Introducing Dr William Fowlds - Wildlife Vet and Rhino Hero

Thursday 13 February 2020

Dr William Fowlds is a wildlife vet in South Africa. Will’s passion for conservation stemmed from his childhood days spent in the wild African bush of the Eastern Cape.  In later years, his fifth generation family farm was converted along with neighbouring farms into what is now known as the Amakhala Game Reserve. 

Will went to school in St Andrews in Grahamstown and studied veterinary science through Onderstepoort in Pretoria. One of the privileges of Will’s professional life is to work with rhino around the Eastern Cape reserves and to get to know them as individuals.  He has also seen first-hand the bloody aftermath left by poachers and has saved many rhinos, including Thandi, from certain death. 

Will travels throughout South Africa and internationally giving his personal testimony of the brutal reality of poaching from a hands-on perspective, as well as sharing the efforts to bring back rhino from the brink of death with his pioneering veterinary care. These emotional accounts have highlighted to the world the tragedy befalling rhino and other endangered species. 

Will set up ARCC (African Rhino Conservation Collaboration) whose aims, to co-ordinate effective action against the poaching scourge, clearly match his own determination and dedication.

Attending 'rhino crime scenes' and hopes for the future

Helping Rhinos: Where did your involvement and work with rhino begin?

Will Fowlds: My journey started with my profession as a wildlife vet, being called initially to rhino poaching crime scenes where rhino were dead on arrival and then later on through the experience of seeing rhinos survive poaching incidents and our lack of capacity to deal with these incredibly traumatised and brutally injured animals.  

As these incidents increased, it became more and more important to develop techniques to treat and care for them.  These scenes really touched me in a way that changed me forever and the emotional turmoil that so many people feel when confronted with the realities of illegal wildlife trade is something I’ve tried to convey through the stories I tell of the survivors.  These are amazing animals, Thandi at Kariega Game Reserve being one of them. It was her heroic survival that inspired not only myself, but also many people around the world to get behind the species and make the world a safer place for rhino and other wildlife. 

HR: How many rhino crime scenes have you visited over the years?  And what was it like to be confronted with such a brutal sight?

WF: I personally have done 53 rhino crime scenes, most of those animals sadly were dead, but a large component of them survived these incidences and some of them managed to pull through. The sight is pretty horrific – you see clear evidence of what those animals went through before they died and in the case of survivors, what they’ve already been through by the time you get to them. 

And you also you witness the impact of poaching on communities and the people that live around these animals. It’s an incredibly traumatic thing to witness and its something that has driven me to try and be a better person, and I believe as humans we have to do better for the environment. 

This is not just for philanthropic reasons anymore, it’s about the survival of our own species and the lifestyles we make if we are to mitigate what we are currently doing to the planet. 

HR: There has been a reduction in poaching  in the Eastern Cape by 75% over the last year or so, what do you think can be attributed to this success?

WF: Poaching in this area has reduced over the last twelve months because everyone involved pulled together to form a cohesive plan. It can work and it takes a monumental effort from many passionate people and even if you can’t be on the front lines, you can still help, from any part of the world – that’s how big and global these issues have become.  One of the essential ingredients to our success is finding the good in humanity, getting that response galvanised and co-ordinated.  

HR: What gives you the most hope for the future?

WF:  The thing that inspires me the most, is knowing that if we all pull together we can make a difference.  I can look back at where I grew up as a child and see how it has changed for the better and I can take you to places where things have improved and I can show you people who have made that change happen. This kind of passion and dedication has made that difference. If you can do it one place, like here in the Eastern Cape, why not everywhere?

The world is beginning to wake up to what we have done: the science is clear and the evidence is something we are starting to feel more directly – no matter where we live. That is generating the response that was missing in the past.  If we bring everyone together it will really give us a chance to turn things around for the better. 

HR: How important is the connection between communities and wildlife conservation?

WF: “The future of wildlife in Africa will be determined by the communities that live around them.”

One of the most important aspects of a multi-disciplinary approach to conservation is community. No matter how important wildlife might seem to the rest of the world, it’s about how the communities around them think and feel about wildlife. We have to find ways to uplift communities and to give them alternative opportunities to what the illegal wildlife trade has to offer them.   Unless communities come on board and find a way to benefit from wildlife and to feel that importance of wildlife in their future, these animals will simply not survive. 

The greatest example of the culmination of protection of rhino and community is Siseko Mayinje.  Not only is Siseko functionally important, flying planes and giving aerial support to the ground, he is a trailblazer in his own community and has created a life people can aspire to.   He has lifted himself up from very humble beginnings to create a career path for himself that is meaningful and successful.  What Siseko represents for us is this culmination of the two (protection of rhino and community) through the work that he is doing. He is not only directly supporting and protecting rhino but he is inspiring his community to see that there are incredible opportunities out there for careers, for work, for meaningful contribution to their communities and the wildlife we all depend on here.

HR: How excited are you to be bringing the stories of the Eastern Cape to our Spring event at the Royal Geographical Society on 2nd April?

WF:  For us to be in London on 2nd April 2020 is going to be something really special, to be at the Royal Geographical Society (an iconic place, a very historical place) to share the stories that began from very humble beginnings in the Eastern Cape.  It will be very exciting to bring the people who have achieved so much to London to share their journeys and we look forward to meeting as many new people and growing that network, effort and building on the success that has already begun here in South Africa. 

London is an energetic centre of the world and represents the hearts of a UK nation that have an enormous passion for animals. I have worked with UK vets and they, along with other animal and conservation charities and supporters, are an exceptional community of people who really understand the importance of the connection we have as human beings with animals and our responsibilities and roles as custodians that share a life with them. 


More about the 2020 Spring Talk with Dr Will Fowlds