Partnering with Comvita is a dream come true…
In 2020 we embarked on global multi-year partnership with wildlife charity Saving the Wild. As the major Sponsorship Partner of Saving the Wild, Comvita is acting upon its founding values, our mission to connect people to nature is at the heart of this partnership. In The Honey Diaries, Saving the Wild’s founder Jamie Joseph gives us an honest and up close account of nature in need and the efforts of this partnership to bring the holistic, positive impacts of bees to meet the problems nature faces.
By Jamie Joseph, Director of Saving the Wild. All photographs © Saving the Wild
Exhausted from the crime in South Africa, I immigrated to New Zealand at the start of 2009. And so it’s somewhat ironic I would return seven years later to fight organized crime enabling rhino poaching. But those who know me understand that saving the wild is my calling, whatever it takes. And sometimes I have to put it all on the line, running intel driven wildlife investigations to take down crime bosses, but in recent years I have found that what is most needed is a long term vision to secure land and protect fragile ecosystems.
The wild is vanishing right before our eyes.
Because to lose habitat is to lose a home that you may never get back. The wild is vanishing right before our eyes, and we must do everything we can to save these last great wild places. As guardians of the natural world, it is not only our duty, it is what makes us better humans.
And for the last two years Comvita has joined us on this journey, but my admiration for Comvita’s work ethic began soon after I moved to Mount Maunganui in the Bay of Plenty, my first and forever home in New Zealand.
And one of my first and most dear friends in the Bay was none other than Comvita’s Chairman for decades, Bill Bracks, who became my mentor. Even in the later years when Bill was sick and I would visit him in hospital, he was always teaching me new things and allowing me to indulge in my endless curiosity. It was Bill who first sparked my fascination for bees, the world’s tiniest superheroes, and the medicinal properties of Manuka honey. If Bill were alive today I know he would be so proud to see me working with Comvita, and it was his amazing wife Gwen who actually made the introduction in 2018 when I was back in the Bay for a summer break with friends and family.
The adventure begins with me picking up a bucket of Comvita’s Manuka honey from marketing manager David Bathgate’s house just a few blocks away from my family home in The Mount. I then explained to the lovely ladies at customs that the honey was in fact for rhino survivors of Africa’s poaching crisis. There are a few rhinos who by some miracle survive after a poacher hacks off their horns from their face, and others who have been shot but managed to escape. The vets, the real miracle workers, were absolutely thrilled with the Manuka and high UMF, which is like sprinkling a little bit of anti bacterial magic into their hands.
Exactly a year later I was back in New Zealand for my summer break, when the Australia bushfires began raging. Again, I reached out to Comvita, and without hesitation they were packing my hired van full of Comvita’s Manuka Wound Gel supplies, and myself and Australian conservation photographer Adam Oswell drove across New South Wales, eventually ending up on ground zero Kangaroo Island.
I am not sure if I will ever be able to speak in detail of the apocalyptic devastation we witnessed, nor do I think people really want to hear about the silence of death that still rings in my ears. Instead I hold onto what was saved, and the bonds that were made.
Our first day, meeting wildlife caregivers Woody and Kirsten, founders of Native Wildlife Care, and their can do-won’t give up attitude…holding a baby wombat in my arms for the very first time, and watching him contentedly nod off to sleep, knowing he is safe from harm in his new home…and the huge smiles on human faces as I handed over a box of Manuka supplies.
Also in New South Wales, at Possumwood Sanctuary, I will remember a kangaroo hobbling over to Professor Steve Garlick, just to hold his hand. And Steve’s wife Dr Rosemary Austen, a general practitioner, who spends everything she earns caring for their rescues.
And I will never forget our morning at Southern Cross Veterinary Clinic as more and more people arrived with their animals. No one is ever turned away by Dr Howard Ralph, a living legend in his seventies who works like a machine that never stops.
These people are invisible to the rest of the world. They do what they do when no one is looking. I am just someone who showed up, like a pile of Christmas, but I really hope to return to Australia in 2021, and continue this story, in honour of them.
One day after I got back from the bushfire frontline, still tripped out by what I had seen, I walked out of my family home and into the school sports field adjacent to our garden. I had Jesse by my side, my sweet blue heeler cross border collie who is the light of my life. Thank god it was a weekend, and it was me and not a child who entered the field. Without any warning, a massive gang dog lunged at Jesse and latched onto her back and was trying to kill her. I did what had to be done to save my girl, and even though I too was bitten, my hands crushed, we were able to escape, and a friend rushed us off to the vet. After Jesse was stabilised, I was taken to hospital and cleaned up. Jesse was far worse than me, split wide open, she could have died. It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, but fortunately, it seems, dogs recover from trauma a lot quicker than humans. For the next two weeks I applied Comvita Manuka honey to our wounds, until the vet promised me she would live. The most comfort I felt during those long hours and days was to see the healing properties of Manuka working right before my eyes.
Jesse and I after the attack
From the bushfires to the covid pandemic, it certainly has been a challenging year. Just before I flew to Kenya at the start of August, Comvita and Saving the Wild formalised our partnership, with a three year plan to learn and grow together and help nature in need. There has been many flights, and some hard, dusty travelling these last three months, and I take a teaspoon of Manuka honey a day, and I never get sick - and it tastes so good!
The last two months of work have been dedicated to Tolstoy and Craig, two of the last great tuskers left on earth who reside in the Kimana wildlife corridor in Kenya. They are the wise mentors to the younger bulls - the askari - transferring knowledge that only comes with age and experience. They teach the askari the ways of the wild, and they show them the ancient migration routes that lead to food and water during times of drought.
I have been quietly working with the best film makers of the planet to tell the story of these two gentle giants, and the Kimana wildlife corridor that is their home, for as long as we can protect it, and them.
There are only around a handful of elephants who’s ivory sweeps the ground, the rest have been hunted to death, and so it is both a privilege and a responsibility to do whatever we can to save them, in a last stand to save the gene pool.
And everywhere I go the bees are never far. The bees are all around me, pollinating, and then along come the elephants, the seed dispersers. These two amazing species, tiny and gigantic, are working in harmony to regenerate habitat. The result: a stronger, more robust ecosystem.
Elephants, the seed dispersers
There is a new bee project that is just a seeding right now, but poised to bloom in the coming months. We look forward to sharing more about this with the Comvita community, as we set off into new territory where wild dreams really do come true.