A Passion—and Worry—for Africa
An "intense" first safari sparked Sally Davidson's love for Africa, but her worry for its wildlife prompted her to become an AWF legacy donor
Growing up in Colorado and California, Sally Davidson cared deeply for animals and was often concerned for their welfare. Circuses in particular bothered her, because she didn't like the way the animals were being used, and she worried about how they were being treated as they were transported from place to place.
Davidson maintained this passion for animals, ecology and the environment throughout her childhood, and as an adult based in Washington DC, she has served on numerous boards in keeping with her passions, including the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Rainforest Trust, Nature and Culture International, and American Rivers. But Davidson's first experience with Africa actually did not take place until long after she was grown. In the late 1980s, the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology was offering a safari to Tanzania to witness the great migration, led by famed mammalogist Richard Estes. As soon as they learned about the trip, Davidson and her late husband Stuart knew that this was a trip not to be missed. What better introduction could there be to the wonders of the continent?
Surrounded by wildlife
The safari was far from luxurious. They pitched their own pup tents and simple meals were cooked on the back of the Bedford truck that was the group's mode of transport. But what the safari lacked in amenities, it made up for in depth. The presence of Richard Estes, along with a gifted ornithologist who happened to be a part of their group, gave the Davidsons a unique insight into the wildlife that surrounded them.
And surround them it did-from every direction! Every day, their small group would travel farther and farther into the Serengeti. Davidson fondly recalls: "We pitched our tents very close to the truck, and were told not to stray too far if we got up in the night! My husband and I would lie quietly in the dark, listening to the nightime sounds of nature, guessing at what animals might be roaming just beyond our canvas tent. We could always tell the lions by their heavy breathing."
The migration itself was awe inspiring and the highlight of their trip. Wildebeest as far as the eye could see came from everywhere, in the tens of thousands, and would completely surround the truck. This, along with the unique thrill of spending a night in the Nogorogoro Crater-an experience that is no longer possible today-sparked Davidson's profound love for Africa and its wildlife.
It was shortly after this trip, when she was looking for organizations that were protecting "this treasure of a continent," that Davidson first encountered AWF. And just as her emotional investment in Africa has grown deeper over the years, through repeat visits and learning all she could about the continent, so, too, has her support of AWF.
While the trip to Tanzania was by far the most intense she has taken, Davidson has since returned to Africa six times (staying in much more amenable lodges). She has visited Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa (twice), Botswana and Namibia, where she spent some time with her friend Laurie Marker and Marker's organization, the Cheetah Conservation Fund.
Two of Davidson's trips were safaris led by AWF, including one to Uganda and Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas. The gorillas, she says, were thrilling. They took five mountain gorilla treks during that trip and saw gorillas on every trek. Although they had to stand a requisite distance away from the mountain gorillas, the gorillas would eventually come within close range, interacting with each other in complete disregard of the humans observing them.
"To me, that trip was also very poignant, because despite the gorillas' protected status, their habitat is in real danger of being further encroached upon by human activity, through illegal logging and agriculture," Davidson observes. "With half of the Ugandan population being under the age of 14, I worry about the competition between humans and gorillas for such limited space. Their existence is so fragile."
Accompanied by real worry
Indeed, Davidson's love for Africa is always accompanied by real worry-not just for gorillas but for all of the animals being poached "for nonsensical reasons," she says.
She is devastated by the scope of the poaching crisis for elephant ivory, rhino horn and even lions for their bones, which serve as a stand-in for the tiger bones so prized in Asian cultures.
"I read an article the other week that said there are people who actually purchase wildlife parts because they believe it is a guaranteed investment. They are actually counting on the extinction of these species-counting on it!" Davidson exclaims. "This absolutely infuriates me. This is why I believe so strongly in AWF's work, and I am glad there are other organizations out there, either working with AWF or independently, to find solutions to this enormous problem."
Though she is busy as chairman of the board of Clyde's Restaurant Group, which was founded by Stuart, Davidson has made sure to support AWF with generous annual donations for nearly 30 years. She has also included a legacy gift for AWF in in her estate plans.
"I really hope that with education and awareness, more young people will join the ranks of AWF's membership and eventually become major donors," says Davidson. "I will support AWF for as long as I can, both as an annual donor and through my estate. It's really important to me that this work continue beyond my lifetime. I encourage anyone who wants Africa's wildlife to endure for future generations to make a legacy gift." -Jessica Lindenfelser