Dave Pepler on conserving nature one word at a time

Dave Pepler Groen Congo Reenwoud

By Renate Engelbrecht

Thursday, Oct 06

My chat with Dave Pepler is probably one of the most refreshing interviews I’ve ever done. He says he has never watched any of the television programmes he presented, yet it seems that he is adamant to change the views of those watching.

Groen: Kongo Reënwoud, which kicked off on kykNET on 5 October 2022 was filmed in the green heart of Africa. In the brand-new nature-inspired season, Pepler looks at the Congo Rain Forest on foot. The questions on his quest include: What exactly is a rain forest? And, what is the role these natural wonders play in the well-being of our planet?

Dave Pepler

According to Pepler, getting to the destination was no easy task. In fact, it was only after 24 hours of flights stretching over four countries, and 19 hours in motor vehicles on some of the worst roads on the continent that his team of five reached basecamp. “We drove more than 18 hours on 400km,” he says. “The country is destroyed. I’ve never seen such devastation; such roads. You constantly feel it on your skin – like something is not right. There is rage just beneath the surface. Immense poverty.” But, he says once you reach the rain forest, it’s a glorious manifestation of life and exuberance.

“I’ve never visited such a fabled, fascinating place in my life,” says Pepler. According to him, this speck of earth in the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park is unimaginably complex. He says it’s for these types of places that he will fight until the day he dies, with words as his only weapon.

For Dave Pepler, nature is the one constant thing in life – something that’s always present; his touchstone. “Everything filters through time, except nature’s presence.”

READ: This is how we should be teaching our children about nature

Looking up in the Congo Rain Forest

Why does Dave Pepler fight for conservation with words?

The implementation of conservation in an already broken world is a dire strait according to Pepler. “We’re broken and polluted,” he says bluntly. “The change can start when everyone assume responsibility for where their feet stand. Proclaim with words and hope that your belief will spill over to your neighbours, your fellow men,” means Pepler. He says with words he can convince three people in his neighbourhood to start recycling. Later, these small groups of people making a difference will start growing into bigger groups.

Could it be too late?

In the same breath, he says the trouble is that it’s actually too late already. “Die aarde is in sy moer,” he says – a quote that will only have as much effect in Afrikaans.

Pepler says he has been warning everyone against what is currently happening due to climate change. “I am tired of screaming; tired of warning.”

He says it’s sad that we don’t have a lexicon that can make this news digestible to those making the decisions. “Most ministers won’t know if you put penguin in their salad.” As our South African (and African) democracy works in rolling periods of five years, there is not enough time for anyone to make a substantial difference.

Elephants in the Congo

Dave Pepler shares his Congo Rain Forest highlights

Pepler remembers how 3000 to 4000 African Grey parrots came flying in and sat around him in the rain forest. “That’s how it should be,” he says, painting the disturbing, contrasting picture of an African Grey in a cage, picking its feathers and mimicking sounds. “We put them in cages and boast with neurosis.”

Furthermore, he got to see forest elephants and lowland gorillas, as well as a giant forest hog, also known as a Hylochoerus meinertzhageni – a species he’s been searching for all his life.

People with one of the smallest carbon footprints

The Ba’Aka people, who live in the rain forest was another one of Pepler’s incredible experiences, which will also be featured in the new season of Groen. “Their life is largely ritualised,” he says, with much of what they do revolving around song and dance. “I suspect it has to do with the oral transformation of tradition.”

There are no cell phones, no media, no lights. But, Pepler says this might be the case for the next ten years, after which they will probably also become westernised.

Still, they have their own challenges with many babies dying at a too young age and sand flea infestations often getting the best of them. But, they live with a very small carbon footprint. They don’t have the technology to live with a larger carbon footprint – something that is rather rare these days.

If you’d like to learn more about this intriguing green lung in our ever-changing world and Dave Pepler and his team’s experience, save the date and time for Groen: Kongo Reënwoud, every Wednesday at 21:00 on kykNET (DStv Channel 144).

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