From being a small child I have always had a love for animals of all kinds. Growing up in South Africa I would routinely care for birds and small mammals that had been injured and always felt a great affinity with nature. After studying for a diploma in conservation at college in Cape Town I was part of various conservation projects before I set off travelling and then finally settled down in north Wales with my wife Gwynneth.

After working to develop our family business and studying for a fine art degree I decided I needed to return to my conservation roots once again and immerse myself in a volunteer project. Little did I know then how much that decision would shape my life going forward.

First up was a trip to Borneo to volunteer with an orangutan conservation charity where I saw for myself the impact of the palm oil industry on the orangutans' habitat. Then came my first visit to Mefou, I signed up as a volunteer for Ape Action Africa in 2010. I had no idea what to expect on my arrival at the sanctuary but I needn't have worried, Rachel and all the staff were so welcoming and it was fantastic to be able to help in any way I could. My time in the forest was sadly cut short by a family emergency but my experience there has stayed with me ever since. 

During my time in Cameroon I was asked to help care for a young chimp called Kazie, it's safe to say it was love at first sight! That little chimp - now all grown up, has stayed in my heart all these years. Feeding him, playing with him and reassuring him when he was nervous or scared was such a special experience I can only imagine it's the same for a father with their child. On my last visit to Mefou in 2015 I saw Kazie again in his adult group and recognised him straight away. It was amazing to see how he's thrived in the years since those days spent caring for him.

On my return to the UK I knew I needed to do something to help support Ape Action Africa and the orangutans from my time in Borneo. After discussing ideas with my wife, we decided to use our businesses to raise awareness of the plight of the apes and to raise funds for them. We own the railway station complex in the picturesque village of Betws-y-Coed in the Snowdonia National Park. If you visit the station, you will see a very distinct ape theme to the place. We have gorilla statues with collection boxes and wishing wells, ape artwork on the walls of our coffee shop and pizzeria and an art gallery which houses my conservation artwork. My work is a mixture of paintings, photography, sculptures, installations and mixed media prints, all of which tell a story and raise awareness of various conservation issues including the bushmeat trade and illegal poaching. A percentage from the sale of my artwork goes towards ape conservation - both for Ape Action Africa and the orangutans.

I have also collaborated with my suppliers to help raise funds, this includes launching a range of ape beers, which include Gorilla Stout, Orangutan Lager, Chimpanzee IPA, Gibbon Golden Ale and Bonobo Brown Ale. 10p from each bottle sold goes towards Ape Action Africa and the orangutans, and as the beer is so good, that money soon adds up!!

Like Ape Action Africa, I believe that the younger generation play a key part in conservation and have spent time visiting a number of schools in my local area and around the world talking to children about my artwork, the conservation issues behind it and how I work to raise awareness of organisations such as Ape Action Africa. I am always overwhelmed by how engaged the children are and how keen they are to protect our natural world. Instead of payment for a school visit I ask the teachers to adopt an ape for their class so the children can see exactly what amazing work the Ape Action Africa team do.

In 2017 I was honoured to be asked by Ape Action Africa to become their first ambassador and eleven years on from my first visit to Mefou I am still as passionate about helping Rachel and her brilliant team, it is a driving force in my life to promote the work of this very special charity.

Rachel, Jacha and Gwyn at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro which they climbed to raise funds for AAA in 2016

I can't wait to get back to the forest when travel restrictions allow to see once again the work the team are doing to help the apes.

Jacha Potgieter

Huge thanks to Jacha for being one of our fantastic ambassadors. We're very lucky to have him and Gywn in our Ape Action Africa family and incredibly grateful for all they do to raise funds and awareness. We can't wait to have him and all of our other friends back in the forest when circumstances allow. 

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