Having opted to come to South Africa on her homecoming tour – a tour that each Miss USA makes, usually to the state from which they come – South Africa-born Nana Meriwether will leave with a new cause to speak to when she gets back to the United States.
‘I was born into a humanitarian way of life and have always focused on the human side of philanthropy. This trip has really introduced me to the plight of the rhino, and it’s hit me hard,” she explains.
Nana and her mother, Nomvimbi, are frequent visitors to South Africa, which both still refer to as ‘home’. The Meriwether Foundation, which Nana co-founded in 2005, supports a number of projects to improve the health and sustainability of communities in South Africa and other African countries.
In between visiting Tintswalo in Mpumalanga over the weekend, the hospital where she was born during her father’s eight years of service as a missionary medical doctor, and various other projects in the area, Nana was able to spend some time watching four relaxed rhino at the Thornybush Game Lodge.
It was a rare moment of peace during an otherwise busy programme. While Nana watched the rhino grazing, they began to nudge each other and seemed to play, moving their massive bulk with surprising ease and gentleness as the light slowly faded from the sky.
The sharp contrast between the rhinos’ peaceful, even playful, demeanour and the constant threat of a cruel and unnecessary death was highlighted as new incidents of poaching were reported from elsewhere in South Africa during the course of Nana’s visit.
‘We don’t hear much about the plight of the rhino back in the United States and I didn’t know just how threatened they are until now,’ she says.
I am so glad for the opportunity to adopt the rhino revolution message and spread it; we can’t take the threat of extinction lightly.
Her title means she has a voice in the US, though, and she plans to use it: ‘I am so glad for the opportunity to adopt the Rhino Revolution message and spread it; we can’t take the threat of extinction lightly.’
Hosted by Rhino Revolution, Khaya Ndlovu Manor House and Leadwood Big Game Estate, Nana also had the opportunity to track some white rhino on foot and meet the men and women involved in the daily protection of South Africa’s rhino.
‘We were walking and looking for rhino and our guides were telling us about how the poachers operate; that they are so well armed, so good at covering their tracks and so ruthless in the way that they kill these animals for their horns. It is a war.’
The statistics confirm this – so far this year, South Africa is losing more than two rhino per day to poaching.
Not only Nana was moved by the plight of the rhino in South Africa, but her head of security, Nelson Feliciano, donated some much-needed radio equipment to the anti-poaching team to assist it in its daily fight.
On the final day of her visit to the Hoedspruit area, Nana officially launched the Rhino Revolution/Blue Canyon Conservancy Black Rhino Relocation Project. The first female rhino to be released through the project has been named after her, a fact that delights her and her family.
Nana was joined at the launch by Mrs South Africa Lynne de Jager, who is also hoping to do her bit for the rhino by taking a strong message with her to China, where she will be competing in the Mrs World competition in September of this year.
‘We’re grateful to Miss USA and Mrs South Africa for putting their voices behind the rhino of Africa to raise awareness and funds to assist with the protection of this iconic species,’ says Patrick Jordan, who, with his father Trevor, Josh Whyte, Jozua Scheepers and Eugene Potgieter, has been instrumental in getting the black rhino project in the Blue Canyon Conservancy off the ground. For more information on this project, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.