Environmentalist doctor goes hi-tech

Andries Heyns doing strength training for firearms handling during the anti-poaching course. Picture: MINERVA XANA PHOTOGRAPHY

Andries Heyns, who jokingly calls himself “your friendly neighbourhood anti-poacher”, has returned from a five-week anti-poaching course in Touwsrivier and at the Amakhala Game Reserve just outside Port Elizabeth.

Echo readers were first introduced to this gung-ho volunteer in April when Andries – or Dr Heyns, to give his brains their due – was using crowd funding to raise money to go on the course.

We told you all about his Muizenberg background and Muizenberg teacher parents, his cum laude graduation, his studying French on the side, his volunteering for wildfires and animals, and his engineering expertise (“Mui-zenberg doc crosses border to save rhinos,” Echo April 6).

The course, which includes firearms training, is run by the Tac Trac Combat Tracking initiative, an NGO which was formed to counteract growing threats to Africa’s wildlife.

Brimming with enthusiasm and 6kg lighter, Andries says the course was worth the hard work, little sleep and cold nights.

He and the other participants camped in the reserve with nothing but thorn bushes between them and the wildlife – elephants, rhinos and lions included.

“The best part of the course, though, was all the really good friends I made, who made the tough training, intense fatigue and the extremely cold night patrols (6pm to 6am) bearable, and I was able to laugh during even the most uncomfortable and miserable of times.

“There was a guy from the navy, a firearms instructor, a chopper pilot, guys who work at reserves and many other interesting characters. I will also definitely work alongside some of them in the future for research collaboration and actual patrols,” he said.

Andries has also received funding approval to do postdoctoral research at Pretoria University’s electronic warfare department, which he hopes he will be able to apply to his anti-poaching work.

In mid-July, Andries will leave for the Central African Republic to work as a hospital logistics manager for Doctors Without Borders.

“The situation is very tense there at the moment since they are in a civil war – so while I’m very excited to do something vital for the good of others, as well as experience a new, unique country, I’m also quite anxious,” he said.

* To find out more about the anti-poaching course, see www. tactrac.co.za You can also follow Andries on Twitter at @ranger andries