Growing up as an animal lover in South Africa, Inge Kotze has a trove of stories to tell about her encounters with wildlife. Her conservationist father certainly made sure of that, given their regular holidays to the world-famous Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest and most diverse game reserves.
And yet there was one animal that kept eluding the duo: the mysterious, elegant leopard.
That changed one early winter’s morning, when Kotze and her father headed out to the Park by themselves. There, a leopard showed himself to the awed duo proudly, and spent over 30 minutes alone with them on a dirt track. Two weeks later, Kotze’s father passed away unexpectedly.
It’s been almost 30 years since that fateful leopard sighting, but whenever Kotze — now Head of Conservation at luxe safari company Singita — returns to the bush, she almost always spots a leopard.
“It gives me a sense that my dad is right there with me,” she says, wistfully.
At Singita — which is currently custodian to almost 500,000 acres of land across some of Africa’s most iconic wilderness areas — Kotze wants to ensure that this wilderness is safeguarded for other kids to experience, like she once did.
Since assuming her role last year, Kotze has supported the ongoing efforts of Singita’s many conservation partners across Africa, such as The Grumeti Fund in Tanzania, who helped reintroduce the critically endangered Eastern Black Rhino into the Western Serengeti system through the Grumeti Black Rhino project. Singita is also a founding member of the Lionscape Coalition, a group of ecotourism operators supporting the Lion Recovery Fund with their aim to double Africa’s lion population by 2050.
Her good work doesn’t just extend to four-legged creatures. As a conservationist, Kotze is not only concerned about the wellbeing of the animals on their parks, but also with the environment, and the people that live on it.
Some of her team’s other projects include the active reforestation of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda — where Singita’s Kwitonda Lodge sits on the edge — as well as supporting early childhood development centres and institutes like the Singita Community Culinary School, which offers fully-paid scholarships for local students to train at international colleges.
The conservation partners that her team supports might now be facing one of their toughest challenges yet. Poaching have always been a persistent problem, more so now during a pandemic when tourism is scarce, jobs and local income have been affected, and these areas are anticipating a spike in illegal hunting for bushmeat.
“The current pandemic has dramatically illustrated how deeply connected we are to nature, and how globally connected and vulnerable we are as humans,” she says.
Beyond that, Kotze highlights another bugbear that has emerged: technology.
“In a world that’s now so connected by technology, we’ve become increasingly disconnected from nature,” she says. “There’s a lack of understanding about our dependance on our natural systems — one of the biggest challenges we face is how to make these connections real and appealing to ensure that people stop and think.”
Still, that doesn’t keep Kotze from heading out into the bush to ensure that she sticks to her personal and professional promise; Singita pledges itself to what they call a ‘100-year purpose’ to preserve and protect their wild lands for future generations.
For Kotze, she wants to do her part to ensure that kids can still see wild animals in their natural habitats in the future — leopards or not.