Rise of the Matriarch: All-women expedition across southern Africa tackles poaching head on

Fifty days. Four countries. Nine thousand kilometres.

A South African expedition, led by an all-women group, will set out on a conservation mission in September to raise awareness about human-wildlife conflict.

The expedition is spearheaded by KwaZulu-Natal adventurer and humanitarian, Carla Geyser, and is poignantly named: The Journeys with Purpose: Rise of the Matriarch expedition.

The journey will see the all-women crew traversing through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe armed with an inventory of purpose and passion. 

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Geyser, the head of the expedition, is no stranger to the journey's cause. She is also the founder of the NPO Blue Sky Society Trust and has been involved in conservation and community upliftment since 2012.

Her organisation is dedicated to:

  • conservation,
  • wildlife protection,
  • community upliftment and
  • ecotourism in Africa

"I firmly believe that one person can make a difference in this world and I want to be that person," she said. 

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Some of Geyser's conservation role-models include:

  • Kingsley Holgate
  • Lawrence Anthony
  • Dame Daphne Sheldrick and
  • Jane Goodall

However, her love affair with the outdoors began while she was still at school at Pietermaritzburg Girls High.

"I remember always wanting to go out there and join Greenpeace to save the whales. I ended up working on a game farm in Mpumalanga and this ignited a fierce passion to protect the natural beauty of our continent," reminisced Geyser.

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The now 45-year-old Durban resident earned a solid reputation as a conservation trailblazer in 2016, when she led SA's first all-female expedition from SA to Kenya to help stem the tide of poaching.

The Journeys with Purpose: Elephant Ignite Expedition had brought together 13 women who embarked on a 100-day journey to Kenya and raised funds and awareness among communities along the way.

After covering a staggering amount of over 15 000 km, the team returned home triumphant. They had visited 37 wildlife organisations, distributed 20 000 educational booklets to children, and raised nearly R300 000 for various conservation projects.

Carla Geyser conservation journey

Blue Sky Society Trust’s Carla Geyser headed up South Africa’s first all-women expedition from South Africa to Kenya in 2016. The team is pictured here unveiling the water pump they installed at Mndaka Village in Malawi. (Photo: Supplied)

Using the same magic formula, Geyser now plans on taking her conservation message across South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe on a nearly two-month 4x4 journey that looks to combine adventure travel with eco-tourism fundraising.

The funds raised during the 2018 expedition will benefit four causes, namely, Elephants Alive (South Africa), Rare and Endangered Species Trust (Namibia), Eco-Exist Project (Botswana) and the Soft Foot Alliance Trust (Zimbabwe).

'Donor Fatigue'

Geyser chose these four causes as she has worked closely with all of them over the past few years and has first-hand experience of the work they are doing.

One of the main issues many organisations face is 'donor fatigue' and Geyser works with organisations that she knows and trust and where she is sure they are doing the work to make a difference on the ground.

"With the right amount of support, they could share the stories that go untold - the tales of the organisations who brave the frontline daily to protect our wildlife. They are the true heroes and 'she-roes'," says Geyser who admits the decision was an easy one for her to continue what she started. 

"People don’t realise how unstoppable we are if we all put our egos aside and work together to make a difference," she says. 

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Geyser believes that every act of kindness can have a positive ripple effect and that even the smallest of contributions can have a major impact.

"I firmly believe, with all my heart and soul, that if we all do our thing every day, if we all work together, then we are unstoppable. Life is tough all around but we have to at least try. It’s the best we can do," explained Geyser.

Carla Geyser conservation journey

Conservation trailblazer, Carla Geyser of Blue Sky Society Trust, led South Africa’s first all-women expedition from South Africa to Kenya in 2016. The Journeys with Purpose: Elephant Ignite Expedition brought together 13 women who embarked on a 100-day journey to Kenya, raising funds for anti-poaching efforts. The team is pictured here with children at Linyangwa School in Malawi. (Photo: Supplied)

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Journeys with Purpose 2016 rebooted as Rise of the Matriarch Expedition 2018 

After hearing about the immense daily losses in the wildlife sphere in 2012, Geyser felt moved to help initiate change. She recounts that at the time the losses sat at about:

  • 2 rangers,
  • 3 rhino,
  • 98 elephants and
  • countless pangolin on average lost to poaching every single day.

That is when she made a conscious decision to try do something to help and to use her resources and passion to be the voice for the animals that have no voice.

After meeting with 37 different organisations along their route on the Journeys with Purpose: Elephant Ignite expedition in 2016, Geyser was all the more determined to do more and that this was merely the tip of the iceberg.

'The journey is a daily emotional rollercoaster'

While she is excited for the journey, Geyser admits that an expedition of this nature requires more than just meticulous planning and a dedicated crew. 

She explained that it's a daily emotional rollercoaster, which involves:

  • setting up camp,
  • driving long distances,
  • cooking and cleaning chores,
  • dealing with the impact of hearing devastating stories about wildlife failures
  • and the adrenaline of listening to those that speak of successes.

