DURBAN: WHEN the president makes the effort, in spite of his busy schedule, to single you out for a conversation and says “You’re doing the country proud”, it’s something to crow about.
Durban wildlife conservationist Skye Meaker, 17, rated his recent five-minute-long conversation with President Cyril Ramaphosa at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos last week as one of the highlights of his visit to Switzerland.
“Speaking to President Ramaphosa straight after his WEF address was a huge honour. He took time to get to know more about me and congratulate me, even though there were more than 20 TV cameras waiting for me to get out of the way,” said Skye.
While Ramaphosa wooed the international business community with his money talk, the 17-year-old was at the WEF to champion the cause of nature.
Skye, a Grade 11 pupil at Clifton School, was invited to the WEF as the Natural History Museum, London’s representative and delivered talks on nature at two well-attended forums.
The Durban North youngster, who returned from Davos this week, was chosen after winning the Natural History Museum’s young wildlife photographer 2018 honour.
As an avid photographer, Skye snapped a shot of a “lounging leopard”, waking from sleep in the Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana, which was judged to be the best from among 45000 entries from around the world.
“They told me that I had been chosen because I had a unique story, I spoke well and I embodied what the competition was about,” he said.
Soraia Salvador, Wildlife Photographer of the Year programme manager, said: “The reason we chose Skye is that we wanted Davos to listen to the perspective of the younger generations that will inherit the planet.
"All the decisions taken in Davos by the world leaders will affect the next generation profoundly.
“We want to inspire the next generation of photographers and young people by giving them a voice that they can make a difference to the planet if they are given a chance.”
Salvador said the teenager was a fantastic speaker and communicator, very enthusiastic, “so it wasn’t difficult for us to make this decision to invite him”.
At Davos, Skye became WEF’s first under 18 participant.
His talks were broadcast around the world, journalists queued to interview him afterwards, and he was well received by the locals.
Apart from meeting President Ramaphosa, and sharing the stage at a forum with his conservation icon Jane Goodall, he got to meet various other celebrities and business leaders.
“It was an amazing and mind-blowing experience. A week was not enough time to take in all of it. I was also stunned at how easy it was to interact with people, even celebrities like Sir David Attenborough.”
He said he had been working on his WEF address for two months. Once he started talking, he realised: “I got this, even though I was able to hide my nervousness.”
In raising animal extinction awareness, Skye was able to use his photography, while speaking at the Betazone Auditorium, to better depict his message and inspire people to embrace conservation.
Another high for him was when he was nominated as a discussion leader at a closed dinner hosted by National Geographic.
Looking back, Skye said his conservation work started when his father Shawn gifted him a camera for his 7th birthday. “I used the camera as props when speaking in Davos. It still remains my pocket rocket.
“As a photographer, I consider myself the middle man. I take people to the bush with my pictures.
“Many people I spoke to at Davos, apart from conservationists, have never seen a black rhino.”