ZIMBABWEAN wildlife conservationist Roxy Danckwerts has made history after landing the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Lifetime Achievement Award at the BAFTA in London, United Kingdom.
Danckwerts (57) who is based in Harare is a leader in the field of rescue and rehabilitation of African elephants and other wildlife.
Announcing the awards recently, IFAW president and chief executive Azzedine Downes said the Animal Action Awards were the organisation’s long-standing commitment to honour and herald trailblazing animal heroes.
“I’m thrilled we are now able to showcase inspiring people from all across the globe from all different walks of life. Like us, their fresh thinking and bold actions are making a difference for animals, people and the place we call home,” Downes said.
In just 10 years, Danckwerts together with her team have successfully rescued more than 50 elephants and found them a home at their sanctuary, Wild Is Life (WIL) in Zimbabwe. The sanctuary was founded to help abandoned, injured and orphaned animals.
In 2016, Danckwerts took in her first elephant, and Wild Is Life now employs 120 workers, including 25 carers who provide round-the-clock care to rescued elephant calves.
The care is at both their dedicated nursery and a separate soft release site where they can eventually join other elephant herds in the wild.
“When I started, all I had was a garage and a bunch of ideas,” Danckwerts said.
“Moyo was the first elephant to come into my care, and my only goal when she came to me was just to keep her alive. Caring for a young elephant might sound idyllic, but in reality it wasn’t joyful — I often wondered what I had gotten myself into.
“It was an incredibly physically and mentally exhausting job, where I was often knee deep in elephant mess.”
Although Danckwerts is primarily into rescuing animals, she is also actively trying to change mindsets by encouraging people to embrace a more understanding approach towards animals — something she refers to as a “culture of care”.
“We need to tap into the hearts and minds of people, and I think it’s working. People are recognising the intrinsic value that our unique wildlife can bring, and we are seeing a culture shift. Park rangers now call us when orphaned or injured elephant calves are found — this wouldn’t have happened, say eight years ago,” she said. On winning the award, Roxy said: “I was in shock. Sometimes we can get a sense of imposter syndrome, although to be recognised by a globally respected organisation such as IFAW in this respect, is just astonishing.
“I am just a simple woman, and all I ever wanted was to just help some animals. This has grown into something bigger than I ever imagined. Sometimes things don’t go as planned which can lead to heartache, but this has given me the most enormous boost.”
Downes applauded Danckwerts for her bravery to the wild.
“What Roxy has done for elephants and other wild animals, is truly outstanding. She has frequently challenged the status quo and gone against the grain, defying what some said couldn’t be done — and done,” he said.
“Her determination and devotion is inspirational on every level, and I’m delighted to see her receive the prestigious IFAW Lifetime Achievement Award.”
The prestigious annual event puts a spotlight on the unsung heroes across the country, while also recognising winners from around the world.