Healing, Wildlife and Environment: The Three Missions of Lorraine Doyle, Wildlife Manager and Resident Ecologist of Thanda Safari in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
ICU nursing sister-turned-passionate wildlife conservationist, and a rare female on the safari scene
in Africa, Doyle also co-directs Thanda Safari’s Ulwazi Research internship program
Guests don’t always see a lot of Wildlife Manager Lorraine Doyle on adventures with Thanda Safari, but her influence on their experience is all around. A rare female presence on the safari scene in Africa, Doyle ensures that the award-winning luxury lodge and private game reserve follows the best conservation practices and procedures to preserve not just wild animals, but also indigenous plant life across nearly 35,000 acres of stunning wilderness where the Great Rift Valley meets the Lebombo Mountains in Zululand, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.
Doyle further does time as Co-Director of Ulwazi Research & Volunteer Programme and Africa Nature Training, Thanda Safari’s internship program offering professional guiding courses and educational experiences for nature enthusiasts. She is the highest qualified Safari Guide on property, having achieved Level 3 Lead Trails Guide and Assessor in terms of the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa and the Department of Tourism. She is also the only female Guide and Expedition Leader on the continent for Natural Habitat Adventures, and a specialist Guide for Toyota South Africa, for which she has participated in Land Cruiser launch challenges and expeditions into Africa. If all that weren’t enough, Doyle is studying for her second honors degree in environmental science at the Open University in England, with financial support from Thanda Safari.
Whatever she is working on, Doyle is always in action. Recent days at the game reserve found her tending to a newborn rhino kept with its mother in a treatment boma to protect him from hungry lion prides and hyena cackles as he recovers from an infection picked up at birth. “Our little baby is looking better now, but his recovery remains tenuous.”
She is also guiding the treatment of several cheetahs, including a male with a leg fracture that inhibits its ability to hunt, and a female on the mend from what looks like a hyena bite. “We put her leg back together again, and now she’s pregnant.” The cheetah will recover and give birth in a boma and remain with her cubs until they’re old enough to head out into the wild on their own. The special treatment of cheetahs is based on their vulnerable status and drastically declining numbers in South Africa. Thanda Safari partners with the Endangered Wildlife Trust to project and increase their numbers.
A Life of Healing and Adventure
Doyle brings an abundance of experience and education to her roles at Thanda Safari. Born and raised in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, her passion for the natural world was shaped through her youth with visits to Victoria Falls, Hwange National Park, Lake Kariba, and the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe. Teenage weekends were spent abseiling rock faces, exploring granite outcrops of Matobo National Park, and white-water rafting on the Zambezi – all close to home.
She went on to earn an honors degree in nursing and landed as an Intensive Care sister in Bristol, England, while continuing to embrace the great outdoors from cycling the length of the UK to swimming the Tea-Tree red waters of Lake Boomanjin on Fraser Island off the coast of Queensland, Australia. “Any opportunity for adventure I could find, I grabbed it.”
After a decade, Doyle grew tired of England – “especially the weather” – and felt Africa pulling her home. She ended up in South Africa with hopes of using her medical skills for a burn-related charity. Nursing permits were hard to come by, however, so she set up diagnostic clinics in settlements outside of Johannesburg to help people she recalls as being “so disenfranchised they didn’t know how to access healthcare.” Her clinics screened for diabetes, high blood pressure, and other potentially deadly ailments, and she brought in doctors to treat cataracts caused by high UV light.
The work was very satisfying, but South African settlements are very political, and before long a local activist took umbrage at her presence. “Essentially, he wanted me gone.” Her attorneys cautioned Doyle to take the talk seriously, so after 18 months she walked away. “It was incredibly hard to do,” she remembers. “We were caring for people and getting them fit. That’s the essence of nursing.”
Next Stop: Wildlife Conservation
Not one to stew over lost opportunities, Doyle returned to her passion for nature and the outdoors, enrolling in a guide-training course in South Africa and qualifying as a Big Five vehicle-based and walking guide. Asked now what continues to fire her passion for preserving wildlife, she recalls a frequently anthologized quote from Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer: ‘In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.’
“That’s really been it for me at Thanda Safari,” she says. “We have to get people passionate about the wildlife we’re involved with if we have any chance of preserving it. I always feel privileged to be able to share what I’ve learned over the past 20 years, and to continue learning on my own.”
Being a woman working in the male-dominated safari industry can be “quite strange,” she says, “but it’s getting better.” While she remains the only woman in South Africa with her own guide training company – Africa Nature Training, launched in 2002 – she is seeing more interest and participation from women.
There is still quite a way to go, however. When Doyle guides, she carries a large caliber rifle and is often asked by male clients, “Do you know how to use that thing?” Meanwhile, women in general struggle to get into research on leopards or lions because they are considered too ferocious. “Women are typically pointed to cheetah research. They’re seen as the gentle cats.”
While conservation and wildlife management keep Doyle “very busy” at Thanda Safari, she does occasionally guide on game drives and walking safaris. If guests are interested in learning more about conservation, she is also happy to answer questions and even take them out cheetah tracking as opportunities allow. “When I’m here onsite, I do like to get involved. Education is the foundation of conservation.”
For more information on travel in Africa with Thanda Safari, please contact T: +27 (0) 27 32 586 0149; E: firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.thandasafari.co.za
About Thanda Safari
Thanda Safari is a Big Five game reserve situated on 35,000 acres in the heart of Zululand, KwaZulu Natal, owned by Swedish philanthropists Christin and Dan Olofsson. It offers an authentic South African wildlife experience with excellent game viewing all year round, and has a sincere commitment to the Zulu culture and conservation of the environment. Actively involved in conservation and wildlife research, it works to uplift the local communities through ‘Star for Life’ and other projects.
Meaning ‘love’ in isiZulu, Thanda Safari is a proud member of The Leading Hotels of the World and multiple winner of The World’s Leading Luxury Lodge. Thanda Safari offers three different accommodation types – Thanda Safari Lodge, Villa iZulu and Thanda Tented Camp:
⦁ Thanda Safari Lodge has nine bush suites – shaped like a traditional Zulu homestead, the suites have panoramic views of the surrounding game reserve.
⦁ Villa iZulu is an outstanding safari hideaway for families, holidaymakers and wedding parties wanting privacy. Situated amidst lush green lawns and surrounded by expanses of wild African bush, Villa iZulu can accommodate 10 guests in five suites.
⦁ Thanda Tented Camp, with 15 colonial safari-style tents, each with its own viewing deck and en-suite bathroom.
Thanda Safari is situated 23km north of Hluhluwe on the N2, approximately 220km north of Durban, and is easily accessible from the N2 by gravel road (no 4×4 required). Richards Bay is the closest commercial airport, with King Shaka International Airport, Durban being the closest international airport. Road transfers are available from and to Durban and Richards Bay Airports.