On a roll in the bush
Durban - Trishala Naidu’s life as a wildlife television presenter involves dodging wild animals on her way to the kitchen ‒ a far cry from Durban, where she grew up.
The rawness of Africa brought WildEarth presenter Trishala Naidu home to Africa from Australia to study environmental and biological science at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, having moved to Australia with her family when she was 12.
She was following her instincts that showed as a child.
“I always had my hands and feet in dirt, collected insects and other small creatures, adopted stray anything,” she told the Independent on Saturday in a phone and email interview from Djuma Private Game Reserve, which is in Sabi Sands, part of the Greater Kruger National Park.
Her car had broken down on the day, so she had been relegated to a live camera at a dam rather than going out deeper into the bush where elephants give her much joy.
“They seem to acknowledge our presence and communicate with us in a way I don't understand. I have had a huge, I mean huge, musth bull approach me and stand right next to my vehicle, within 1.5m, then almost fall asleep next to me after investigating us,” Naidu recalled.
“I've had insane leopard sightings; cubs, leopard interactions, three leopards in one sighting, wild dogs chasing a leopard into a tree ‒ it's almost too many to mention.
“Hyena cubs have bitten my shoelaces, tried to jump into my car and other mischievousness,” she said.
Naidu stresses that she does not have a favourite animal but loves the way all the different species interact.
Brought up in Reservoir Hills, Durban, she recalls being “surrounded by people, including my parents, who supported me and my quirkiness”.
“I say quirkiness because I was a very opinionated and curious child. I never liked stereotypes or people, or culture, determining what I should do or be.
“Unfortunately I did experience a lot of that within my culture from school teachers to family expressing that I should rather put my love of science to better use as a doctor or something similar.
“I can understand where this comes from ‒ a need to have stability after a past of poverty,” Naidu said.
That was not her, though.
“I wanted to know everything about the natural world, from geology to biology, all things in between and how they worked together. Often the things I was curious about didn't matter to the day-to-day, run-of-the-mill life many people around me led.
“So this information seemed irrelevant. However, my supportive family always allowed me to explore my interests without judgement. I was happy to settle for a life in research and so I chose my path, a path I wanted to be on and was not a result of pressure to be something ‘more stable’.”
She said her job as a television presenter “speaks to everything about me from science and animal biology to my inner performer”.
Naidu said the two disciplines had married surprisingly well for her.
“I've always had a bit of a performer streak in me and I love to share what I learn. I've always been a bit of a talker too.
“Obviously, it took some time to get used to speaking into the camera and get comfortable with it, plus there were many big egos and experienced guides or presenters around me. But I got through by just being me and settling into my role.”
She said that although she is a qualified safari guide, her expertise is science.
“I tried not to be a guide but rather use my guiding qualification to supplement my love of science. I get very excited about random little facts I learn and when I share them with others, and I may just spark some sort of curiosity in someone else, I love that, it gets me excited. I hope people at home think ‘that's cool, let me go read more about that’.”
Back to career choices, Naidu said she wants other people who have talents and an insatiable curiosity to know that it is possible to have a career outside of the normal and all it takes is a little effort and self-belief.
“Break the mould, I say, It's worth it. Ultimately, I hope that when young girls see me on TV they realise that there are other options out there, not just the norm,” she said.
Naidu is pleased about the news that a woman has just been appointed head ranger of the Kruger National Park.
“She is incredibly experienced and her appointment is another move in the right direction to encourage women to enter the guiding industry, one that is traditionally dominated by men.”
In her bush life, Naidu’s job requires her to be fit “but nothing too hectic”.
“Bush walks are around five to eight kilometres. I've got to lift 18kg fuel cans to fill vehicles and need to be able to change the tyre of the Land Rover without help. Other than those things I've got to be able to run in case of an emergency, for example an elephant charging while on foot.”
She said she missed the comforts of home, especially good food.
“But we have it quite good at the Djuma camp. I have a bathroom in my room, and, yes that's a big deal, and the kitchen is well stocked.
“Walking around between the kitchen and the rooms requires you to pay attention as elephants and leopards frequently walk through the camp.
“Sometimes it can be very relaxing out here but other times you have to be on high alert. There is nothing quite like a camp fire, the evening sounds of hyena and lions with the blanket of stars above you, though,” she said.
Naidu said her opinion of environmental issues is simple.
“If we want to continue living as we do, we need to take better care of the planet. Earth will survive as she always has.
“She has experienced cycles of cooling and heating, mass extinctions and disaster on a much more massive scale than what is happening now ‒ geological history has shown us this.
“But if we continue to deplete finite resources at this rate, we will cause our own extinction and the planet would only bat an eye.
“Be kind to the Earth, to each other and let's try our best not to be greedy. Do little things that you can, avoid plastics, reduce waste and so on. Education is key in this fight. I just think people need to remember that it is us who will suffer the consequences of continuing to exploit the Earth; she will recover.”
The Independent on Saturday