Karen Paolillo is an uncommon kind of nanny. No diaper bag. No bottles. No blankets. And she dare not lay a hand on the babies. But she might just win an award for “Nanny of the Year” after all.
Originally from England, Karen and her French husband Jean-Roger have been held hostage, shot at and stricken more times with malaria than with a common cold. Yet they continue to stand guard over the hippos of Zimbabwe and all forms of other wildlife as the founders of a special organization known as the Turgwe Hippo Trust. With inconceivable bravery, these two wildlife guardians have saved countless animals from death by snare or shotgun and the hippo population is slowly rebounding with the birth of new calves because of their intervention.
She Saved Them From Drought, But Can She Save Them From Man?
The fact is that Karen and Jean Paoillo are wardens in a land where a dusty line separates life from death. Their story begins in 1991 when a devastating drought began to claim the wildlife along the Turgwe River. Lowveld hippo populations plummeted to a small herd of just 13 animals and other species of native wildlife nearly disappeared. Determined not to see life extinguished, Karen and Jean appealed to the international community for help and got to work drilling a deep earth pump, excavating a massive pond and trucking in loads of vegetation to feed the animals. For more than a year, they kept the animals alive this way until the rains returned.
But life in Zimbabwe has become even harder for human and animal due to the upside down politics of President Mugabe, who attempted to mend the racial divide by running white farmers off their land, which led to severe food shortages. This former bread basket of Africa is a place of tremendous beauty and deep-seeded struggle all at once.
The Poachers Tried to Murder Her Husband
Rather than retreat, the Paolillos continue their battle to keep the animals alive and that puts them directly at odds with some very dangerous poachers who would like to see them dead. Not so long ago, they nearly succeeded.
Karen and Jean-Roger go on daily patrols to collect the snares and, on occasion, cut a wild animal free from the noose that has already traped it. Recently, one of the poachers narrowly missed Jean-Roger as he attempted to shoot him in the head with an arrow. And the punishment for this crime? Well, the perpetrator was served with community service at a nearby school.
Yes, life is hard here, but hope is very much alive.
“The birth of BonBon is calf number 45 born since the drought,” Karen explains. “The four babies born in the last two months make the hardships of the previous decade worthwhile and prove to us that there is a future for these wonderful animals.”
Who Will Help The Bush Nanny?
The Harmony Fund is an international animal aid charity sponsoring Karen’s wildlife protection mission. We aim to sustain and expand the reach of Turgwe Hippo Trust’s critical anti-poaching efforts. If you’d like to see more incredible photos of this work and learn about how you can help for as little as a few dollars, please click here.
Photo credit: Karen Paolillo