99FM – Your Inspiration Station

The MYD Earth Show With Professor Kobus Bothma

Kirsty Watermeyer chats to Professor Bothma, an author and wildlife conservationist with a wealth of wisdom in his field. 

He has carried out tremendous research here in Namibia and has written an incredible book titled ‘Written In The Sand’, but his most impressive career accomplishment is no doubt the fact that he is the person who developed the South African Environmental studies curriculum.

MYD: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into wildlife conservation?

KB: I’m actually a drop out veterinary student. 

I went to university in Pretoria as a young freshman with the idea of becoming a vet. I had two stumbling blocks; The one was I never could understand physics which was a prerequisite to become a vet, and the second one is that I met Professor Fritz Eloff who was an avid Kalahari ecologist, and as a first year student in zoology he told us stories about this nice place, this wonderful place and what he was doing there, and that made me decide well I’ll become an ecologist.

MYD: That’s fantastic. So did you start off with studying in the Kalahari?

KB: No, I actually started off as a, as a specialist scientist for the Transvaal Conservation Agency and I worked on Black Backed Jackals, but then I realised that there was very little in terms of formal training for wildlife management in South Africa, and I had the brashness of youth to go to my Director and I said to him that I want to go and study in America to learn about wildlife management. They gave me four years of paid study leave to go providing that I came back and established a training facility for wildlife management in South Africa, which I did.

MYD: What was it like to establish wildlife studies in South Africa, to be the founder and creator of a whole new field?

KB: Well if I look at how many people we’ve trained and where they’ve gone, they, my graduates went to, all over the world and I think it was amazing actually that was the catalyst for wildlife management in Africa and to spread it into any other place that you could actually use wildlife as a development vehicle and in the end, the result is conservation.

MYD: Let’s talk a little bit about some of those studies and when you started studying lion and how it transitioned into studying leopard?

KB: In the beginning I just went with Professor Eloff and my task was very easy, accept it was very laborious. We didn’t have GPS, we didn’t have all these modern facilities, so we would track the lions with the aid of San trackers which are fantastic people, and I had to map the movements of a lion, so I had to get off the vehicle every time we stopped and every time there was a change in direction and I had to take a compass reading of where we were now moving. Sometimes I had to get on and off a vehicle two hundred times, and that’s how it all started and then I started getting interested in what animals were doing, what the lions were doing and one day I realised, but you know nobody knows anything about leopards, and I said to him now I’ve done this for you, I’m going to start my own study on leopards.

MYD: We also have the benefit of being able to read your stories and be inspired by all the things that you’ve been through and what has been learnt in terms of conservation.

KB: You know in the book I make the statement that the Kalahari is a symphony. Some people can hear the symphony and they can relate to it, others cannot, so that’s why I usually say you either become a Kalahari enthusiast or you don’t. You go there once and you don’t go there again or you go there once and you can’t keep on going, you just keep on going and going and going, because every time there’s a new note, there’s something new. It’s a symphony of what you see and what you hear and what you experience, and if you can hear that symphony it’s a wonderful place.