‘Rhino whisperer’ Heather an unlikely animal crusader

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By Genevieve Meegan

You may not know her name but chances are you’ve enjoyed one of the many local tourist attractions that Heather Caddick has helped renovate, establish, build or save.

These include the Giant Panda Project at Adelaide Zoo, the brand new Lion Night Quarters at Monarto Zoo, the White Rhino enclosure at Monarto Zoo and the soon-to-be upgraded Her Majesty’s Theatre in Grote Street.

The former Zoos SA president has spent more than 17 years working to help save the rhino from extinction – but that’s just one chapter in her life story to date.

Heather and her granddaughters Tilda and Emmy. “It’s all about new experiences. I always say to my granddaughters, ‘always take risks and never be careful,’ much to the horror of those within earshot!”

Heather isn’t one for self-promotion, but her resumé reads like a “how to” guide to community service and animal conservation.

Just some of the highlights include ten years as a volunteer for UNICEF, working as a volunteer broadcaster for Radio for the Print Handicapped and taking on the role of advocate for the Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, run by the world-famous Australian surgeon Catherine Hamlin. Meeting Catherine in 1994 has led to a 25 year friendship, with Heather visiting the Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa many times.

“I became interested in joining UNICEF from a humanitarian side and I was a volunteer advocate for 10 years which mainly involved talking to schools and rotary clubs about what was happening in Bosnia and trying to fundraise,” she explains.

“But a highlight was also joining an international delegation to Ethiopia in 1994 to visit areas of aid work after the famine.

“I will never forget how I wandered through the camp, there were children playing and I heard their delighted laughter countering the living conditions and horrors around them. It was incredibly moving on many levels.”

Heather trained as a kindy teacher but moved into stockbroking in her 20s, almost by accident, although her grandfather, father and brothers were all in the business.

“I was living in Sydney and I really fell into being a dealer on the options market,” she says.

“I was working next door to a mining company and they had an options desk and I was interested in the stock market and kept popping in to get stock prices and the boss of this company said, ‘look, you enjoy it so much, I’m losing a dealer, I will give you three weeks to sink or swim’. So, I sat at the dealer’s desk and learnt the rudiments and I was one of the first female dealers in Australia.”

Heather and husband Alfred have two adult sons, Toby and Barnaby, and grandchildren Tilda, Emmy and Natalia, all of whom live in overseas. Today, the couple travels regularly to spend time with the family, as well as feed their love of adventure, exploration and conservation.

But today it is her love for, and affinity with rhinos that is Heather’s driving passion. She has written two books, For the Love of Rhinos and The Road Less Travelled, giving insight into her many adventures, her love of experiencing the human condition, but most importantly her passion for conserving rhinos and world’s wildlife.

“In 2000 I became a volunteer at Monarto Zoo and we became as a family passionate about rhino conservation,” explains Heather, who was previously Zoos SA President.

“The love of animals arose with many trips to Africa as my husband Alfred was born in Kenya. It became very obvious that something needs to be done to save our wildlife.

“In 2002 we helped instigate the Operation White Rhino project at Monarto Zoo with the building of a rhino enclosure. Seven white rhinos were imported from South Africa and subsequent breeding success has resulted in a significant rhino conservation base at Monarto for these critically endangered mammals.

“Being involved in that transfer was a huge thrill for me.”

Some of Heather’s adventures include hand-feeding wild hyenas in Harar Ethiopia, having a bull elephant charging her Jeep and having to stay stationary so as not to tempt him to tip the vehicle over, and accompanying the rhino anti-poaching squad in a helicopter over Kruger Reserve.

Heather is also a passionate arts lover, and is currently involved with Her Majesty’s Theatre renovation, sitting on a strategic committee that is overseeing the theatre’s upgrade.

It is this ethos of giving back to the community and donating time and money that continues to drive this unlikely animal crusader.

“That is the most important thing of all, because as children it was instilled in us that if you grow up privileged it is your duty to give back – it’s not an option, it’s a duty,” she says.

“I think if you give your personality and time to causes and passions, you are actually going to receive much more in return so I suppose that would be my general philosophy in life.”

As for a life legacy, Heather says it’s all about balance: “We should aim to achieve a balance between human life and animal life – we both deserve to live on this planet but somehow we’ve got the balance wrong and hopefully doing small things on either side are small things towards achieving this goal.”

And looking ahead to future plans Heather says “I’m looking for the next risk to take and the next sight to see – it’s all about new experiences. I always say to my granddaughters, ‘always take risks and never be careful,’ much to the horror of those within earshot!”

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