The Rare & Endangered Species Trust (REST) was established in Namibia by Maria Diekmann in the year 2000. Maria has served as REST’s Founder and Director ever since. Over the years she has seen her organisation draw worldwide acclaim, thanks chiefly to her work with the endangered Cape pangolin; Maria’s struggle to save the species was featured in the documentary The World’s Most Wanted Animal, which aired on the BBC and PBS in 2018. Maria’s collaboration with WildAid and Chinese megastar Angelababy has helped to raise significant awareness for the plight of the pangolin in Asia, with one 30-second video racking up tens of millions of views in the space of just a few days.
The Cape pangolin is just one member of REST’s “Forgotten Five”, a group of lesser-known species that also includes the Cape griffon vulture, dwarf python, spotted rubber frog and Damara dik-dik. REST’s mission statement is to bring attention to some of the most misunderstood and endangered animals in Namibia, with the aforementioned quintet serving as flagship species for Namibia’s biodiversity. Maria is committed to championing the cause of animals that may not receive the same attention as more well-known species.
Maria’s unflinching dedication to Namibia’s wildlife was confirmed when she devoted three and a half months to living with a rescued pangolin (Roxy) and her pup (Katiti), moving in to a converted vulture hide with the pair in order to monitor the entire journey for posterity – the first time this had been done in recorded history.
Before Roxy came along, Maria and the REST team had already made great strides in the conservation of another endangered species, one that was on the precipice in Namibia, with as few as 12 individuals remaining: the Cape griffon vulture. REST were the first team in Africa to fit a satellite tracking unit to a vulture, which they did in 2004, eventually tracking seven individuals and contributing to vital field work and research on the species.
From the intimacy of the vulture hide to starring on the international stage, from hosting tourists and school groups at REST to working on the ground with Namibia’s farmers, local communities and government ministries, Maria’s passion for the natural world is always evident. Though adept at research and a keen educator, Maria is adamant that the chief goal of REST must be successful conservation, now and always. It is her passion for the animals of her country, and a tireless zeal to ensure they not only survive but live in harmony with Namibia’s people, that makes Maria Diekmann a Natural World Hero.
To learn more about REST and find out how you can donate to their cause, visit the REST Namibia website.