Woman splits time between African wildlife sanctuary & here
Fleur Wales-Baillie enjoys the 33-acre mountain retreat that she and her husband own in western Morgan County.
However, part of her year is spent as a volunteer overseeing the Khumbula Thina Mountain Sanctuary & Wildlife Refuge that she established in a remote area of northern Zululand, South Africa.
The 6,000+ acre wildlife refuge in KwaZulu-Natal is home to rare, threatened and endangered species as well as rescued animals. The terrain has scenic vistas of flatland, bushveld, mountaintops, rivers, valleys and slopes. No hunting is permitted.
More than 6,000 wild animals flourish in the sanctuary. Among them are elephants, zebra, hippos, rhinoceros, wildebeest, impalas, giraffe, warthogs, leopards, tortoise, kudu, blesbok and other African antelope.
It’s exciting to catch a glimpse of the tiny Suni antelope, Wales-Baillie said. They are about 10 inches high and live in the rain bush by the river. The Suni hide their babies at the base of trees by covering them up with leaves.
“They run so fast. They’re gone in a flash,” she said.
At the start
Wales-Baillie was born in Johannesburg, South Africa of British descent and spent her early years in the African bush with her parents. She became a U.S. resident in 1970 and later an American citizen.
Wales-Baillie began her non-profit foundation — the Khumbula Thina Trust— in 1994, pursuing her passion of protecting and nurturing southern African wildlife.
“Khumbula Thina” means “Remember us” in Zulu.
The foundation provides jobs for local communities, counseling for malaria, HIV and other health issues, and supports a school for orphaned and HIV-infected children.
Wales-Baillie was encouraged by South African Presidents Nelson Mandela, F.W. de Klerk, and Thabo Mbeki to give back to the country of her birth and create the wildlife haven there.
In 2000, she purchased the former cattle farm. They thinned invasive plant species, repaired erosion areas, made watering holes accessible to smaller creatures, built roads and fencing, and constructed an extensive water system for both animals and living quarters.
A volunteer lodge and thatched huts were constructed for staff. A main lodge is halfway completed.
At the sanctuary, they care for wounded and sick animals. Some have been rescued from zoos and sales auctions where they were slated for hunting reserves.
Wales-Baillie also rescued lions from American roadside circuses when she lived in Florida and flew them back to Africa to the wild.
She has faced poachers, legal battles and other dangers in the nearly 12 years at her Khumbula Thina sanctuary, but she is determined that her refuge will continue offering a place where animals can “live in peace and dignity and die in dignity.”
The foundation’s motto is: “The Land, Its People, It’s Wild.”
Wales-Baillie considers her work a mission ministry. “God expects us to take care of His creatures,” she said.
Wales-Baillie plans to approach regional universities to arrange an internship program where students can study conservation, trails and wildlife management at the Khumbula Thina sanctuary with a company that trains and teaches her staff.
Since their Morgan County property is also a refuge where deer, bear, birds and other wildlife congregate, she thinks it would be an ideal orientation place for interns before they travel with her to South Africa.
Her conservation work aside, Wales-Baillie holds the distinction of becoming the first woman commercial jumbo jet pilot/engineer in the world back in 1977. She received her pilot/engineer license for the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet through United Airlines.
aviation at the Sheffield School of Aeronautics in Miami and earned her commercial, instrument, flight instructor, dispatcher, transport and flight engineer licenses.
She started her flying career in South Africa, taking lessons from an Air Force officer and flying a Piper Cub. She transported tools, groceries and farm equipment and also did game counting.
“I loved the bush and flying so much,” Wales-Baillie said. “I knew it was my future.”
She next flew DC-3-4-6-7s and a DC-8 jet, three Lockheed Constellation models and the Boeing 707, 720 and 747. She even applied to become a NASA astronaut in 1978, but wasn’t accepted into the program.
Her flying days now behind her, her focus is the Khumbula Thina sanctuary.
Current projects there include finishing the main lodge, erecting the tented camp and bungalows for visiting students and scientists, and installing Big Five electric fencing along the borders.
She hopes the refuge will become a World Heritage Site and wants to enlist educational authorities for the necessary studies and to gain public support.
The beauty of the preserve is spectacular all year long, but African spring (West Virginia winter) is particularly enthralling, she said. They have over 300 species of birds and diverse, abounding vegetation.
“It’s paradise,” Wales-Baillie said.
The location on the eastern seaboard near Swaziland is surrounded by other game reserves and wilderness. It’s close to the Elephant Coast on the Indian Ocean and Sodwana Bay where there is diving, snorkeling, whale watching and beautiful reefs, she said.
For more information about Khumbula Thina Mountain Sanctuary & Wildlife Refuge, Fleur Wales-Baillie can be contacted through the Khumbula Thina Trust website.