Ground-breaking conservation challenge

You’ve heard the expression to “hit the ground running”? For Bruce Lawson, it was a little more literal that just taking enthusiastic action. Known best for his marathon hikes, walks and eco-safaris, Bruce is also passionate about conservation. Together with a group of Nature Wilderness Guides, he formed the Tshembo Africa Foundation to fund conservation initiatives and to help boost the livelihoods of communities who live around the Kruger to Canyon Biosphere.

But back to hitting the ground, not so much running as jumping.

In March 2021, Bruce launched the #BurpeesForConservation challenge. Locked up to comply with Covid-19 quarantine protocols in a hotel room in Australia for two weeks, Bruce took to these high intensity exercises to keep fit. But the room walls turned out to be ‘virtual’ as he set the world a challenge by getting as many people as possible to donate R1 for every burpee completed. Bruce led by example and set his goal at 30 000 burpees in 10 days. That was the spark that got four thousand people from forty-three countries to act.

They burpeed in the snow in Switzerland, in a plane with sedated lions, in Kenya right on the equator, at the US Army base in Qatar, in Afghanistan, in a jumping castle, at a hairdressing salon, in the Australian Outback, on top of the 3rd largest canyon in the world (the Blyde River) and next to a sedated rhino during a controlled dehorning.

Participants from children as young as four years old to the Anti-Poaching Units at Timbavati and Olifants Private Reserves, rugby player Joe Pietersen at Elephant Rock in USA to Füchse Berlin, a professional handball club from Berlin, all burpeed like crazy and turned sweat into hard cash – and what turned out to be a R1 million lifeline.

Bruce and the Tshembo foundation then chose GKEPF (Greater Kruger Environmental Protection Foundation) as the beneficiary of the funds. GKEPF were not only delighted and grateful for the generous donation, but it came at a time when we urgently needed additional funding to fight what had become nothing short of a massacre of endangered species, particularly our rhinos.

We knew exactly where we would allocate the funds and where they would be most effective; to train rangers for tactical operations, to train handlers for tracker dogs, vital in combating poaching and to extend training for rangers who face the ever-present danger of contact with organized and armed criminals spearheading the poaching and wild-life trafficking syndicates.

The 12 reserves that make up GKEPF collectively cover 450 000 hectares, a vast area to protect effectively. Rangers put their lives on the line every day. What they see and face is often traumatic. But they are passionate and committed and without them we would see the rapid decline to the point of extinction of many of our most precious wildlife.

The Burpees challenge showed us how much and how many people care about preserving and protecting our unique wildlife but also how important it is to create stronger links between community and conservation across the globe. There are no fences or borders when it comes to saving our natural heritage. We need to continue to hit the ground running – on every level.

GKEPF consists of 12 member reserves – Balule Game Reserve, Kapama Private Game Reserve, Karingani Game Reserve (Mozambique), Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, Sabie Game Reserve, Sabi Sand Wildtuin, Salati Game Reserve, Thornybush Private Nature Reserve, Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, Umbabat Nature Reserve, MalaMala Game Reserve, Sandringham Private Nature Reserve, one Provincial partner, Manyeleti Game Reserve, and the Kruger National Park.

FB: Tshembo Africa Foundation (