Duncan Yearley’s first tentative steps at putting together his African conservation project are met with great success… Until disaster strikes
In the first installment of Duncan’s quest to set up his own conservation project in Africa, we followed his exploits as he 'retired' from his job, sold his house and worked on a variety of volunteers projects including field guiding across South Africa; Big Five monitoring near Ladysmith in South Africa; a rhino protection project in Swaziland; and a wild dog project in Zimbabwe. We continued to follow his adventures across Africa.
The experience I gained on the raft of volunteer projects I had worked on gave me the confidence to apply for a proper job – training scouts in basic field guiding in a forest reserve near Salima in central Malawi.
It was a great job and I was soon introduced to several quite influential people in various organisations including the Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. It wasn’t long before I was asked to travel around the country and study how various lodges were built and then suggest how future lodges could be built from the natural resources at hand.
It was on my visit to Kasungu National Park that I met Jarvis Thamala, the park manager. He mentioned that there used to be wild dogs present in the park and although they had not been seen for years he still believed they were present.
I realised then that this could be my opening into doing something really useful in conservation. I had just finished working with the dogs in Zimbabwe and I realised how important they were. There are only around 3,000 left in the whole of Africa.
Using my newly made contacts I approached the Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife and outlined my plan. I offered to look for wild dogs and other endangered wildlife in Malawi and implement plans to help them. In return, I asked for free entrances to the parks, free accommodation and the use of armed guards, when necessary. To my surprise he agreed to my demands and so I set about my task.
I soon realised that my problems had only just begun. I had limited funds and limited means of getting around. Luckily my good friend Tony Finch let me use his old Toyota.
Dealing with Malawi immigration was a more immediate concern. I had just about used up all of the three months allotted on my tourist visa. I was tempted to leave the country and re-enter to get another one, but this can be risky as they sometimes don’t let you back into the country. Instead I decided to apply for a temporary residence permit. I managed to get a letter from the Director of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife and took it, along with two passport photos, to immigration. I paid my money and three months later my permit was granted. I was cleared to stay for six months in total.
Soon I was in Kasungu looking for wild dogs and I couldn’t be happier.
Two weeks later disaster struck.
I came down with a fever. I had suffered from tick bite fever in South Africa and a doctor sorted me out with Doxycycline. I thought it was tick bite fever again and self-administered with more doxy. The fever got worse and the local doctor prescribed Malarone thinking it was malaria. This didn’t help either and on Boxing Day 2007 I drove 200 kilometres to Lilongwe where I was diagnosed with trypanosomiasis, sleeping sickness.
The next day I was airlifted to Johannesburg. It seemed my dream of starting my own conservation project in Africa was over before it had even started …