As everyone knows, the world’s rhinos are in trouble and wildlife television presenter Bonné de Bod is on a quest to find out why and what’s being done to save these magnificent beasts. Ten years ago De Bod changed her life to follow her childhood passion. She left a successful career as a model to find and tell stories on wildlife in Africa.
Many know De Bod from her seven seasons as a 50/50 presenter on SABC2 where she informed viewers about pressing environmental issues, winning a number of awards along the way, including the 2015 SANParks Kudu Award for Best Journalist, 2015 SANParks Kudu Award for Best Programme – the Rhino Blog series, and 2016 ATKV Media-veertjie Award for Best Educational Programme. Now, focusing on her passion for rhinos De Bod is heavily involved in the highly anticipated, forthcoming documentary film STROOP, and currently appears in her Rhino Blog broadcast daily on People’s Weather (DStv 180). She’s also SABC’s special correspondent reporting on any breaking news involving rhinos and can be seen monthly on DStv Channel 404 with rhino updates as well as on kykNET (DStv channel 144) with Grootplaas on Die Groot Ontbyt. She can also be heard on Groot FM, Radio Today and RSG.
Tell us a bit about your background?
After finishing school, I studied BCom Industrial Psychology at the University of Pretoria. While at Tukkies, part of hostel life was doing stage productions and competing between the different hostels, and I loved it. I became very involved with theatre and while I was performing in a production I was scouted by a modeling agency who offered me a contract in Cape Town. So after completing my studies I packed my bags and started my modeling career. I also studied drama so my days were very full. Being a model was a lifestyle so completely different to one I had grown up in. I had always considered myself a bit of a tomboy and a real nature lover. So walking down catwalks in tight fitting dresses and five-inch heels was a strange world for me, but I stayed in it for three years. By that time I had finished my drama course and I started landing parts in soapies such as Villa Rosa, Egoli and 7de Laan. I enjoyed playing characters but it was at this time that I started to realise that if I wanted to be on TV, I wanted to be myself. I was offered a modeling contract with a very prestigious agency in London and, at the same time, I was also offered the field presenting role on SABC2’s environmental show 50/50. For me it really was a no-brainer. I had spent my childhood watching 50/50 every Sunday night and couldn’t believe that I would possibly be on the show. So I turned London down and over the next decade I spent seven wonderful seasons on 50/50, and I have never looked back.
Have you always been passionate about wildlife?
Yes, and I owe it to my grandparents. My best memories are of my grandparents taking me and my sisters on trips to the Kruger National Park. We would go twice a year in school holidays, and it became my most favourite place on earth and, needless to say, it still is. Besides the fact that I was introduced to all the big and small creatures by very passionate wildlife lovers, it was the famous ‘animal sounds’ tape being played in the car that really stuck with me. By the end of each visit I would know the tape so well that there was no need for it as I could recite it out loud. We were treated to my oupa’s extensive knowledge – from animals to trees. Stopping, talking and observing… my passion and love for the natural world was born then, and you know even now when I come back from a shoot in the Kruger, my oupa will grill me on what I saw and will pull out his Kruger maps wanting to know exactly what roads I was on and how the park is looking.
Why the fascination with rhinos?
They are beautiful. They are iconic. They are beasts of a bygone era. When you look at a rhino, you immediately see that defining feature, its horn. And yet as we know, this distinctive and unique feature is what humans kill them for. And there is just something so special about seeing that massive animal out in the bush. I spent a lot of time with my parents and grandparents in Kruger, and what always stuck out for me was the reverence they had whenever they saw a wild rhino. In China, India and Vietnam, the places where they are gone from, they are viewed as very spiritual animals where the horn points to heaven and provides a link from earth to the spiritual realm. I get asked all the time why we must save them, and I always say that we, as humans, have a moral responsibility to protect them, to protect all living species, it is simply the right thing to do. And something desperately needs to change or we will lose our wild rhinos. I’ve had many ups and downs over the last three years investigating this world of greed. The most difficult part is witnessing what we, as humans, are capable of. I’ve attended the scenes of many murdered rhino; I’ve seen rhinos still alive with half hacked off faces – what unbelievable pain. It shocks you to your core to see that, to witness that. The cruelty is totally beyond anything I can think up. Pure evil and human greed. And I do sometimes wonder when, if ever, we will defeat it. Seeing a little orphan calf crying while standing next to his mother’s dead carcass, is probably the worst scene I’ve had to witness in this poaching war.
How did the documentary film STROOP come about?
It was during a 50/50 story I did on the rhino poaching crisis when I realised that I needed to do something more. We were filming a story in the Kruger and we were taken to a double carcass. When we got the crime scene, Susan Scott, the producer told me to sit in between these two carcasses and deliver my lines to camera. At that moment I was confronted with so many emotions and questions… How can humanity be so unbelievably cruel? And how can we as South Africans allow this? It was then when I knew that I had to do something to slow the slaughter and the eradication of this beautiful animal. That’s where the idea for a documentary feature film on the rhino poaching crisis was born. An independent film with no censorship or broadcast sensitivities, a publicly owned film where we can show all the aspects surrounding this very complex situation. STROOP was initially a six month project, but I think when director Susan Scott and I started filming we had no idea just how many layers the rhino situation really has. So, three years later, quitting our jobs, selling our homes, cashing in our investments and moving in with our mothers –well, it has certainly become a passion project.
Tell us more about the film itself.
STROOP is an in-depth look at the world of rhino poaching and everything in between. From the battlegrounds in the Kruger National Park and Hluluwe iMfolozi in Kwa-Zulu Natal, the two hardest hit areas in South Africa, where we have been given unprecedented access to the rangers, forensic teams and crime scenes, to the dingy court rooms in the bush towns bordering Kruger as well as the high courts of Pretoria and Kempton Park where we follow the work of state prosecutors working against well-paid defence teams working inside a justice system that is slow at the best of times. We follow the police on busts and spend time with private rhino owners. We follow the journey of little orphans who have lost their mothers to poaching and the rehabilitators who try everything to get them back into the wild. We look at the controversial topic of
legal trade in rhino horn and then we take the viewer to the dark underground backrooms of Vietnamese and Chinese smugglers and directly to the rhino horn users. We are making this film, so that no one can say they didn’t know. We are now busy with the editing of the film as well as some last minute shooting we have to do but we have to finish it later this year for an early 2018 release.
Tell us about Rhino Blog
Something we realised while filming STROOP was that so many aspects of the rhino poaching crisis are security sensitive or must remain classified because it involves organised crime. So while filming Susan and I recognised that we were seeing so many aspects of the rhino poaching crisis that wouldn’t necessarily be put into the film and decided to make an accompanying TV series that highlights the positive work being done on the ground. Each episode is a positive, uplifting look at a hero on the front lines of the rhino war. From the rangers in our national and provincial parks to the use of the latest technology to fight this war, to our courts where the state prosecutors are battling to get the criminals behind bars. To the little rhino orphans who have lost their mothers and how orphanages are handling this flood of babies into their facilities, to
the forensic investigations of crime scenes. We even cover the work being done by sportsmen like Mark Boucher and Kevin Pietersen and high profile names like Prince Harry and world conservation icons like Dr Jane Goodall and Dr Ian Player. There are people who deeply care and have given up their life of safety and comfort to save our rhinos. These are the true heroes in this crisis, and showing their work is what Rhino Blog is about.