Hell, for Marlice, is a world without animals. While most of us consider lions and tigers deadly, Marlice has them for friends. She grew up with wild animals all around her, being the daughter of an environmentally-committed couple. Heavily influenced by her parents, Marlice doesn’t see animals as beasts; for her, they are also living beings for whom we should care and share the planet.
Animals complete the food chain and balance the ecosystem. Without them, our planet would not be able to sustain human life. While they are seen primarily as meat sources, most animals fill the void in human hearts that no fellow beings can do. Aren’t some of the most antagonistic people we know able to get by living solitary lives because of their beloved pets?
So are pets sometimes more loyal than people, or most of the time?
Marlice is lucky because she is well-loved not only by the animals she cares for, but also by the San community that she serves. The San community is composed primarily of Bushmen; despite today’s modernization, the Bushmen have remained faithful to their traditions. But this faithfulness has also isolated them from people and led to a drastic decline in their population due to poverty and sickness. In Namibia, for instance, the San community was so poor they did not even have access to reliable health facilities.
Marlice grew up with the San people, and can fluently speak the Bushmen’s language. For this reason, one of her goals is to improve their way of life without eroding their ancient culture. With her husband and two friends, Marlice started the “N/a’an ku sê (Naankuse) Lifeline Clinic.” Soon, the “Clever Cubs School” was born, with the help of kindhearted donors. Marlice’s work is a testament that we can contribute great things when we are driven to achieve what we set out to do. From the time she came to understood what she really wanted to do, she has never stopped pursuing her dreams.
What could be better than serving as a bridge to a brighter life for both humans and animals? Marlice is more than just a beautiful face; she is a brave woman who will stop at nothing to give humans and animals equal opportunities to live life to the fullest.
Born in Harnas
Marlice Elretha Jansen van Merwe was born in Namibia Gobabis district on May 14th, 1976, to Nick and Marieta. The two maintained a cattle farm, known as “Harnas,” and were quite content with the simple lives they led. But soon, a vervet monkey would change their way of life for good.
In 1978, Marieta met a man walking the battered soil of Namibia. With him was an emaciated vervet monkey with a rope around its neck. When Marieta reached out to the monkey, he did not resent. It was the first wild animal that Marieta ever touched. Feeling sorry for the monkey, she persuaded the man to give it to her in exchange for bread and a small amount of money. The monkey sat on her lap for the entire duration of her trip home. She named him “Adri,” and he became the first wild animal that the van Merwes cared for.
It inspired a brand new passion for the couple, and they began opening their farm to animals in need of rehabilitation. Their cattle farm was later named the “Harnas Wildlife Sanctuary.” Because maintaining the sanctuary was expensive, they soon decided to open it to the public. It became a unique entity of its kind in that visitors were encouraged to help work on the farm and have hands-on experiences with wild animals.
Marlice did not feel comfortable having strangers around their house, so she left for Pretoria to study. However, she missed her friends back home – especially Goeters, her pet cheetah. So she went back home and helped her parents manage their sanctuary.
When Nick died of Congo fever in 2001, Marieta and her kids were left with an incredible herd of wildlife to tend.
Marrying Dr. Rudie van Vuuren
The year before her father died, Marlice married an international athlete-turned-doctor, Rudie van Vuuren. As the years went by, Marlice and her brother had a falling-out; the two had different views of how to care for the animals at Harnas.
The conflict escalated when Marlice struck a friendship with “Beyond Borders” superstar Angelina Jolie. During the filming of her action movie in 2002, Angelina’s production team commissioned Marlice’s vultures for taping. It led Angelina to the Harnas Wildlife Sanctuary, where she met and fell in love with Goeters. Marlice then received a call from Angelina, asking if there was anything she could do to help them. It could not come at a more opportune time; Marlice asked for funding for their electric fence, and Angelina was happy to oblige.
Founding the “N/a’an ku sê (Naankuse) Lifeline Clinic” and “N/a’an ku sê Foundation”
In addition to helping her animals, she was also concerned about the plight of the San community – the people with whom she grew up. Marlice is one of the few white people who can fluently speak the Bushman language. In fact, when she was 12, she served as an interpreter for Reigardt van den Bergh’s feature film.
