The last place you may expect to find a pirate is in the middle of the desert, thus Zach McGowan cuts an interesting figure standing in the Karoo. One of the stars of the hit U.S. television series Shameless, he is currently on location in South Africa filming a new show entitled Black Sails. Set 10 years before the events of Treasure Island, he has been immersing himself in swashbuckling and pirate lore to portray Captain Charles Vane – one of the numerous pirates that will be seen in the show. He took the time to visit Inverdoorn recently with his brother Matt McGowan and their friend Eric Litman, visiting from New York City.
Zach loves Cape Town, but he was keen to see more particularly as he tells us that "this is my first time in South Africa and Africa in fact". So he headed out to Inverdoorn with Matt and Eric for safaris, animal encounters and finding out more about the reserve's wildlife initiatives Western Cape Cheetah Conservation (WCCC) and RhinoProtect. What better way to start the experience than with an introduction to the baby rhinos, Bundu and Livinia? Not only are they one of the members of the Big 5, but a hot topic in the media due to the poaching crisis. Upon their arrival Zach, Matt and Eric made a stop at the rhino orphanage to meet the calves. They were astounded, petting them and even leaning in for hugs, until Livinia gave out a few disgruntled snorts. The orphans are growing up fast – Bundu currently weighing in at 500kg – and much as they love the attention, they are not to be trifled with.
We asked Zach how much he knows about illegal rhino poaching and the horn trade. The rhino crisis is a much talked about issue in South Africa and the public have rallied behind it, but how much does the rest of the world know? He is aware of the issue, but his trip has certainly taught him even more. "What I knew was mostly just what I'd read in magazines or seen on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic. I didn't know about the horn treatment or that the poaching was happening so close to Cape Town as well."
The highlights of their trip were definitely the fact that they got to live out their favourite new catchphrases "chilling with the cheetahs and rocking with the rhinos". They met Iziba, the WCCC's youngest cheetah, first and sat with her on the couch, listening to her purr and stroking her. They were all amazed at Leah Brousse, one of Inverdoorn's cheetah handlers, and the remarkable touch she has with Iziba, and all the other cheetahs as well. The following day they were introduced to Velvet, another of Inverdoorn's tame cheetahs, who was quite happy to show off during her daily exercises. Wilna Paxton, Inverdoorn's general manager, was also on hand to answer each and every question. Velvet, meanwhile, took everyone on a walk, traipsing through the reserve as she spotted a duiker in the distance and stalked after it. She soon lost interest, however, and decided that sitting under the shade and drinking water out of Zach's hands was a much better idea.
With this being his first time in South Africa, he was taken aback by Cape Town. "It's very cosmopolitan. It reminds me of Europe and southern California and it's great, but it's familiar. Inverdoorn was my expectation of what Africa was". Zach, Matt and Eric all raved about their safaris, recounting their sightings of lions, walking with giraffes and marvelling at Bully and Nduna, Inverdoorn's elephants, strolling calmly in front of the safari vehicle. "We had a fantastic time...and we were told there are no real safari experiences close to Cape Town. Clearly they were wrong." His enthusiasm is palpable as he confirms that his expectations were "blown out of the water. We saw a lot of animals up close, but not in a confined space." By the end of the trip he can even name the Big 5, but his knowledge is extensive and he easily ticks off the names of the animals they saw. "We saw everything," he affirms "except for the hippos. I've got to come back for the hippos."
With moments such as these, one realises yet again the majesty of seeing wild animals roam free, the way they were meant to and what it is to share that experience with others, particularly people from other parts of the world. If our wildlife disappears, what will we have left? There is much that makes South Africa special and distinguishes it on the international map and our natural heritage is a huge part of that. To conserve it is therefore of the utmost importance, so that we can continue to distinguish ourselves and share it with the world.