Learn How Richard Saves Species as a Sony Ambassador and Guide for Natural Habitat Adventures & WWF
On September 22, conservation scientists and animal advocates join forces in recognition of our planet’s five species of rhino. The largest of the species—the greater one-horned rhino (or “Indian rhino”)—is among the greatest conservation success stories in Asia. In Africa, southern white rhinos—once thought to be extinct—now thrive in protected sanctuaries and are classified as near threatened. Black rhino numbers have more than doubled, and Namibia is home to the largest black rhino population, thanks to local nonprofits and community-led land management.
At the turn of the 20th century, 500,000 rhinos roamed the continents of Africa and Asia; today, those numbers have dwindled to 27,000. The Sumatran, black and Javan rhinos are critically endangered. The western black rhino and northern white rhinos are extinct in the wild, and the only two remaining northern white rhinos are kept under 24-hour guard in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Although international trade in rhino horn has been banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), all five species of rhino are threatened with extinction as a result of the illegal wildlife trade. Every 22 hours, one rhino is slaughtered for its horn, and in 2021 alone, 451 rhinos in South Africa were illegally poached. The demand is primarily driven by affluent consumers in countries like China and Vietnam, who claim the horns possess medicinal properties.
World Wildlife Fund curbs poaching by implementing innovative technology and building the capacity of government and community rangers on the ground. Additionally, their ecotourism initiatives help local people reap tangible benefits from sharing wildlife habitats and coexisting with rhinos. Many conservancies even have guest lodges on their lands, offering uniquely intimate experiences such as walking rhino safaris. “When local communities are favorably disposed to having rhinos on their lands, they act as a first line of defense against poaching. They are the most important actors in supporting government efforts to protect rhinos and other wildlife on their lands,” says Robin Naidoo, WWF’s lead wildlife scientist.
Concerted conservation strategies such as ecotourism have begun to bring rhino populations back from the brink of extinction. That is why our partnership with WWF is so vital. We are also proud to employ premier naturalist guides across the globe. Our Expedition Leaders average 15 years of experience each, with additional resources provided by WWF’s leading scientists. See their conservation work in action by watching a thrilling rhino darting video below. Then, read on for an exclusive interview with our Expedition Leader Richard de Gouveia. Whether you are a traveler with Natural Habitat Adventures, a generous donor to WWF or a naturalist guide, you are securing a future for one of our planet’s oldest mammals and ensuring these ancient giants don’t just survive, but thrive.
Richard’s passion for wildlife conservation is rooted in exploring the connection between the human and nonhuman elements of the bush. He leads travelers to the most inspiring natural areas around the world to help them reconnect with an Earth that many have lost touch with.
Richard spent the last seven years guiding privately around Africa—from the mountain jungles of Uganda and Rwanda—to the diverse biomes of Southern and Eastern Africa and the lush island of Madagascar. In between Nat Hab trips, Richard is the director of Numinosity, a safari company inspired by the following sentiment: “An experience that makes you fearful yet fascinated, awed yet attracted; the powerful, personal feeling of being overwhelmed and inspired.” His love of the bush is matched only by his interest in photography and videography. As a Sony Alpha Ambassador, Richard utilizes these mediums as a means of preserving nature through arresting imagery, hoping to touch people with the beauty of wild places and creatures.
Q & A
Brief: What has been your most transformative encounter with a rhino?
De Gouveia: My first encounter brought me very close to these creatures. We were darting a rhino at Sabi Sabi private game reserve in South Africa in order to administer an ectoparasitic cattle dip (parasite deterrent medication) and a dye into the horn in order to protect these animals against poachers. (Dyeing rhino horns or elephant tusks can sometimes make them worthless on the black market). I’ve unfortunately seen a lot of death around these creatures and felt the impact of poaching personally, which is beyond sad and still makes me emotional to this day. To be able to be close to these animals and touch them is a magical magical experience.
Brief: What do you wish travelers knew about the illegal wildlife trade?
De Gouveia: I wish people knew more about how much is going on and the detrimental effects it’s having on rhino populations. In Kruger National Park alone, rhinos have declined by 60 percent since 2013. Globally, almost 10,000 rhinos in 10 years have been poached. All because of greed. These guys are about growing in wealth at the detriment of something else—not at the betterment of something else.
Brief: If you had the opportunity to sit down with a poacher or wildlife trafficker, how might you express the importance of conserving endangered species? How could you instill in them the intrinsic value of rhinos?
De Gouveia: The intrinsic value of a rhino can only be seen by someone who has an interest in their life, not their death. It’s more so the end-user that would need to be curbed because they are the ones with all the power and money and influence. The animals aren’t destroying the environment around them; the humans are. At the local level, we can deter poachers by showing community members that rhinos are worth more alive. Safari lodges and game reserves are the perfect landscapes to educate people because they can benefit from the tourism dollars, working there and guarding the animals. Community involvement is key.
Brief: How do you draw meaningful connections between the local communities in Africa who share habitats with wildlife and the guests who come to visit?
De Gouveia: In Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana, there are very few boundaries between parks and villages, so interaction with wildlife is significant. When an elephant or predator comes in to raid that area, it not only hurts the communities’ livelihoods but also negatively impacts their impression of wildlife. Those living on the property line with an existence based on subsistence are just looking to grow their crop, raise a family and find happiness. In South Africa, there are fences around all the parks, and it brings back memories of apartheid for a lot of these communities that sit on the outskirts of the park borders. Seeing all the money go into the parks, and not to the communities, can be very difficult. How can we work towards sustainable usage of area and animals while being empathetic to human lives?
