Friday, 12 July 2013

Raabia Hawa: Beauty with the Beasts

Raabia Hawa is Kenyan. A conservationist, she was recently awarded the status of honorary KWS ranger and was featured on the cover page of Animal Welfare magazine. Raabia is aspiring to the Kenyan parliament, to be the change she wants to see in the world, for Kenyans, for Kenya's natural heritage and riches - the wildlife, the environment. She is a radio presenter for XFM on the mid morning show and on the weekends at East FM. She is 29, Kenyan born; she is part of the land.

Siddhant Sadangi of Youthleader magazine talks to this “child of the wild”!

SS: Can you walk us through the events and the set up which led you into conservation?
RH: Well, growing up my dad always kept us close to nature, whether it was a drive through the national parks, or being grounded at home with nothing but wildlife documentaries to watch! My father loves wildlife, he always has, and I suppose it rubbed off onto me during my formative years when I grew up around wildlife in various parts of Africa. Africa’s magic is something else, it really gets right into your veins, and you suddenly become one with it.

SS: Could you provide a brief outline of your purpose, mission and vision?
RH: Save as many as you can every single day... because you never know when it could be your last!

SS:  What is your primary approach to promoting this concept?
RH: It’s quite simple really, I have my phone on all day and night and since I am also a radio personality who is well known to be the wildlife lover, anytime an animal is in distress I get a phone call and use my networks to send help. People reach me through facebook and twitter, and so I have a responsibility to make myself knowledgeable on animal welfare legislation so I can advise people accordingly should it involve domestic animal cruelty.
I also have made connections with a lot of vets, and many colleagues within the Kenya Wildlife Service, to enable me to get quick response wherever needed.
The rest are matters such as supporting the teams I send distress calls to, sometimes they are under-resourced so I then offer to cover their costs for the trip they make, be it fuel, or otherwise where necessary. I then use my other friend network to raise funds needed for any operations. At the end of the day we must remember there is always a solution, we just have to be committed to the cause no matter what J

SS: Anybody else in the team? Can you tell us something about them?
RH: Well, I work with various teams. I am an honorary warden with the Kenya Wildlife Service so I don’t really have a fixed unit. I go where I find work and join whoever is there and help out as much as I can. However, I have to say I give full credits and many thanks to the Wildlife Works team. They are amazing people! The community scouts go on anti-poaching patrol daily, and I join them whenever I can. They are like family to m now, and you can read more about their work within the Tsavo Conservation Area here in Kenya, on
Another team I have had the privilege of working with is the Local Ocean Trust, in Watamu along our coastline. These guys are amazing! Such dedicated workers who truly care about turtles. I joined them on one rescue where they rescued no less than 11 turtles in a single day! They have a by-catch release agreement with some local fishermen, and it has been very successful so far. You can also read more about them on

SS:  Playing away from your turf always poses challenges, which were the ones faced by you while establishing and conducting your activities?
RH: Well, I’m only doing volunteer work, so I live pretty much a nomadic lifestyle anyway! However, you’re right; it is very much a challenge going to a new area where I have never been before.  One memorable experience was the fire-fighting on Mt. Kenya. I’m generally not a fan of cold weather, and let’s just say this was below freezing!
There was simply no amount of clothing that did me justice; however the workout did help keep me warm!
Other challenges are mostly due to a change in terrain. When you’re used to working in thick dry bush, being surrounded by lush greenery can be daunting!

SS: While you battled such challenges, what was the motivation that kept you going?
RH:  Well, I see these as minor things. If your mind can overcome a fear, then your body can pull you through. So when you focus your mind on work, then you’re done before you know it!

SS: Can you provide us a sneak into the activities conducted by you?
RH: While I have conducted several light de-snaring operations, I mostly join teams that are already at work and follow their team leader. My work for wildlife is performed as a voluntary service and as I am flexible, I can move around and go to various areas.
I assist in many projects and operations, from school awareness and education to anti-poaching. Basically anything that will help wildlife at the end of the day!

SS: How is this idea different from the others?
RH: It is my personal feeling that we must each do as much as we possibly can, I have skills in education and media, so I never limit myself to just field work. When I can’t be on the field, I take wildlife awareness to schools, and help people connect with each other so they can further the cause. It must be said, however, that I simply cannot manage a desk job! I’m just not built for it! So I suppose that would be where I draw the line...

SS: Any other interests/hobbies of yours which you would like to share with us?
RH: I’m a PADI qualified diver! I love diving and my favourite is swimming with sharks and octopuses!

SS: Is there any moment, incident, or person that has carved a special place in this journey? Our readers will like to hear about this?
RH: In many ways I feel connected to wildlife, and I would like to share with you the story of George, whose name is part of my email address, and a lot of people wonder why.
Some people think it is silly, but I assure you once you know why you will (hopefully) come to understand why it is so...

