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How my MBA is helping me to save Africa’s wild dogs
How my MBA is helping me to save Africa’s wild dogs Jocelin Kagan has a lot in common with her beloved African wild dogs. She shares their nomadic spirit, finding it hard to be still, or to follow one set life path. Insatiably curious, self-determined and independent, Jocelin has made it her mission to…
How my MBA is helping me to save Africa’s wild dogs
Jocelin Kagan has a lot in common with her beloved African wild dogs. She shares their nomadic spirit, finding it hard to be still, or to follow one set life path. Insatiably curious, self-determined and independent, Jocelin has made it her mission to work with the organisations that are protecting the endangered predators that have stolen her heart. And her Henley MBA is helping her to get the job done.
In another life I ran a successful communications business teaching public speaking to executives. I worked with very senior people in business – mainly in mining and banking, and even published two books on the subject. I groomed business leaders to take a stand, speak with confidence and without notes, engaging with their audience as if in conversation.
I decided to do an MBA because I love learning and also because I felt as though I needed a new challenge. Henley Africa appealed to me because I wanted to be able to continue running my business while I studied, and Henley’s family-friendly and flexible international MBA afforded me the opportunity to do so. I loved my time at the business school – I was assigned to the most wonderful syndicate group (I was the only woman in the group) and because it was almost the year 2000, we called ourselves ‘The Millennium’. It took me four years to complete my degree, before handing in my dissertation in 2001. I graduated in the international top 10 of my class year and was invited to the Henley UK international graduation ceremony in Reading, which was a great honour. I still have the travelling clock we all received as an acknowledgement gift for our achievement.
Despite holding such a respected qualification I’m not cut out for a traditional business environment. I remember attending a Henley dinner just after graduation and a director of one of the big banks said to me, ‘Once you’re ready, give us a call’. I never made that call because I am simply not a corporate animal. I don’t obey rules, I don’t do red tape and I would have withered away in that world.
Once I’d completed my degree I moved to Cape Town but soon found myself missing Joburg life. The pace and decisiveness of Johannesburg suits me because I like to move swiftly. I think that affinity for Johannesburg is one of my links to the wild dogs. The dogs do everything quickly, even rest, although they never rest for very long. They lie down and within a short time move, whether into the shade or to lie on top of a pack member.
In 2008, still feeling disenchanted with life in Cape Town, I decided to take a trip to the Antarctic, armed with a point-and-shoot camera. I absolutely loved it, and it ushered in a new era in my life. The minute I returned to South Africa I booked the next trip back to the ice: I was transfixed. I began to see my future and the role I could play in conservation and in protecting the environment. Year after year I returned to Antarctica, and with each expedition honed my photographic skills. But by 2015, I had had enough of the cold and needed a warmer place to visit. I chose Zimbabwe.
In June 2015 I encountered a huge pack of 24 wild dogs at Mana Pools in Zimbabwe; I was smitten by the dynamism of the dogs, their social dynamics, and their extraordinary prowess as predators. Because I was accompanied by a guide and a ranger I was able to get out of the vehicle and lie down flat to take photos at eye level. With wildlife, when an animal’s eye settles and it looks directly into the camera, this is the moment when all my senses come alive, when the photographer in me meets the intelligence on the other side of my lens.
I set up Africa’s Wild Dog Survival Fund to raise awareness and as a fundraising platform to support organisations working directly with the dogs. African wild dogs once ranged widely in large packs throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, now they are restricted to small populations in a few countries in southern Africa, some of which are declining rapidly. Despite being classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2016, continued habitat fragmentation, diseases from domestic dogs, a ‘shoot to kill’ policy by some farmers, predation from growing populations of larger, more aggressive predators such as lion and hyena, and climate change are among the factors contributing to the decline in wild dog numbers. The dogs are in serious trouble and my fund was borne out of a love for them and a passion to do whatever it takes to contribute to growing their numbers and ensuring they survive. I dreamt of authoring a book to share my experiences and what I have learnt about African wild dogs.
The book, Africa’s Wild Dogs – A survival Story, was published in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic, but thanks to its popularity, the book made it onto Business Day’s Christmas reading list that December, which was hugely satisfying. All royalties from the book sales go into the fund and are donated to organisations across the continent that work specifically with wild dogs.
The MBA didn’t teach me how to run a not-for-profit fund or how to write books – I’ve now written five – but it did teach me to take a stand in expressing my business vision, to have belief in that vision, and to be persistent. I had wanted to do a conference on the wild dog since 2018. and engaged with Dr Harriet Davies-Mostert, the then Head of Conservation at the Endangered Wildlife Trust. It was in June 2021 that we drew together a steering committee and got people excited about the concept. And so, despite the fact that we had no budget to speak of we set a date, created a PR machine and locked in sponsors and speakers. The entire event was planned and arranged remotely from as far afield as Zimbabwe, Zurich and London and despite the challenges it was a great success. Our first virtual African Wild Dogs United Conference drew together 244 attendees, more than 120 presentations and we raised more money than we had ever imagined. It enabled us to follow through with our intention of awarding study bursaries to promising Wild Dog conservation aspirants.
My work is not done but I find that I’m very much at home in the company of the dogs now. You learn patience when you’re with them. I feel that I have found my voice through my commitment and work with these precious creatures.
Africa’s Wild Dogs – A Survival Story (Merlin Unwin Books, 2020), R660, is available to purchase on Jocelin’s website. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to Africa’s Wild Dog Survival Fund, a registered South African Public Benefit Organisation.
3 wild dog facts
- There are only about 6 600 African wild dogs (Lycaen pictus) left in Africa. The species is globally listed as endangered and only occurs in 14 of the 39 African countries it once inhabited.
- Wild dogs are small, roughly the same height as emperor penguins but not nearly as plump.
- Dogs do not mate within their own pack and will travel up to 2 000km, scent marking as they go, to find a breeding partner