Fortunate Phaka

Youth project leader, Youth 4 African Wildlife

Fortunate Phaka grew up in Kgotsoro, a small village near Polokwane in Limpopo, before moving to Mamelodi outside Pretoria to do his primary school. His teenage years were split between the two locations, with his mother and grandmother ensuring that he spent little time indoors. He spent much of his childhood playing in the shadow of mountains, and splashing in rivers. Instead of expensive toys, he played with small animals — his dog became his play buddy.

It was this intimate relationship with nature that started his fascination with how nature works and led him down the path of environmental sciences. His peers in Mamelodi tried to force him to conform, but his family told him to follow his heart, providing him with a solid base. Biology at school led to zoology and geography at university — he wanted the tools to learn more about his favourite animals.

It was during university that his faith in humanity was shaken by the realisation that our everyday actions were doing an incredible amount of damage to the environment. He is now aiming for a PhD, so he can do something about this threat.

His studies focus on the habitat of frogs in the Ndumo Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal. The first step is to train locals so they can become frogging guides, which will earn them extra income. He also wants to show communities around the park that their livelihoods depend on healthy ecosystems. From that work, he will publish research on frog habitats in both English and isiZulu.

To further include communities, he also works as the youth project leader for Youth 4 African Wildlife. He works with the interns, but also runs their social media and gets their work out into the public. His plan is to get young people to grow up with an awareness of the dangers of destroying the environment, so they will be less likely to repeat the mistakes of their parents.

That means he spends a lot of time in a sleeping bag, in the bush, where he gets to do a lot of wildlife photography. But when he is home his favourite moment comes with his morning cup of organic coffee. If he is home for the weekend, he spends his evenings at the theatre or listening to music concerts. — Sipho Kings