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Environmental Hero

Dr. Johan Marais

Green Kids Club continues to be inspired by those individuals that have made the environment and animal conservation a priority. With that in mind, we wanted to get to know some of the people that inspire us in our Environmental Heroes spotlight.

Dr. Johan Marais founded Saving the Survivors in 2012 when he saw a need, as a veterinarian, to attend to wounded, endangered wildlife. Often the wildlife has sustained trauma, such as poaching, and needs various interventions or surgeries performed in their natural habitat to minimize risks associated with transportation. Dr. Marais and his team have saved hundreds of rhinos, cheetahs, elephants, lions, and other endangered wildlife throughout South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique.

Growing up in Namibia and South Africa, Dr. Marais became a veterinary surgeon, specializing in horses. However, the poaching crisis called him to put his talents to use in a unique way. Now he serves as the vet, photographer, and CEO of Saving the Survivors and has expanded their mission to include educational outreach, re-introduction of species to
habitats where they previously existed, and translocation of numerous animals for their safety.

All photos provided by Saving the Survivors.

GKC: What drove you to do this type of work?

Johan: I quite enjoy the challenge of working on wild animals, as you have to think completely out of the box when treating fractures, wounds etc, as you cannot keep them in a stable afterwards and change your dressings or bandages daily.  It therefore forces you to come up with new and innovative ways to treat these animals, and to see the success thereof was quite rewarding.   

Then I got the chance to work on our very first rhino survivor, Hope, in 2015, and that opened up a complete new sphere of terrible, challenging wounds.  Also, rhino are such incredible animals to work on, so I really enjoyed this new, amazing opportunity.

GKC: What do you like best about your job?

Johan: Being able to see an animal that has sustained severe trauma from an injury or poaching, heal over a few weeks after treatment and being released again to roam in the wild is probably one of the best feelings in the world.

GKC: What types of challenges do you encounter?

Johan: Having to treat a 1.5 ton animal, that is completely wild and that cannot be put in a stable with daily bandage changes, was and still is quite a challenge.  Putting a cast on  a rhino with a fracture is something we had to develop, as no one else had done it before.  Similarly, treating the severe facial injuries after poaching was quite an exponential learning curve, but I think we did well in the end to develop methods to deal with these injuries. 

GKC: What advice would you give to aspiring, future environmental heroes?

Johan: Persistence is the answer.  

We have seen some of the most severe and brutal injuries, especially in rhino.  However, most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.  We, as veterinarians and conservationists, are able to assist the pain and suffering that is inflicted on these animals, and together, with our compassion to treat and heal these animals, we can and will make a difference.  There is such an onslaught on our wildlife and natural resources, and we need strong people with persistence to fight the battle.


For more about the dedicated individuals making an impact at Saving the Survivors, check out their team page or follow their work on Facebook.

We worked with Saving the Survivors on our book Little Moyo and our upcoming book, Kabelo, the Silly Little Rhino. Proceeds from both of these books go to support StS.

About the author

Lorielle Peterson

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