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Pietersen’s advice: To be happy, do not wear a mask, just be you

Former captain pleased that he doesn’t have to be ‘Kevin Pietersen, the batsman’ anymore
Kevin Peter Pietersen

Lokendra Pratap Sahi   |   London   |   Published 14.07.19, 09:13 PM

Kevin Peter Pietersen, the South Africa-born former captain of England, spoke to The Telegraph on a subject most dear to him — conservation in general and the protection of wildlife.

The interaction with the 39-year-old Pietersen, or simply KP, took place at Lord’s on Sunday afternoon.

Excerpts...

Q What got you interested in wildlife?

A Growing up as a kid, wildlife was everything to me. In South Africa, it’s part of your DNA, part of what you do, it’s a part of your heritage... You wake up and see wildlife, you smell it, you hear wildlife... You understand the importance of wildlife.

Q You qualified to play for England and, so, moved away from South Africa. What rekindled your interest in wildlife in a big way?

A Since 2012-2013, I’ve got back into the wildlife circles and that took me back to my homeland. It made me incredibly appreciative of my upbringing. Being in the England set-up for 10-11 years (between 2004-2014), without any attachment to South Africa, I just felt it was a beautiful transition getting back to my roots... When I found out what was happening to the animals, not just in South Africa, but the continent of Africa, I decided to do something for the endangered ones.

Q What got you so involved with rhinos?

A My first experience was with white rhinos... I’d joined Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith in a relocation and microchipping exercise in the Greater Kruger National Park. We’d just finished that when we heard an elephant had been ensnared. We were off in a helicopter and helped fix that problem. That’s when I began asking questions about wildlife, about conservation... I was given shocking statistics... That one rhino was getting killed every eight hours. In other words, three a day.

Q Then?

A Boucher is conservation driven and, so, I asked about ways I could help. He said I could use my profile to raise awareness... That was just after I’d been sacked from the England team, when I was on the front pages, back pages and the middle pages of every newspaper. I was on the pages all over the world, except maybe the US and (mainland) Europe.

Q Initially, how did you take your concern/involvement forward?

A I used social media, got more involved in installing microchips on the horn of the rhino, helping the rhinos relocate to safer zones, away from the hot spots... I kept going back to South Africa and, each time, fell more and more in love with wildlife. That’s when I decided to have a home in the midst of wildlife.

Q You’ve started Save Our Rhinos Africa & India (SORAI) and one of the supporters of the initiative is India’s white-ball vice-captain Rohit Sharma...

A I played my last few seasons of cricket (retiring in March 2018) for rhinos and I had stickers on my bats. When I played at The Oval here, one pound per person went towards conservation. When I played Big Bash at the MCG, it was one dollar for every person who walked through the turnstiles... Bats are expensive, so SORAI merchandise — caps, T-shirts, backpacks and stickers — are being sold globally, on Amazon and elsewhere. Twenty per cent of the profits go towards conservation, specifically two Foundations — The Boucher Legacy and Care For Wild Rhino Sanctuary, an orphanage... I’m grateful to Rohit for his support. I do know he has used SORAI stickers on his bats, raising awareness.

Q Do the two of you actually talk about wildlife?

A Yes, but Rohit is still playing and, so, has such a busy schedule. At some point, I’ll get him and his lovely wife (Ritika) over to Africa for work in connection with SORAI. Rohit’s a brilliant ambassador for rhinos.

Q How is Rohit as a batsman?

A Rohit’s a freak shot, I love him... Five hundreds in one World Cup! Wow.

Q Are human beings doing enough to protect wildlife?

A Doing okay, not doing enough. So many are threatened, not just rhinos... Lions, tigers, leopards, elephants, the mountain goat in Pakistan... However, the last few years have seen a transformation in the way corporates have been getting involved.

Q The big-game hunters... Do we call them cowards?

A You’re probably being very nice. I had to go to a big-game hunter’s house for a BBC podcast. It was a difficult day for me, difficult to not punch him... I just can’t understand these guys.

Q What’s the way forward and shouldn’t more big names/celebrities like you get involved?

A Yes to the latter part of your question. One hundred per cent. For awareness alone, more global ambassadors are required.

Q To talk of the Umganu Lodge story...

A We bought property in the Greater Kruger National Park. It’s my wife, Jessica, who zeroed in on it. As you know, happy wife is happy life!

Q When was the property bought?

A In 2016-2017, when the first steps were taken towards our African Dream. I could have built a house in the south of France or on a beach somewhere, but chose to be in the midst of nature and wildlife... At Umganu, I’ve seen all the animals, except the leopard... They’re there in numbers, but I just haven’t seen one. Annoying.

Q Some words on Umganu...

A It’s a home-cum-commercial venture. It opened on December 1 last year and has hosted some wonderful guests... I think it’s the most amazing Lodge in the world.

Q What happens when you and the family are there?

A It’s not rented out. Umganu has five rooms and you need to book all five. Meals are taken care of and the packages start from around $4000 per night. We give the full safari experience.

Q Are you looking to expand?

A At some point, yes. I’d like this portfolio to grow and I’m keen to have something on the beach. Opportunities arrive on your doorstep.

Q You have a high profile. How would you describe yourself?

A A peaceful, under the radar type of person.

Q ‘Under the radar’? But you’re pretty active on social media. How does that fit in?

A That’s not the real life... Social media isn’t real life. I just have fun, don’t take it too seriously and have a laugh... I’m completely family driven and want to bring my kids (Dylan, Rosie) up in the right manner. I’ve said peaceful as I have no worries. I used to have them, not any more.

Q Are Dylan and Rosie also fond of wildlife?

A Hugely interested... Rosie is just three, but can make a sound like a hippo, recognise other animals. Jessica and I are very proud.

Q You’re a man of many parts... An outstanding batsman, controversial at times, saviour of rhinos... And more... Are there regrets?

A I have an amazing life. If I wasn’t in as peaceful a space as I am in and have been for the past three-four years, I would have said plenty of regrets. Right now, my answer is no. I’m happy with the things I’m doing, happy to be involved with something bigger than cricket — conservation.

Q Given the Media and social media attention, how have you managed a ‘peaceful life’?

A We’ve moved away from London... I’m 45 minutes away from here, in the countryside. Earlier, I’d stay on the same street as Frank Lampard, Liz Hurley... The paparazzi were there all the while. Except at cricket grounds, I haven’t seen a photographer for some years... Jessica, our children and I take walks in the woods. Man, it’s peaceful... I don’t have to be Kevin Pietersen, the batsman.

Q Finally... What’s your advice for today’s generation?

A Social media isn’t real life... Secondly, to be happy, do not wear a mask, just be you... I wore a mask when I played for England... I was arrogant, had to be brave, had to be competitive, had to get hundreds... Now, I’m not that. I’m subservient to animals, stay away from the big city and am at peace... I’m, of course, trying to better my handicap in golf.

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