Angie Willemse | Boots on the Ground in South Africa
Angie Willemse from Boots on the Ground arrived in South Africa four years ago to continue her training in wildlife and travel photography. She now lives near Kruger National Park and has looked extinction in the eye, travelled through warzones in Mali and met the gorillas of Rwanda.
While travelling through southern Africa, Angie filmed a documentary following rangers on the ground in Kruger National Park and has since married one of the rangers she met along the way. Angie and her husband now live and work permanently in South Africa.
Angie is a conservation photographer and runs her own non-profit, partnering with two programmes that work to protect wildlife whilst involving guests from around the world in the everyday hands on tasks of the work.
In this blog, Angie shares her story and the challenges she has overcome when starting a business and settling in South Africa.
What is Boots on The Ground?
Boots on the Ground is a grassroots non-profit, supporting projects and anti-poaching efforts. Currently we partnered up with a horse-riding based presence project, a bloodhound project as well as a wildlife project focussing on rhino, wildcat and ground hornbill. Boots on the Ground is also supporting small anti-poaching projects while developing our own.
What made you decide to start your own business?
I did not want the support to stop with the filming, so I decided to start my own non-profit to be able to continue to help. My husband and a beautiful friend of ours joined me as the South African counterparts.
Good question! I was in dolphin and whale conservation for years and ended up photographing whales during my first stint in South Africa- but then I extended my stay and ended up staying in the bush for 10 days in a basic tented camp with no running water, listening to the magic of the veld and talking to the rangers out there- that was the end of that and made me come back three months later, getting ready to join the efforts on the ground as a photographer and have been here ever since. (I could not have done it without the help of a handful of amazing people who were my go to, my back up, my home, my shoulder to lean on, my ears and my comfort zone)
What is your ethical wildlife photo project?
I asked on social media if anyone would be interested in joining my effort to open people’s eyes.
I still see people, even travellers on our groups, on Instagram, my friends, take these idiotic selfies or photographs of themselves with captive dolphins, captive lion cubs, captive elephants- riding them… I thought sometimes it’s better to not start an argument, but just start a project and educate – while showing that it can be done differently. With patience and a bit of luck, one can take the most amazing photos with wildlife without needing to harass them or supporting the captive industry, exploiting them such as elephant rides, captured monkeys, lion cubs, bred for canned hunting, pet monkeys etc.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Every day brings new adventures at Boots on the Ground!
- The people I work with
- My husband is my team mate
- I get to be in the bush- A LOT
- I get to ride horses through the bush
- I get to do my part in trying to save a species, one at the time.
What challenges do you face?
I am a foreigner, we are secluded in an area where I don’t interact with that many people and sometimes I do miss my friends and family in Europe. Another challenge is to get people to donate or support us as we are a very small non-profit and keep to ourselves, trying to stay away from the politics within the conservation sector. We do keep open books and document all our moves and LOVE to photograph the smiling faces of the people supported for the donors to see.
What advice would you give someone looking to follow your footsteps?
Trust yourself, follow your dream and NEVER EVER GIVE UP. It’s hard work, sweat, tears, disappointment and fun, exciting, a big adventure at the same time.
If you would like to find out more about Angie and her projects, go to the Boots on the Ground website at www.bootsonthegrounds.com