South African Ecologist John O’Brien on the perils of prickly pears and black rhino

It is always very insightful to talk to experts in their field; John is an ecologist who works at the Shamwari Game Reserve. Shamwari is one of the most successful private conservation initiatives in Southern Africa, that has been tirelessly conserving and rehabilitating wildlife in the Eastern Cape for 25 years.

South Africa Safari - Ecologist John O'BrienWhere do you operate your conservation programme from?
Shamwari Game Reserve, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

How long have you been an ecologist?
Since 1997

What led you to become an ecologist?
A passion for wildlife and the natural environment.

Describe your typical day?
My life revolves around balances in nature; so a typical day would be monitoring predators, game and vegetation to determine if our management actions are having a positive effect on the environment.

What experience has scared you the most?
Darting a badly injured black rhino in very dense vegetation while on foot. Very exciting but I will not do that again.

What experience has made you happiest?
Spending years with specific leopard and seeing them relax and breed successfully in an area where they used to be persecuted.

If you hadn’t have become an ecologist, what other profession would you have followed?
A wildlife vet or alternatively a paleontologist.

What is the most amusing experience you have had as an ecologist?
Watching Johan, our wildlife vet get into all sorts of predicaments. Being chased up a prickly pear by a black rhino, being bitten on the belly by an otter, losing the inside of his lip to a martial eagle, being chased up an electric fence by a lion that suddenly woke up from its anaesthetic. There are many more!

What makes you sad?
Obviously the poaching of our rhino and elephant. Also land degradation due to poor land management. People with no morals or ethics in our wildlife industry.

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
Always believe in what you are doing. Persevere and always maintain your passion. Most importantly never compromise your morals.

Lion laying on the road at Shamwari Game Reserve












What are your conservation plans for the future?
In light of population growth and the resulting isolation of wild land, to consolidate all the reserves in the Eastern Cape into one large conservation area with sound ideals.

Where in the world would you like to travel?
The Amazon to see the natural forests, Tibet to see the snow leopard and Alaska to see the Northern Lights.

What inspires you?
My job. To know that although I may not see the benefits of my endeavours they will contribute to future generations and those who have been given the same privilege to experience wild places and natural wildlife in their own environment.

Red Savannah guests can book South Africa Safaris as part of their journey exploring South Africa. For further details contact our Africa holiday specialist Chris Evans on +44 (0) 1242 787806.