This month, I interviewed Matt Lindenberg, founder and executive director of Global Conservation Corps (www.globalconservationcorps.org). This interview is part one of three parts, which will continue in July and August.
What does Global Conservation Corps (GCC) do, and where is it based?
Our global headquarters is in Atlanta, and our operational work is in South Africa. We are a nonprofit organization that bridges the gap between community and wildlife. Poaching is a huge problem. We lose one to two rhinos every day. We support rangers and educate communities around wildlife refuges, inspiring kids to become future rangers.
Why did you start GCC?
I trained field rangers on the front lines at the Wildlife College at Kruger National Park (KNP) in South Africa. A Zulu man, Martin Mthembu, was my mentor and one of the best and most courageous rangers. He saved my life twice — once from a black mamba snake and the second time from two lions. Martin believed that we need to teach ownership in conservation and engage the communities living around the wildlife refuge, hoping that some of these kids will become rangers themselves instead of turning to poaching. When Martin died in a car accident, I knew I had to take his work further. In impoverished communities around KNP, most of the kids have never seen wildlife. GCC creates access for these kids in the hope of building empathy for wild animals.
Have you always been interested in wildlife?
Yes. From a young age, I was a birder. I made my first visit to KNP when I was 6 years old. I was lucky enough to go out with some rangers and saw lion tracks and hippos. The memory of those people protecting wildlife got me on my own path.
What is your favorite animal?
I have three. Rhinos — they are super gentle, very threatened and misunderstood. Cheetahs — only one out of 10 cubs survive their first year, and cheetah moms are amazing. Honey badgers — they take no nonsense and have amazing courage. They can fight off a herd of elephants, and they can be bitten by a black mamba snake and survive.
Tell us about the kids you work with in South Africa.
We have a Future Rangers program that logs the interests and aptitudes of the kids we work with, from 5 to 18 years old, and when they leave school, we try and help them build a future. A lot of them just want to leave the area as soon as they can and go to big cities, but we try to help the ones we can. The problem is that there are so many kids and few jobs.
Your movie, “Rhino Man,” is coming out soon. What was your inspiration?
Martin Mthembu is the inspiration for this movie. Rangers are soldiers fighting a war to protect animals. They get paid $500 per month — so, not very well. Poaching is a big business. Poachers know where rangers’ families live, and they are threatened daily. The movie is about these rangers who protect South Africa’s rhinos from being poached to extinction.
These animals are waiting for homes at Cobb County Animal Services.
This dog’s name is Jett. He is a 1-year-old terrier who is a perfect dog. Jett is very nice, with a great personality. He is very nervous here at the shelter and would make a really great companion for someone once he is adopted.
This cat’s name is Leeloo. She is 7 years old and a very sweet cat. She was a stray, because nobody would ever turn such a perfect cat in to the shelter. Leelo would be a great cat to just sit and chill out with.
– Rob Macmillan is on a mission to help shelter dogs and cats. On Facebook @robsrescues. www.robsrescues.com.