"I have to make sure that every woman joining us is aware of this. There's more to the planning phase than individuals sourcing sponsors; it's about heading out with the correct mind-set and being open to all that Mama Africa throws our way," added Geyser. 

Carla Geyser conservation journey

KZN adventurer and conservationist, Carla Geyser, is putting the finishing touches to an all-women SA-led expedition across four countries. Carla and her team will raise funds for conservation efforts, visit anti-poaching units, educate children on the human-wildlife conflict and meet women who are doing amazing things for conservation at a grassroots level. (Photo: Supplied)

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'Nature always throws you curve balls'

Some of the biggest challenges Geyser said they face when planning and embarking on the journey include:

  • garnering sponsorship and financial support from corporates and individuals
  • the fact that each of the crew members tend to pay their own way for logistics - this can cost a great deal of time and effort to make the journey possible

Geyser admits that her work ethic is high and so she puts a lot of pressure on herself to make sure that:

  • all goes well,
  • the ladies are safe and protected and that
  • she doesn't miss anything

But she is aware that no matter how well you plan - as she loves a good spreadsheet - nature is sure to throw a few curve balls in your path, so she believes that learning how to roll with the punches is crucial for a mission of this sort.

Carla Geyser conservation journey

KZN adventurer and conservationist, Carla Geyser, is putting the finishing touches to an all-women SA-led expedition across four countries. Carla and her team will raise funds for conservation efforts, visit anti-poaching units, educate children on the human-wildlife conflict and meet women who are doing amazing things for conservation at a grassroots level. (Photo: Supplied)

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But the challenges are not without a few highlights: 

Meeting Dame Daphne Sheldrick - who passed away earlier this year - a matriarch in her own right in contributing much toward the survival of orphaned elephants in Africa.

Sheldrick inspired her through the passionate way she spoke about her babies - the elephants, which is something she said she'll never forget.

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Also, Geyser got to meet the late Sudan - the last male Northern White rhino. "It is a harsh and cold wake-up call that we need to act now to protect our wildlife or there will be an alarming list of extinctions sooner than we think." 

She admits everyone had felt a sense of embarrassment - as a species - to have had allowed his death to happen on their 'watch'.  

Carla Geyser conservation journey

Carla Geyser with Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino. Geyser had urged corporates and individuals to do their bit to help protect our wildlife. "Every act of kindness can have a positive ripple effect, and even the smallest contribution can make a big difference," explained Geyser (Photo: Supplied)

While these were just a few of her highlights, Geyser said that along the way there were many memorable, life-altering moments, including seeing the beauty and might of Africa and witnessing the spirit of Ubuntu alive and well in Africa  


The Matriarchs' 50-day trip itinerary will include:   

  • Visiting wildlife organisations along the route that work toward protecting and studying our wildlife - these organisations also work closely with communities to educate and equip individuals at the grassroots level with sustainable means and ways to live harmoniously with nature. 
  • They'll be handing out over 30 000 educational booklets to children in rural communities adjacent to these wildlife areas - to help spread awareness and a love of wildlife to the region's future, the youth. 
  • They also hope to showcase some wildlife films as part of a social impact process to a few select villages. Geyser explained that they're doing this because many times production companies swoop into areas to produce moving documentaries or films about the wildlife and  the locals never get to experience the finished product. 
  • And finally, she added, they'll of course be meeting and networking with local women in each location who are making phenomenal strides in the fight to save Africa's species.
Carla Geyser conservation journey

Blue Sky Society Trust founder, Carla Geyser, with her mentor, Kingsley Holgate. After heading up South Africa’s first all-women conservation expedition from SA to Kenya in 2016, Carla is now gearing up for another women-only journey into Africa, combining adventure travel with ecotourism fundraising. (Photo: Supplied)

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'Inspiring young girl adventurers'

If Geyser has anything to say to the young women of SA and girls interested in wildlife, it is this: Life is hard.

"Life is full of challenges BUT whatever your current situation is that does NOT define you as a person. Your actions do," added Geyser.

It is important, she expanded, to surround yourself with like-minded and passionate people and to dream big and to push yourselves outside your comfort zones and not be afraid to fail - as failures, she believes, are merely learning curves.

"As long as you are learning from your mistakes you are moving forward. Always be kind and always stay humble no matter where life takes you. And get out there – Africa is magnificent from earth to sky," concluded Geyser.  

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While the Rise of the Matriarch team is preparing to leave in September, it's not too late to get involved. Whether you're a business, organisation or just an individual. Head on over to the website for more information.

"This is an excellent opportunity for citizens and corporates to make a meaningful difference," explained Geyser. "The expedition is more than a project that's fuelled by passion; it's an initiative by an all-women conservation team of conservation 'she-roes' who are determined to do our bit to help save our piece of the planet. As noble as this undertaking is, we can't do it alone. We need support."

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