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Reach For The Wild Trail Launch

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article is re-printed from IMFAMA, the Bi-monthly magazine of the South Africa National Council for the Blind, Volume 41 Number 2, April 2001

WHAT connection can there possibly be between hyena dung, jackal prints, wasp nests, rocks from the Magaliesberg, birds nests and eggs, trees and tortoises, you might ask? Most people's immediate reaction would be to think that there is no real connection - except maybe that all these "things" can be found outdoors. However, after completing the Rob and Julie Filmer Sensory Trail , you might have a different opinion. During a visit to this exciting new addition to the De Wildt Cheetah Research Centre outside Pretoria, visitors are introduced to the wide variety of animal, bird and plant life found in the area by experienced guides. Blind nature lovers also have the opportunity to "discover" nature's treasures through touch.

The trail - which was especially designed with blind and partially sighted people in mind - was officially opened on 20 March 2001 by well-known blind conservationist Rob Filmer and his wife, Julie.

Close to sixty people, representing the media, personnel of the SANCB and other interested parties, attended the launch. Entertainment was provided by the Prinshof Choir who delighted visitors with their clever adaptations of well-known wildlife songs to reflect their surroundings.

During the opening Rob congratulated the team at De Wildt who were responsible for the development of the trail and said that a dream can only be realized when it is followed by action. In this case it resulted in the creation of this unique trail that afforded all nature lovers the chance to experience the beauty of De Wildt first hand.

Vanessa Bouwer, one of the trustees of De Wildt and the driving force behind the project, said that too often disabled people in general and blind people in particular are denied their rights and this project is another small step from within South Africa to demonstrate the right of blind and visually disabled people to access and understand the environment in the same way as others do.

"A little more care and attention is required to bring this about and we are thrilled that our dream to assist blind and visually disabled individuals to "reach for the wild" is about to become a reality." She also thanked everyone who contributed to the planning of the trail. "We have listened to what it is that blind people themselves want and on that basis we have taken a conscious decision to keep the entire trail natural. For instance there are no braille labels. Braille gives access to the written word and literature; and on the best of advice we have decided that there is not an appropriate use for it here. " She stressed the fact that they believe it is the task of living guides to provide the interpretation, not inanimate signs that have to be located through a sighted person who might distract the blind visitor from the importance of what is being said along the way.

"Our one concession to this will be to put in place a tactile map of the route that might be explored by those who would like an idea of where they are going. We will also have a tribute in braille to Rob and Julie Filmer.

Also as part of our future plans is the need to open up the trail to wheelchair users as well as other disabled groups," she said. With the "theoretical" part of the launch dispensed with, visitors were teamed up with the children from the Prinshof Choir to gain practical knowledge of the wonders of the trail and experience it through "each other's eyes".

Vanessa challenged visitors to take the time and trouble to reach out to nature and to let nature find them. "That is the purpose of the trail, to test your senses and involve your whole being in the experience." The trail is open to the public and groups, but bookings are essential.

For more information or to book a tour, contact De Wildt at (012) 504-1921.