The first word that Jennifer Fox (born of a very upright British Father) uttered was a strong: ‘Fut!’ Everyone ignored this “ frightfully rude F word” hoping it would go away… but it turned out to mean “Elephant” And the word has never left her vocabulary – nor has Jennifer’s commitment to them ever eased up.
In her 30s, as a young successful investment banker with two children, Jennifer took the next natural step and… bought a game reserve in South Africa which needed total commitment and imagination to keep it going….
“What?” I say “You just decided to do it?”
“Yes” Jennifer laughs. “I remember standing in my office overlooking Hong Kong harbour just after I had heard about the opportunity to buy this land in South Africa and this overwhelming feeling struck me: ‘If I do do this, I may lose my shirt, I may regret it… BUT, if I don’t do this then I will still be standing in this office when I am 60, and THEN I will regret not doing it.”
Jennifer is a strong woman. That is obvious just from interviewing her over Skype. The very fact that she works in, what is mostly, a man’s world of ‘Oil and Gas’ investment, proves that she can match their balls.
So, she bought the reserve and turned around its fortunes. And her two daughters had the privilege of being brought up knowing the Bush intimately. “School teaches academics” Jennifer tells me, “but it doesn’t teach about life.” (How much do I agree with that?) “My daughters have a love of life, and when they are back at school they miss the Bush so much. We all do. We miss the animals – the cackling of the hyenas, the noise of the jackals. And we miss those amazing starry skies. We love to sit around the campfire at night, just counting stars.
“As an investment banker, I made millions for other people. But I could never see or feel this. The return of emotional capital I have earned since developing the reserve, is immense, makes it the best thing I have ever done. When you sit there watching a cheetah returned to the wild you realise that you have made the right choice.”
The list of the reserve’s accolades is long: it pioneered photographic safaris in South Africa; it had the first ever legal translocation of a lion and an elephant from Kruger National Park; it has one of the first recordings of a white Wildebeest born naturally in the wild; it has hosted wildlife documentaries aired on Animal Planet; has seen successful reintroduction of Cheetah…. And oh-so-much more – read the website. Oh yeah… and if you are a poacher… then watch out… Jennifer is after you… and damn right it’s personal.
And did I mention that she has done all of this as a single mother? Well she would have done this whatever she was… She is drive and determination personified (although not without her soft side – when we speak she has just sent her daughter off to her school prom and she is talking of how proud she is and how beautiful her daughter looked in her dress).
“We run the game reserve lodges to show people through eco-tourism how beautiful wildlife is. This also gives us the funds so that we can keep it in care for the next generation. If we don’t, there will be no elephants or rhinos… even for our children’s generation.” And there lies the balance. “There would be no wildlife without people: so we work with local schools and local people. Local communities are essential for the success of our projects.”
And then says, “I have to run… but if you want to come with me next week to help me sort out the poacher problem you are more then welcome!”
Something tells me I may have met my match in this woman.