Nine members of the environmental group Children’s Book Creators for Conservation spent October 8–21 in the eastern South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, volunteering with the stewardship organization Wild Tomorrow. Organized by married author and illustrator pair Hayley Rocco and John Rocco, the educational eco-tour included children's book creators Candace Fleming, Meg Fleming, Brian Floca, Jessica Lanan, G. Neri, Eric Rohmann, and Corban Wilkin.

Everyone returned with manuscripts in progress and notebooks brimming with sketches, plus hands-on experience with wildlife conservation, land use, and community needs in KwaZulu-Natal. The Roccos—ambassadors for Wild Tomorrow with big dreams of additional global excursions—are exploring how to translate their conservation efforts into creative programming for U.S. schools.

Donations to the CBCC and the everyday room and board paid by visiting volunteers sponsored several conservation measures, including placing a solar tracking collar on a matriarch elephant. The authors and illustrators engaged in activities from banding (or “ringing”) birds to planting trees with local workers to cleaning a rhino enclosure at a secure preserve, and they got a close look at the many species that inhabit Wild Tomorrow’s 3,500-acre conservation area. CBCC members even participated in trimming the horn of one of the region’s Southern White Rhinos, a practice that Wild Tomorrow uses as “a preventative measure to deter poachers.” Poachers are not as likely to kill a rhino that lacks a horn, because their aim is to collect the keratin. As Hayley Rocco observed, "These are the extremes conservationists are at now, in order to protect the few iconic animals we have left on earth."

For this photo essay, CBCC members shared photos and gave PW a peek into their sketchbooks. Additional information, including a short video and information on applying for CBCC's next visit to KwaZulu-Natal from September 7–21, 2024, may be found on the CCBC's Meet the Wild Things page.

Rhino caretaker Simoné Marshall-Smith spends time with calves at Zululand Rhino Orphanage.

Jessica Lanan works on an illustration at Zululand Rhino Orphanage.

G. Neri helps with rhino-related shoveling duties…

…and Eric Rohmann, Brian Floca, and Neri empty wheelbarrows.

CBCC members gather to observe the process of trimming a Southern White Rhino's horn. Dehorning and trimming are procedures to deter poachers who otherwise would kill rhinos.

Wilkin, Floca, and a Wild Tomorrow worker gently touch a sedated Southern White Rhino during the horn trimming procedure.

Jessica Lanan, Meg Fleming, Haylay Rocco, Corban Wilkin, and Brian Floca go on snare patrol, removing the traps people set in the conservation area to capture wild animals as "bushmeat." The team located three traps. Wild Tomorrow finds and removes around 40 snares per week on their patrols.

Lanan, Rohmann (in background), Floca, and Candace Fleming capture birds in a mist net in order to band and release them. "Bird ringing" is a way to document and trace local fauna.

In his sketchbook, Wilkin documents the mist net and a red-capped robin chat.

A pygmy kingfisher is among the birds captured in the mist net. Wild Tomorrow rings, or bands, the birds for research purposes.

Lanan’s thumbnail captures the pygmy kingfisher’s size, vermilion bill, and stunning blue plumage.

After ringing, Wilkin helps take down the mist nets.

Floca uses a pickaxe to dig a hole for tree planting, accompanied by one of the Green Mambas, a member of a women’s habitat restoration team.

Members of the Green Mambas, skilled at removing invasive plants and reforesting the local habitat, talk with Meg Fleming. G. Neri’s back is to the camera.

Brian Floca and Wild Tomorrow’s Tori Gray hold a solar elephant collar, which is used to track an elephant’s movements and monitor its safety.

Wild Tomorrow and CBCC placed an elephant collar on a matriarch elephant. (Nearby, the rest of the herd awaited her return.) “Thanks to the CBCC group’s donations, we were able to commit to funding this operation,” Wild Tomorrow wrote in an itinerary.

John Rocco observes as a Wild Tomorrow staffer places the collar on the elephant, who is the leader of her wild herd. “There is no footage of the matriarch elephant after she awoke,” Hayley Rocco told PW. “Even the photographer was instructed to be far away and out of sight after she was given the reversal medicine. Because elephants never forget, they even include a dissociative drug within the reversal concoction, so she won’t be traumatized from the experience and retaliate against, say, vehicles/helicopters, etc.”

On a river tour, Floca and the group watch hippos napping in the mud.

Wilkin and Rohmann quietly observe hippos from a safe distance; hippos not shown.

CBCC artists drawing with kids at Habananthi E.C. Charity Community Center. Wild Tomorrow provides funding for children’s Saturday meals at the center.

Hayley Rocco and a young reader looked at picture books together at Habananthi E.C. Charity Community Center.

At Theleluwazi Crèche, a daycare center, Candace Fleming turned the pages of Eric Rohmann’s My Friend Rabbit while caregiver Sena translated the book into isiZulu for the young audience.

Wilkin sketches pictures of Sena and the children at Theleluwazi Crèche. Wild Tomorrow provides a monthly delivery of food items for school lunches there.

Candace Fleming makes a friend at Theleluwazi Crèche.

As zebras are being moved from one part of the reserve to another, as part of local species management, Wilkin and Lanan take the opportunity to sketch the wildlife up close.

Lanan’s images of the animal transport vehicle.

Floca and the CBCC group check out the local lions, and vice versa.

In the kitchen of Hluhluwe Bush Camp, where they spent most of their stay, CBCC members spend time with Wild Tomorrow’s Tori Gray, Greg Canning, and Kevin Joliffe, plus camp staffers Joyce Sibiya, Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, Princess Hlongwane, Nonnie Khumalo, and Carissa Prinsloo.