There needs to be an equitable balance regarding how we treat these communities and their involvement in these conservation projects, and their ability to profit. We have to find a way to help communities benefit from the life of these animals and the preservation of biodiversity. I think the best way to do this is through ecotourism. To be around these magnificent creatures and to see how intelligent and emotional these animals are. If we can all see that, it gives animals a more human quality, which makes people more likely to respect them, rather than just view them as an object and something to be utilized.
Brief: How do you educate your groups about sustainable travel, minimizing waste and mitigating their footprint?
De Gouveia: The biggest thing for me is creating a connection; connecting people to the environment, and letting them understand their place in the environment. Some believe we should not anthropomorphize and give animals human properties, but that implies we are not animals ourselves. Humans are animals, too; we have all evolved from common ancestors. While our viewpoint may be very different from the animal viewpoint, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the ability to see things intelligently and emotionally too. For me, creating space in nature for guests to be fully immersed with individual species in their natural habitats, automatically leads to the minimizing of waste and mitigating our footprint. Observing nature is the best way to show people that animals make use of purely what they need and don’t take more than that. We have one planet and one gyre that all functions together, and when one part is suffering, it will impact the others. If humans don’t understand this, we will lose everything we have.
Nat Hab oozes sustainability from the very beginning—down to the operations level. I like people to see and understand that a lot of the places we visit are simply not accessible to the greater population. That in itself makes it more sustainable because there is significantly less foot traffic, noise pollution, etc. Low-density travel means massive tracks of land are saved for the privilege of a few. People with financial means play a very important role in conserving lands and saving wildlife. These areas are protected for the betterment of our planet and for humanity.
Brief: As a Sony Alpha Ambassador, how would you say that the medium of photography/videography educates and inspires people to want to conserve wildlife?
De Gouveia: My storytelling is tantamount to connecting people to the beauty of the world without them ever having to leave their homes. It’s especially important for those who don’t have the privilege and the means to travel to wild places and interact with the animals first-hand. There is a lot of naivety surrounding certain animals and conservation issues. There are horror stories perpetuated through the media about sharks and lion attacks, for example. I love having the opportunity to de-villainize predators and capture their lives and their family bonds. With my camera, I can debunk a lot of misconceptions and myths and educate people to be more caring. These creatures are thoughtful and deserving of protection, regardless of how dangerously they are depicted.
Brief: What would you say is your best tip for capturing rhinos on camera? When is a good time to put down the lens and experience a moment in real time?
De Gouveia: Our Secluded South Africa trip is a magical, magical experience. The Marataba Private Reserve, located in Marakele National Park, is where we did the rhino darting. Though this experience is not necessarily included in the itinerary, the research studies are conducted on the same reserve we take our guests to. Many of Africa’s reserves contain de-horned rhinos to protect them from being poached, so this is one of the few places where rhinos can be viewed in all their glory—horns and all. I often advocate for guests to put down their cameras and be fully immersed in the moment. Photos are reserved for a time when the lighting is right, and composition can be prioritized. When there is a rare and special animal interaction such as this, it’s important to be there. Life’s not just about photos; it is about being present.
Brief: How do you use social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok for storytelling? What are the benefits of photography vs. videography for communication?
De Gouveia: Social media is interesting because there are so many different accounts with polarizing views. When telling a story or making and sharing a video, people will adopt their own perspective, and they might not be very open to seeing things from other people’s perspectives. I use these platforms to reach the people who want to learn. I don’t engage with trolls or people who are naturally combative. The same goes for superficial creators who only post click bate and are just trying to harvest followers and receive the instant gratification of likes. These platforms are really, really powerful when used correctly and ethically. I’m fortunate enough to have a lens that allows me to photograph and video our planet’s rarest and most endangered species. Video is a particularly useful tool to share things; especially emotive moments that a still photo will never fully be able to communicate. I enjoy sharing experiences across cultures and countries.
Brief: What is it like to dart, tag and track a rhino?
De Gouveia: Studying rhinos in this way highlights the plight that they are in. It is incredibly powerful to participate in a conservation effort in which money is being utilized in an actionable way that is fully realized right in front of you. Collecting DNA, taking a horn sample, putting on a tracking collar and being able to touch the rhino really pulls at your heartstrings. It’s a special experience that allows scientists and volunteers to be true ambassadors for these animals. Nat Hab safaris are curated to share the stories of these animals in a way that is educational and gets people excited to save rhinos and other animals from extinction.
Brief: For our readers who wish to learn more about the role of technology in conservation, WWF’s implementations have been life-saving. Electronic identification and tracking tags, radio collars, drones and camera traps provide WWF with the data they need to make important decisions for rhino populations going forward. They also install thermal and infrared cameras and software systems that can identify poachers from afar and alert park rangers of their presence. Together, with TRAFFIC and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), they created The Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online to keep wildlife #OfflineAndInTheWild. This collaboration unites the tech industry to standardize prohibited wildlife policies, trains staff to better detect illicit wildlife products, enhances automated detection filters and empowers users to report suspicious listings. Members including Alibaba, eBay, Facebook, Google and TikTok, reported removing more than 11.6 million listings for live endangered species and animal body parts from their online platforms to date.
Brief: What’s in your guide bag? What kind of camera equipment do you use?
- F-Stop Gear Tilopa (camera bag)
- Sony Alpha a1
- Sony Alpha a9II
- iPhone 12 Pro Max
- Peak Design Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod
- Sony 400mm f/2.8 G-Master
- Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G-Master
- Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G-Master
- Sony 135mm f/1.8 G-Master
- Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 G-Master
- Sony 1.4x Teleconvertor
Post-Processing Software Expertise
- Adobe Lightroom
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Premiere Pro
Brief: For those interested in embarking on an adventure with you, which Nat Hab trips do you guide?
Join me on any of these upcoming departures!
- Secluded South Africa Safari
- Great Uganda Gorilla Safari
- Ultimate Gorilla Photo Safari
- Madagascar Wildlife Adventure