her tick.
I’ve never met Barb in person, but one day I will I hope to. When I do, I’m pretty sure it will not be in North Dakota or Washington State, where we each live, but in a sunny, warm climate with an ocean breeze, sights to see, and animals in need. Barb has volunteered with more organizations and in more locations than anyone else I’ve ever met and she has become a source of inspiration for me. I’m thrilled to give her the opportunity to share her story so she can inspire others as well with her wealth of experience, passion and energetic attitude.
Most of the flowering fields are owned by RoozenGaarde, the largest bulb grower on the continent, and estimates put attendance during the four official weeks of the festival at around a million people. Judging by the crowds that turned out on this particular day, it’s a believable number. Despite the massive turnout and the inevitable few who ended up walking deep into rows of flowers, onto adjoining private property where they shouldn’t be, or repeatedly trampling over the corpse of at least one dead bird, it was a beautiful day day to be out among millions of tulips blooming in a dazzling array of colors and nothing could take away from our enjoyment of the springtime splendor.
I like ideas. What they can do. Anytime an idea grows into something that makes a tangible progressive impact, even if only on an individual basis, it makes me proud. From abstraction to completion. As a filmmaker, the proudest moment is when the idea leads to something that has a life of its own, that will continue after you die.
He’s an award-winning filmmaker whose documentary work has taken him to, among numerous other places, the Middle East to follow his subjects, into the Deep South to investigate Ku Klux Klan members and their involvement in decades-old racial killings, and to the outskirts of Ontario to confront suspected child murderers. His investigative work has resulted in cold-cases being reopened and murderers being convicted, and at one point put him down the road for what many thought would be a well-deserved Oscar nomination.
But when I first met David Ridgen he wasn’t chasing murderers in search of justice, he was sticking his camera into a truck full of watermelons that several of us volunteers were emptying out at an elephant sanctuary in Northern Thailand and generally getting himself in the way. A bit of posturing and a few grunts between us and I still wasn’t sure what he was up to – unless it was work on a sequel to one of the all-time great watermelon films – but over the course of the next several days we warmed to each other and spent a fair amount of time discussing conservation, motivation and, of course, gear fetishism. That is, when he wasn’t insisting that I randomly shovel dirt into a wheelbarrow for his camera as some means of replicating the wholly inaccurate notion that shoveling elephant poo is romantic. It’s not. Elephants, however, very much are.