During my tenure at the animal orphanage, I came to work with a lot of lions except one, George.
He was mean! At feeding time he'd roar and jump on the fence, frightening the daylight out of me! So I stopped feeding him, left it to other keepers, and refrained from visiting that corner of the orphanage altogether.
Then one day while I was crapping a gazelle calf (when they are born they cannot pass urine or stool, you must stimulate bowel movement by rubbing the lower abdomen until the excrement is released), 2 of the keepers walked into the nursery discussing how the vet had made the call to put down one of the animals, when I asked which one, they said George.
I finished putting baby gazelle to bed after putting medicine on her wounds, and went to see George.
He was not the same. He did not roar or jump on the fence; he just sat there, resigned to his fate.
I was heartbroken as I watched him get up to feed. His bones had given in. he could hardly stand, let alone walk. He growled at me, so to respect his feeding space I took a few steps back.
Here I sat, just watching him; and I said to him that I love him, and I apologized for not getting to know him or giving him the time of day. I then went each time I was at the orphanage, inching closer to him every time. I’d sit, and just talk to him, tell him about my day, read some surah's for him at times, until eventually I could sit right beside the fence without him growling or getting agitated.
One time he just looked me right in the eye, I think I was reciting ayatul kursi I’m not sure, or telling him about my phone... something...
And I stopped whatever I was saying. I looked into his eyes and I could see, he told me he knew his time was coming and that the decision had been made. I started crying and had to leave as I dint want to weaken him.
Our meetings carried on for a while, his health deteriorating, and his pain all too clear. But he still remained tough in spirit! After all, he was a lion!
This one time I was talking to him and he suddenly woke up, fell aft few times, but eventually found his grip and walked over to me, I froze. My heart was beating so fast, and I said, George, I am your friend, I wish no harm unto you, I love you...
(My eyes are welling up now!)
Anyway he walked over to me, I lowered my gaze (you should do this as a sign of respect, direct looks in the eye are confrontational); and I saw these huge golden paws right under my nose.
Something told me to look up at him, and I slowly looked at him. He looked directly into my eyes, and my heart had this urge, like I was being asked to extend my hand to him. I lifted my hand and placed it just on the inside of the wire mesh fencing. He then came closer and I was in this world where time stopped, and my brain was telling me to pull out my hand, but my heart wouldn't allow it.
George was known by everyone as the most aggressive lion at the orphanage. He was even feared to quite an extent by keepers and even Dave Mascall, who reared him from his cub years.
All this was going through my mind yet my heart was in peace, I felt so calm inside; and he sniffed my hand, and then licked it and grimaced.
I couldn't believe my eyes! (For lions it's a gesture of acceptance and love/respect)
I ran around the entire orphanage and safari walk (3KM run!!!) telling all the rangers and keepers! No one believed me- and I sort of expected that, anyone who knew George would find that tough to believe!
Days passed and due to the election crisis I was unable to visit the orphanage until one day I couldn’t take it anymore and as soon as things cooled off for a day or two I went straight there.
I passed by the animal kitchen and asked Dave for my steak treat (I usually did this), and he asked why I needed it... "Hello! George!" I replied...
He said, "Umm... Raabia, dint you know? He’s not around anymore"
I remember that conversation as though it just happened minutes ago...
I said, "What do you mean? Where have they taken him?"
"Raabia, they put him down... he's gone..."
My heart stopped and my tears started flowing. I ran to his enclosure and it was open, and empty. I went inside and looked for him in every corner, but he was not there. I went into his sleeping quarters and lay on his hay bedding, crying, and praying...
What would I do without him? He was my friend, the love of my life. :'(
And now he was no more...
I know now, that that day was his farewell to me...

Animals know and see things we can’t, he knew I would not see him again perhaps, and maybe he just wanted to thank me, or to show me he loves me too. Whatever it was, it's been etched deep in my heart and I know in the wild is where my heart lies.

SS: Anybody whom you would give credit for supporting (inspiring) you in this mission?
RH: My wonderful father. My mentor, my inspiration, my guardian and friend. My dad is awesome!

SS: Do you have any future road map for your brain child considering the positive response it has garnered?
RH: I take every day as it comes, and I’m very spontaneous, my phone is a 24 hour hotline and whenever and wherever I am able to lend assistance, I do. It’s difficult to have a ‘road map’ when your life is so unpredictable, but yes, I do hope and plan to have my own unit someday, an organisation that will protect wildlife and lend support to captive wildlife and sanctuary if possible. They are often forgotten in the struggle to protect wild land, but are no less important.

SS: Any breakthroughs or achievements which you would like to share?
RH: Saved the life of a kingfisher once! JFor me there is no greater breakthrough or achievement. Awards, certificates, honours… these are all human-given things, they are not there to last. But when you help something live, or survive, you have done the greatest service ever imaginable.

SS: There are people and organizations which want to serve the cause; can you guide them about ways to join?
RH: Take initiative. A lot of people approach me and seek assistance, I used to do the same, but organisations only want someone with 5 years experience, or fancy degrees, which I didn’t have. So, I did it on my own, I made my own connections and friends and started volunteering anywhere and everywhere. You have to push your way through sometimes, people are too busy worrying and working for wildlife to start trying to help you sort your life out. It is your dream, your passion-follow it and MAKE IT HAPPEN! J

SS: What would be your message for the youngsters reading this?
RH: Take time out from normal modern day life. Switch off the TV, turn off the radio and pack in your iPods. Get a backpack, and some good shoes, some cash and essentials. Get on a bus and TRAVEL. See your world, you live in it! Help people and animals along the way. Live with people who are less privileged than you! Don’t take things for granted! You only live once right? Don’t waste it on endless partying and Hollywood! Take some time to learn your world, party once in a while, you will have deserved it! ;)

Or u can follow her on twitter @raabiahawa
 Interview reposted with the permission of YouthLeadeR magazine. YouthLeadeR reserves all rights to this interview. 
Read the interview on YouthLeadeR at -->

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