Fund-raiser speaks for the animals

Animal communicator Anna Breytenbach with Jaffer, a white-faced owl at Soetwater Environmental Education Centre.

The welfare of wild birds living at Soetwater Environmental Education Centre was at the forefront of a fund-raiser held in Scarborough this week.

On Monday night, curious residents gathered at Sopra restaurant at The Village Hub to watch a private screening of The Animal Communicator, a movie about Anna Breytenbach’s life. All the money raised that night was donated to the centre.

Once a systems analyst in the corporate world, Ms Breytenbach has now dedicated her life to talking with animals. The movie explores how they answer her and share information. It was directed by conservation journalist Swati Thiyagarajan and her husband, Oscar winner Craig Foster, of My Octopus Teacher fame.

Ms Thiyagarajan explored her own doubts about the capacity for inter-species communication through the unfolding movie, and summed it up in person at the fund-raiser through this analogy: travellers whose first language is English often made the mistake, when speaking to indigenous people in foreign countries, of judging their intelligence by their ability to communicate in English. That, she said, applied to animals equally.

Ms Breytenbach said at the fund raiser that not all rehabilitation centres are equal. She had worked with many, but the Soetwater Environmental Education Centre had her stamp of approval. The wild animals there were respected, happy and well treated, she said.

Lockdown and the concomitant lack of visitors to the centre last year sapped its funds, hence the fund-raiser.

The centre’s founder, Lappies Labuschagne, said he wanted to plant seeds in the minds of children, to awaken their connection to nature and animals.

In The Animal Communicator, a range of indigenous people from across the planet speak about their cultures abilities to track and communicate with animals.

“Connecting to wild animals and places doesn’t have to be some faraway adventure. On our own doorsteps and seashores are opportunities to be kind to the birds, insects, spiders and plants – all of whom are available for our gentle attention and friendship,” Ms Breytenbach said.

The Soetwater Environmental Educational Centre, adjacent to the lighthouse at Kommetjie, was established in 2002 as a non-profit company. The wilderness area is wedged between the Atlantic and the mountains of the Slangkop Nature Reserve.

The centre gives children from Grade 5 to matric the chance to break away from their routine and experience the outdoors.

Children as close as Ocean View may never have seen the sea, and children from across the mountain in the Cape Flats and as far afield as Oudtshoorn and the Karoo have attended programmes at the centre.

Alison Geduldt is the centre’s public relations officer and she said that besides learning to appreciate nature and the impact that we as humans have on our planet, the children investigate ways at looking after the wildlife surrounding us and learn about creating a sustainable future on Earth.

The learning takes the form of team building and the centre runs obstacle courses and teaches conflict resolution, communication skills, healthy eating and good hygiene, and awareness of substance abuse and HIV.

Activities include survival courses, camp fire concerts, raft building, art from plastic waste collected on the beach, potjie competitions and making music.

The centre takes care of a range of birds, from parrots to injured owls.

“We are very grateful to Anna Breytenbach for her fund-raising event. These funds are solely for upgrading the bird centre and its maintenance,” Ms Geduldt said.

Visit www.seec.org.za for more about the centre. Or, to help, contact Alison Geduldt at wirelesscowgirlevents@gmail.com or 021 783 0242.

Animal communicator Anna Breytenbach and Lappies Labuschagne, founder of Soetwater Environmental Education Centre.
Conservation journalist Swati Thiyagarajan, right, and her husband, Oscar winner Craig Foster, of My Octopus Teacher fame, directed The Animal Communicator, a movie about the life of animal communicator Anna Breytenbach, left.