Sunday, June 18, 2017

In the Face of a Disaster

Name: Sofia E. Contreras
Class Year: 2019
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Internship: Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary
Location: The Crags, South Africa

On June 10th disaster struck here in the forms of wind and fire. At around 13:30 news came to us at Monkeyland that a fire had broken out at Jukani, one of the three SAASA sanctuaries that houses big cats and other predators, and around us there were winds so strong that trees were being pushed over like they were twigs. It's one thing to read about how to react to an emergency and another to actually experience it.

Before I say any more about what happened let me give you some context. For the week leading up to the event there were two major things building up. The first was the wind. When we first saw the news advisory for a storm going through the Western Cape Victoria (an Otterbein ZOSC alum) and I were confused. Checking our weather apps we saw that the chance of rain was low, so how could there possibly be a storm? We were told that it was the wind, rather than the rain, that was the concern. So we experienced our first major wind storm here in South Africa. The winds were so strong that they kicked up dirt into the air and we lost power to our house for a while.

Additionally, while these wind storms were happening a wildfire was making its way throughout the Eastern Cape. In the beginning we weren't too worried about our own safety. It seemed that the fire was far enough away. But over several days the fire became more and more difficult to control, and it was slowly moving towards us. With limited wifi and help from family back home we stayed up to date on the state of the fire. And what we learned wasn't good. This fire had destroyed buildings and part of a college campus in Port Elizabeth. It was quickly becoming the worst fire seen in the area in the last 150 years. And it was moving towards us.

I wasn't too concerned about either the wind or the fire. The wind would eventually pass and I was accustomed to wildfires because of my experiences growing up in Southern California, which is somewhat notorious for its annual brush fires.

That changed on the day of the event when, sitting in the dark kitchen for lunch, we were told that a fire had broken out at Jukani. As some of you may know fire+ wind= more fire. This is particularly bad because Jukani is 7 km away from us at Monkeyland. At that moment the main concern of everyone at Monkeyland was to gather all the fire extinguishers and go to Jukani to help. As volunteers, Victoria and I were barred from helping for our own safetly. So we sat inside the restauraunt with another guide and waited for news. Those two hours seemed to last forever.

It was only after everything had settled down and the fire at Jukani was under control (all the animals were fine) I learned about the help we got to put the fire out. All the other sanctuaries in the area, except for one, went to Jukani to help. Whether they were our neighbors, like the Elephant Sanctuary and Tenikwa, or came from farther away, everyone came together to help one of their own. I find this to be admirable and awe inspiring because it showed that they were willing and able to set aside their differences and disagreements and focus on the one thing that is important to all of them. And that one thing is their dedication to caring for the animals they have.

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