Hollywood star Kristin Bauer van Straten Joins the Fight Against Poaching
She plays Pam on True Blood, the highly rated and extremely popular HBO vampire thriller. And while her character’s dry humour, sarcasm and trademark punch lines have endeared her to many fans, Kristin Bauer van Straten’s latest project is bound to increase her appeal beyond the streets of Bon Temp, the mythical town on which True Blood is based.
In late August 2012, the star shed her Hollywood glamour, hired a film crew and left Los Angeles for Kenya, along with her husband and mother-in-law, to shoot a documentary to increase awareness against wildlife crimes happening in Africa, notably the endless persecution of elephants and rhinos.
What triggered this desire to come out and help? “Because this is a love story. Mine with a South African man, his with his land and ours with the beauty and force of life. All life.” She passionately articulates in her blog.
Kristin was born and raised on a farm in Wisconsin. Her father owned horses, inspiring her love for animals from a young age. Her husband is a musician from South Africa who recognizes wildlife as part of his African heritage. Her mother-in-law was born in Uganda and raised partly in Kenya, and has witnessed the initial 1960s ‘harmless’ hunting of rhinos, followed by the 1970s and 1980s massacre and our situation to date: a very scary threat to their existence. And while all these factors contributed immensely to Kristin’s decision, it was her meeting with James Isiche, a Kenyan who was then a warden of Tsavo National Park and now works with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), that brought the gravity of this crisis to life.
She writes: “It all began a year ago over dinner with a beautiful Kenyan man named James who came to Los Angeles to ask a room of about 10 of us Hollywood types, 'to help him save his elephants, they are dying.'"
The simpleness and openness of James’ request haunted Kristin. So did the harrowing images of slaughtered elephants and rhinos that have become daily news. She knew she had to do something.
With her husband and mother-in-law’s help, she embarked on this journey that would demand hours of intensive research,numerous meetings, endless consultation and thousands of dollars. A year later, she was ready to make her trip to Kenya.
Days on the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
The van Stratens, along with their filming crew, arrived on the 4th of September 2012, eager to witness the factors that have contributed to Lewa’s success as a rhino sanctuary with the hope that these measures can be replicated elsewhere. They had earlier visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Amboseli National Park and Sarara Camp in the Northern Rangelands Trust’s Namunyak Conservancy.
The team spent their first day on Lewa with the security department. They interviewed Edward Ndiritu, the Deputy Chief Security Officer, visited the radio operations room (where Kristin broke down on seeing a picture of a slaughtered elephant), and filmed an exercise with the tracker dog unit. They also spent time with a patrol ranger, roaming the fields of Lewa, identifying the rhinos that they came across, and calling back to the radio room to report on the sightings.
Kristin had one word to describe this day - phenomenal.
“Rarely do we realize how much work, effort and resilience it takes to secure wildlife. Spending the day with Lewa’s security team has made me aware of the vast amount of resources- human and financial- required to protect rhinos in a sanctuary.”
Later on Geoffrey Chege, our Chief Conservation Officer, gave them a tour of the elephant underpass that opens up the historical elephant route connecting Lewa, Ngare Ndare Forest and the Mount Kenya ecosystems.
Day two was equally as eventful. Mike Watson, Lewa’s CEO, gave Kristin a treat; he flew her across the Conservancy, allowing her to savour an aerial view of the stunning scenery decorated by the free roaming wildlife, gentle hills and expansive savannah.Her other meeting of the day with Ian Craig - one of Lewa’s founding members - moved the star to tears, terming his dedication and passion to saving endangered wildlife as a ‘great inspiration.’
Despite their short stay, the van Stratens were inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication of the people they met. They were particularly impressed by Lewa’s working model where wildlife conservation goes hand in hand with community development.
The rise in demand for rhino horn and ivory in Asia in recent years has put great pressure on the vulnerable elephant and rhino populations and Kristin hopes that the documentary, once ready, will reach a large audience and create a huge impact.
“In essence, I want it to highlight the men and women who work tirelessly to protect these endangered animals and get them the help they need. They cannot win this war alone; everyone needs to get involved,” she concludes.
To find out more about Kristin's visit and the work she is doing:
- View pictures of her stay on Lewa by visiting Lewa’s Facebook page
- Read Kristin’s blog
- Follow her on Twitter
- Back her project on Kickstarter
- Read more about her project on the Huffington Post