We can save a species and I believe that we’re going to do it
Former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen, 38, has swapped Test runs for conservation as he shines a light on the world’s critically endangered rhinoceros population in National Geographic documentary series Save This Rhino. GEMMA DUNN finds out more
How did you come to be involved with Save This Rhino?
I WANTED to create a film about conservation. I’ve been involved in it since 2013 and I needed to develop trust within the conservation world and (prove) that I was the real deal, in terms of wanting to make a difference.
So it took a lot of time to really get to the right people, for them to understand what I was trying to do and how I was going to fit in under the radar to try to raise awareness.
It’s reached an Australian audience, as well as the UK. YEAH, it’s aired in Australia already and the reaction was incredible.
I was in Australia and a company that I was a global ambassador for owned National Geographic so I got set up with it in Australia and, to cut a long story short, we made a film and they bought in straight away.
Then the UK bought in and we’re in negotiations on a global level now so that we can show it everywhere.
So it’s very much a passion project for you, despite the global scale? THE genuineness that you see on screen, I think, is the only way to make a film.
We’re all friends and you know what? We’ve all got the same realistic goal. We want to save the rhino.
This is not just a job. Someone asked me: ‘Is there something you want to do for the next 20-25 years?’ I said ‘no’.
If we can save the rhino tomorrow, then I just want to go and play golf!
Petronel Nieuwoudt (founder of the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary) needs messengers, she needs awareness, she needs people branding what they do – that’s my job.
Your focus is on the poaching war in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. How can people help here?
THE British market is a big market – the pound goes a long way in South Africa when you convert it into rands so people donating and being generous can really make a difference.
We can save a species. There is an opportunity, financially, to put the technology in place in the southern part of the Kruger to make it a safe haven for animals. So we can do it and we believe that we’re going to do it.
How did you keep your emotions in check and how important was it to show viewers the truth, despite its brutality?
YOU never ever get over the numbness when you’ve seen a dead animal and you know that it has absolutely no medicinal value and no bearing at all on life.
You never get desensitised to what you’re seeing and what you’re smelling.
That smell, it touches your clothes or gets on to your shoe or on to your fingers ... it was everywhere.
(The brutal scenes) are there to shock people. I do that on social media dia all the time, I put up the most graphic things on Instagram to say ‘listen, this is what’s happening’. I’m not going to hide against it.
What did you learn from making the documentary?
I WANTED to just answer all questions so I needed to understand what people were going to ask. Because they were going to ask about poachers, pilots and the rangers, they were going to ask about Petronel and what she does. They were going to ask about the poor people, technology, everything, so we needed to cover all bases.
We made sure we were everywhere we were asked to be and we respected the space to do a good job but we also encompassed exactly what was going on.
That’s what people need to see, hear and read.
This venture is worlds away from your former cricket career. How has the transition made you re-evaluate your path?
I JUST love the fact that we are just
completely under the radar now and I don’t have the bravado of international sport.
(Rescued rhino) Arthur doesn’t have a clue who I am – in eight years’ time I wouldn’t be able to go into his pen.
And when I walk out of my balcony (in South Africa) and there’s buffalo, they don’t know how many Test runs I got.
I love that I can just be subservient, sort of, to nature and spend a lot of time bringing my children up in the bush.
How do you and your family split your time between your UK home and your lodge in the Kruger?
WE LIVE in Surrey, the kids’ school is here, but we’re a hop, skip and a jump from the lodge so if we don’t like what’s going on, weather-wise, we’re like: ‘Right, we’re outta here. Off to Heathrow.’
We built a lodge in the Kruger to go ‘this is what life’s all about’. It’s a great education for the kids.
■ Save This Rhino is on National Geographic on Monday at 10pm.
I put up the most graphic things on Instagram to say ‘listen, this is what’s happening’... Kevin Pietersen, above, and in his series, Save This Rhino, above left
Kevin with his wife, former Liberty X sing Jessica Taylor