A voice for the voiceless

A year ago, fourteen year old Lia Ziessler knew almost nothing about pangolins – like almost 70% of the world’s population.

Pangolins tip-toed into her world through art, one of Lia’s great loves. She had decided to do a watercolour course, and as it happened, her art teacher painted beautiful pangolins which tweaked her interest. Then she joined the online Save Pangolins event, hosted by Animalia and Save Pangolins, and lost her heart to these captivating mammals.

The event featured Rampfy’s endearing story told by Nicci Wright and Leno Sierra of the African Pangolin Working Group: from his rescue to rehabilitation and release on &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve as part of the groundbreaking Pangolin Reintroduction Project . It’s a must-see interview filled with mesmerising pangolin footage.

“The spark clicked in me …I fell in love with these beautiful pangolins and just thought how mind blowing they are, and how much help they really need.”

Lia is a ‘WILDchild’ through and through. In 2000, her parents moved from Germany to join Mercy Air’s South African team. Lia was born on the company’s farm in the Nelspruit area, not far from the Kruger National Park, and with regular visits to family friends who have local game lodges or reserves, she has grown up with a deep connection to all things natural.

As is the tradition in this region, on birth she was given a second name – Mbali – meaning ‘flower’ in isiZulu, one of the local languages – perfect for a young girl that always insisted on having a flower in her hands when out walking.

“I was always exposed to nature and the animals and the rhinos and to what’s happening to them, so I think that’s also really helped me to understand how special our animals are, and how they have been here so much longer than us, and so we really need to preserve them. Now I paint them and do art with animals, to try to create an awareness.”

A one-of-a-kind card and gift selection: Lia’s Instagram page, mbalidesigns , contains an exquisite selection of cards: fine-detail animal and bird sketches, mandalas, watercolour paintings and wood-fired porcelain pangolins. All the funds raised from these hand-crafted items are currently supporting the satellite tags that are used to keep watch over Phinda’s pangolins 24/7.

“At the moment, the pangolin is one of the main things I’ve been doing art with, because I think that people can really relate to art….so I draw pangolins in different ways, and use different mediums. I make cards, so that when someone gives it to a friend, then they immediately create an awareness by sharing this card of a pangolin.”

So what is it about pangolins that make them so special to Lia?

“I find that pangolins are so different, so quirky, so crazy and bizarre, but so cute…they’re so peaceful and harmless, and they just go about, in their own little world, and explore. All the animals have their differences and ways of defending themselves – that’s what makes them each special in their own way…like the pangolin with its scaly armour, and how he rolls into a ball and rolls in dung and mud, and looks for termites…it’s just what makes a pangolin a pangolin. I’ve learnt that it’s very ok to be different -that our differences make us who we are…”

Any advice for other young conservationists?

“Use whatever you’re good at to get involved and to help.”

In the years to come, we have absolutely no doubt that Lia will continue to be a powerful voice for the voiceless.