Deadly diseases have decimated the population of the Bushmen, which is now less than one million. Many deaths resulted from little to no access to health care; this bothered Marlice and Rudie, so the couple partnered with Chris Heunis and Jan Verburg to establish the “N/a’an ku sê (Naankuse) Lifeline Clinic.” It’s an initiative to help provide health services to the San community so that deadly diseases can be prevented. Another project they took on, with the help of Clabile Trust, was to set up a preschool for Bushmen kids called the “Clever Clubs School.”
With the help of kindhearted donors and generous partners, they were able to establish “N/a’an ku sê’s Charity Lodge & Wildlife Sanctuary” in 2007. The following year, they eagerly launched the “N/a’an ku sê's Carnivore Research Project” to protect wild animals from being shot by farmers whose cattle they attack for food.
In 2009, Marlice gained more media mileage with her Volkswagen ad featuring her three-legged cheetah, “Lucky.” They found him trapped and, to save his life, they had to amputate one of his legs. The advert gained international support, and her Naankuse Foundation was awarded first place in the prestigious “Community Health Awards.”
More help poured in, enabling them to purchase the Neuras Wine and Vineyard Estate in 2012, which provided additional sources of income for the San community. Marlice also helped Sannatjie Keinamses, the first 16-year-old Namibian model from the San community, before she became famous. Her father also worked in the Naankuse Lodge.
“Naankuse” is a Bushman word for “God will protect us.” No wonder Marlice’s work has been blessed from the very beginning! She once told a reporter:
"I feel the hand of God here, in harmony with nature's law." (SOURCE: Go Nomad)
Organizations and Programs Supported
- San Bushmen community
- Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary and Lodge
- N/a’an ku sê's Charity Lodge & Wildlife Sanctuary now called N/a’an ku sê Foundation
- N/a’an ku sê (Naankuse) Lifeline Clinic
- N/a’an ku sê's Carnivore Research Project
- Clabile Trust
- African Wildlife
- N/a’an ku sê Lifeline Fund
- Clever Cubs School
- Harnas Wildlife Sanctuary
Awards and Achievements
- 2003: Co-founded the “N/a’an ku sê (Naankuse) Lifeline Clinic” with husband, Rudie, and two other partners
- 2006: Started “N/a’an ku sê Foundation” with Rudie
- 2007: Opened “N/a’an ku sê's Charity Lodge & Wildlife Sanctuary” with Rudie
- 2008: Started “N/a’an ku sê's Carnivore Research Project” with Rudie
- 2008: Opened “Clever Cubs School” with Rudie
- 2009: Featured in an ad for Volkswagen with her pet cheetah, “Lucky”
- 2010: Naankuse received the “International Health Promotion Award” (awarded first place in the prestigious “Community Health Awards”)
- 2012: N/a’an ku sê purchased Neuras Wine and Vineyard Estate
- Worked with Angelina Jolie on the film set of “Beyond Borders”
- Asked to serve as a Bushman translator on a feature film by Reigardt van den Bergh at the age of 12
Wikipedia (Marlice van Vuuren)
Marlice (Marlice – A Vision for Africa: A film by Philip Selkirk)
Naankuse (About Naankuse Foundation in Namibia)
Ad Madness (Meet Marlice van Vuuren: Namibia’s Star Conservationist)
George Clooney Slept Here (Jolie-Pitts Help Long-Time Friend In Namibia)
Petr Slavik (Marlice van Vuuren - Africa is my family)
Cracked (5 Modern Day Beastmasters Who You Won't Believe Aren't Dead)
Proudly African (Marlice van Vuuren)
Who's Who South Africa (Marlice Jansen van Vuuren)
Go Nomad (Namibia's Harnas Wildlife Sanctuary: Noah's Ark in the Desert)
The Namibian (San girl conquers modelling world)
NBC (Namibian Family Turns Farm Into Sanctuary)
The Huffington Post (Marlice Van Der Merwe Teases And Pets Wild Cheetahs)
Glamour (GLAM Chat: Marlice Van Vuuren)
TFWA (5 questions for… Claudio Frateschi, Marlice and Dr Rudie van Vuuren, N/a’an ku sê Foundation)