How a South African Safari Prepared Me for the Austin Tech World

There are few experiences in life quite as humbling as accidentally making eye contact with a hungry lion. I was spending the final day on my two-week trip to the South African bush with my best friend, Zac, and our trusty guide, Darlington. Our guide taught us how to track lions, and I had found this one on my own — a new skill that is definitely going in a prime location on my resume.

Prior to my trip, I was having one of those big life moments that everyone experiences occasionally, in which all of the facets of your life seem to intersect and you’re wondering what exactly you should do next. I have always had a passion for writing, but wasn’t feeling too inspired by many topics lately. When you’re not sure what to do, sometimes you just need to fly halfway across the world. I chose South Africa.

What South Africa taught me about Austin tech marketing

I had just left my position in digital marketing for a local nonprofit, moved into my boyfriend’s and my first “real” house, and was running all of the marketing and PR for an upcoming music festival. I will profess my love for Austin on any given day, but the long, humid summer and full plate of work had taken its toll. I was feeling tired, sweaty, tired of being sweaty, and uninspired.

Darlington took us out on sunrise and sunset safaris every day, and I had never been (and probably never will be again) so excited for my alarm to go off at 4:45 a.m. He held a wealth of knowledge on everything living in the bush, and we were eager to soak up as much knowledge as we could from him. He knew 139 birds by their calls and features. He could drive an enormous 4×4, spot animals and tracks from seemingly 360 degrees, listen for any hint of nearby rustling, and gleefully point out fresh rhino dung all at the same time. He taught me the bush is just as complex as human cities, complete with its own highways and little homes in a row.

It was refreshing to temporarily forget about anything related to WiFi, Florida man, or Kim Kardashian for the first time in years. For a while, I could pretend my real life was 50 shades of khaki, learning about the medicinal effects of various thorny bushes, and tracking black rhinos in the mountains.

Each new fact Darlington excitedly rattled off was as astonishing as the last. When lions were first introduced to the park, every other species began rapidly having babies to combat the increased death toll they knew would follow. Female elephants traditionally had tusks. But because elephant moms and daughters stay together in a pack for life while males are independent, poachers frequently targeted the females; so the women stopped having tusks as an evolutionary defense mechanism. Zebra stripes are vertical on most of their body because flies cannot see vertical lines, and therefore cannot see them to bite them; the stripes also act as a natural A/C unit.

IRL elephants, not CG

How amazing that each species was continuing to evolve and find new ways to better their lives and their world — just as humans do through research, education, and developing new technologies. Even in the bush, technology was everywhere, playing a behind-the-scenes role.

Around and beneath every short, thorny shrub hid some of the latest technologies available in the conservation world. Small hidden thermal cameras monitor watering holes to keep an eye on elusive lionesses and their cubs; other cameras track highly-endangered black rhinos’ bathroom breaks to collect fecal samples for pregnancy tests. Guides speak to each other throughout the day via the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART), a combination of best practices and open-source software that streamlines efficiency and utilizes data to improve conservation approaches.

Electric fencing around the edges of the park monitor to keep poachers out and at-risk animals in. Modern pasture management practices and renewable energy efforts help manage the damage of overgrazing by large mammals in the area to ensure there is food for all species in the years to come. Beyond the bush, my iPhone made it possible for a lodge worker, Luyinda, and I to share music from our respective homes and photos from our cultures. Email and social media meant Zac and I could keep in touch with our new friend Darlington and work together to find a way to get him a U.S. visa.

Like travel, tech plays a key role in opening our minds to new ideas, innovation, and new ways to collaborate, and I couldn’t wait to get back home to Austin to share what I had learned. I came back home to an offer to join the Dreamtown Creative team as a copywriter, and it finally felt as if the next steps I needed to take had been laid out in front of me.

While I am not an inventor or startup business owner, I found myself being called to observe, learn and passionately share information about a fascinating microcosm shaping my own backyard. In that way, Darlington and I are similar. Whether the topic is elephant conservation or combatting Austin traffic, tech is the key to changing our world for the better.

I am so excited to begin working with Dreamtown Creative’s clients, the minds behind Austin’s booming tech sector who bring new ideas and inspiration to life every day. I am eager to learn from you and utilize my seven years of journalism, writing, editing, social media, and storytelling experience to help you achieve your goals and make a positive impact on our community.

My name is Sarah Karney, and I look forward to getting creative together. Let’s talk about traveling, tech, the social structure of elephants or anything else that inspires you: sarah@dreamtowncreative.com.

Sarah Karney, Dreamtown Creative