Fancy being a hero? A real, honest-to-God, hero? Do you have it in you to wade into a fiery, smoky hell to battle an inferno threatening homes, or the intestinal fortitude to go out to sea in the roughest storms to rescue a stranded boat, when even wave-hardened sea rats are turning green? Maybe you believe that tracking a 700-pound Gorilla in the sweaty confines of the war-torn Central African jungle is your idea of a giggle. And you’re not going to call a guy who goes into the heart of the Amazon rainforest a pansy; braving anacondas the length of giraffes and bugs the size of a tennis ball to help conserve the last truly virgin rainforest on this planet. Welcome to the exciting way to be a Good Guy. Women love a bloke with a good story…
THE NATIONAL SEA RESCUE INSTITUTE (NSRI)
Rough seas and malevolent weather systems are a hallmark of the South African coastline, and every year there are hundreds of boats that find themselves up shit creek without a paddle, or the nautical equivalent anyway. The NSRI, a band of about a thousand volunteers countrywide, are usually the ones sent to pull you out of the drink and slap you upside the head. Obviously, this is the kind of thing that is better suited to those who have an understanding of open waters and the special perils they pose, and the training is gruelling and intensive, with as much focus on general maritime safety and equipment as on your physical conditioning. You won’t need a gym contract after doing this for a while, put it like that… The men and women at the NSRI form a communication network, starting with Coastwatchers who alert authorities to any potentially dangerous situations, to the central radio stations, the maintenance crews looking after the boats, and naturally the brave (read: “crazy”) folk who actually take the boat out. So even if you don’t have sea legs, whatever those look like, you can play your part if your heart beats for the ocean.
THE VOLUNTEER WILDFIRE SERVICES
Every year, the beginning of summer brings a few certainties with it for every South African. There will be that last cold snap just after you’ve packed away your winter bedding; you will be less tanned than an albino gold miner; and there will be wind, especially in the Cape. With the hotter weather and wind come veld fires. Swift and devastating, they can consume in minutes what takes years to regenerate, and they keep no timetable. Enter the certifiable lads and lasses from VWS, who work in tandem with public emergency services like Cape Town Fire & Emergency Services and Disaster Management to help both contain wild fires and maintain fire breaks to minimise the damage when they do occur. Roughly 150-strong, VWS have been operating in Cape Town since the devastating fires that occurred during the El Niño times of the year 2000. While there is ample opportunity to throw yourself into the heart of the Devil’s braaiplace, a lot of the effort centre around preventative measures. Cutting out firebreaks through the vegetation is one of the major controlling techniques, so if you’re handy with a panga, and like a stroll in the mountains, here’s a chance to hack away like Indiana Jones on tik while actually doing something more constructive than just reducing your garden to kindling. There are also less active avenues to contribute, such as education programmes, awareness campaigns and community projects.
INTERNATIONAL GORILLA CONSERVATION PROGRAMME (IGCP)
This option is for the animal lovers out there. Who doesn’t like a fuzzy, cuddly, 7-foot- tall gorilla with teeth the size of machine gun rounds? CUUUUUTE! Er no, wait… In a game of Nature Celebrity Death Match, a lot of the wise money would go on these fellas. Nominally docile, they have within them the ability to throw championship-winning tantrums, and over half a ton of raging primal fur is a thing to be feared in a very real, run-away kind of way. It’s the kind of animal you want to keep around, just so you can drag a mate along and watch him crap himself too. Unwitting participants of the regional strife spanning Uganda, Congo and Rwanda, the natural habitat for these animals is under constant threat from poachers, and general deforestation of the area. Conservation and research efforts are dovetailing with on-the-ground surveillance to try and ensure the continued survival of both the ecosystem and its inhabitants. This is more of a calling, so it may not be the first choice for some; but there is the rugged adventurer in all of us who is mentally batting away the lush vegetation, moving quietly through the dense undergrowth as you track a troop through the forest. Kinda makes your little cubicle with its plastic fern seem a little boring, doesn’t it?
THE RESERVA ECOLOGICA TARICAYA (RET)
And what the hell is the RET, I hear you ask? Well, before we get to that, it’s a region located alongside the Rio Madre de Dios, or the Mother of God river. That should give you some idea of just what this place is about. The RET is a reserve, deep in the unspoilt heart of theAmazon rainforest in Peru, whose mission is to work in collaboration with the local people to conserve what is pretty much the last piece of forest that has never known the hands and influence of man. A forest that has been there since the start of trees, and plants, and bugs and stuff. That’s important, especially when some corporations seem hell-bent on systematically chopping down the rest of “The Earth’s Lung.” It truly is the one remaining place on Earth where you can see just how good ol’ Ma Earth is at slowly whittling away at a design until it’s fit for purpose: the Piranha that is a mere 10 inches of death in a shiny suit; the gargantuan anacondas that drown you, constrict you or just chomp you; or spiders the size of your head, with poison that makes carbolic acid seem like baby soap. Everything is just totally and utterly bewildering and dangerous. Even the plants in this jungle seem to have fangs. With everything from rainforest conservation to wildlife projects and social sustainability programmes, there is ample scope to go and dip an oar in, and you have to imagine it would certainly be a pretty awesome place to go and do some Good. Make sure to pack in the mosquito repellent though… and the snake anti-venom… and the samurai swords…
By Tim Houghton
Published in Playboy South Africa November 2011