Connecting kids with nature: On Safari with Nala
The camera pans across the vast expanse of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Game animals take flight from the approaching vehicle. Dramatic skies flash past as the bush, a multitude of greens, blurs alongside. Nala Malan appears in shot, gives a toothy grin to the camera, and begins her narrative.
Naturally charismatic and clearly passionate, she speaks confidently about her surroundings. What makes this remarkable is Nala is just nine years old and this is her YouTube series: On Safari with Nala.
The daughter to Elcke and Shaun Malan, Nala was just five-weeks old when the family moved to Tanzania to run a lodge. For the past seven years the family, complete with younger brother Khan, have lived at Machaba Camp in the Khwai area of Botswana.
“From the day [the children] were born, they have been surrounded by nature, wildlife and conservation. Their dad is a professional guide and has shared his passion for wildlife with them. He spends a lot of time explaining natures phenomenon’s and behavioural elements of animals to them,” mum Elcke told Conservation Careers.
Following COVID-19 lockdown, a travel agent asked the family to produce a tutorial to keep children entertained. Dad Shaun, also a professional photographer, then started to produce the short three-minute documentaries.
“When Machaba Safaris posted it, it received so much feedback with people asking for more episodes and “On safari with Nala” was born, Elcke said.
“I want to show the different personalities and traits of different animals. I believe that once you understand and get to know an animal, you cannot hurt it without feeling bad,” Nala said. “I love how animals think, the natural instincts of animals are all different. We as humans can learn from them by observing them closely.”
Nala’s favourite animals are hyenas and the banded mongoose. She particularly liked hyenas as; “they have a matriarchal hierarchy and I like it when the female’s rule”.
The project was something fun for the family to do while they await the return of guests and, in return, Elcke hoped that people’s interests would be sparked, and they would feel connected to safari life.
“Conservation needs tourism. In areas like the Okavango Delta, the camps play an important role in helping anti-poaching units and helping with conservation efforts. To conserve our wildlife, we need people to choose Botswana as their next holiday destination,” Elcke added.
Connecting children to nature
Nala has only ever known bush life, which has provided her opportunities many others may only glimpse on TV.
“You learn things about animals every day. They are all around us and I love to go out on game drives. You never know what you will be coming across. Sometimes you drive and see some wild dogs, sometimes lions and I do love the leopards as well,” she said.
Elcke understands the family are in a very privileged position but believed parents – wherever they are based – can teach children about conservation.
“I do think that nature is all around and a respect for nature can easily be imprinted from a young age. Take your child to the park to enjoy a picnic, sit under a tree while its leaves fall around you, check out the night sky – there are some amazing star apps out there – or go visit a farm,” she said.
At home there are ways to use technology. A birding app on their dad’s phone was popular with the children and they learned different species of birds and their calls.
“It contributed to our kids being able to identify birds by sound and flight. I believe a little effort in understanding an aspect of nature can go a long way. Find a project your child enjoys and elaborate on it,” she enthused.
TV can also be used for education; for years Nala believed Animal Planet was a children’s channel and would choose these shows over cartoons.
“It is amazing how much information they collect from TV, so let us make sure it counts! I remember a night drive with the family when we found an unusual track on the road…Shaun asked the kids about the track and Nala said it was a crocodile track, she had seen it on Animal Planet that day. She went on to outline the drag marks of the tail etc. Goes to show!” Elcke said.
While Nala is a natural presenter, she has set her sights on working in wildlife rescue and education.
“I want my own sanctuary, to help animals and get them back to the wild. I want to teach other people about animals. Teach people to love animals, not to hurt them,” she said.
Elcke, meanwhile, wants her children to contribute to a sustainable future society.
“I can only hope their deep-found love for nature will guide them to make the correct decisions and to keep them grounded. I think people loose perspective of things at times and I hope that nature has taught them that every action has a reaction. They will have to be responsible enough to deal with those reactions,” she said.
As “true wilderness” areas become few-and-far-between, she hoped Botswana would remain a haven for the next generation.
“I want them to be able to return to the Delta and see the elephant herds roam freely and witness countless buffalo cross the river. I certainly wish for their kids to still be able to see a rhino in the wild or find a pangolin roaming around,” Elcke said.
Life in the wild
Living in the bush is not without its challenges. Machaba Camp is remote and is at least a 25-minute flight in a light aircraft to the nearest town of Maun.
Here Nala has witnessed the difficulties of living in a country where poverty can lead to poaching.
“I do not like it when animals are poached. The animal does not deserve it,” she said. “I also do not like snares. One day we found a wild dog caught in a snare. Luckily, we managed to help him. That was really cool, and the wild dog recovered. We spent a lot of time waiting for it to get back on its feet. When it did, it made me really happy,” she said.
A remote location poses other challenges for Elcke, particularly the lack of nearby medical facilities. She has had to learn to trust her instincts and “hope for the best”.
“I think we as a family have either overcome these challenges or have accepted them. They have become a way of life rather than an obstacle. We also have a very good support system throughout the company. Everyone involved knows the kids and are always willing to help out,” she said.
The children are home schooled and Elcke said it was difficult to tell if they missed being with other children, as it is all they have known.
“They don’t seem too phased by it themselves. They have each other. And they have an entire team of aunties and uncles in and around the camp. Machaba Camp allows children of all ages and so we do have children visiting the camp almost every month. My kids in general like to meet them and friendships are formed. Staff also bring in their families at times and the kids all play together” she said.
Nala’s connection with wild animals has been further strengthened as domestic animals are not allowed in World UNESCO Heritage Sites.
“She has learnt to be patient with wild animals. I often find her sitting under a tree talking to a bird or frog or butterfly. In her eyes, they are her true friends and she treats them as such,” Elcke said. “I love how she wants to change the world, her passion for animals is almost tangible. Give her the choice between human love and animal love and she will without a doubt go for animal love.”
Credit: All photographs supplied by Shaun Malan. Follow Shaun on Instagram.