Every game ranger has a story about how they ended up in the bushveld; living a life close to nature.
Unlike most jobs, every day as a guide in the African wilderness is unique. A drive out into the wilderness promises beauty, action, wildlife interactions and surprises in many forms. It may sound romantic, but it’s not always easy. Guides are up early every day, tracking animals and ensuring guests have the most exceptional time during their short stays. Sometimes the job involves managing the land, roads and fences, and leaving time to study and learn about the wilds.
It’s a unique type of person that chooses this lifestyle, and their reasons for venturing into the bush vary, however there is one characteristic that they all seem to share – a passion for Africa and its natural spaces.
As celebration of our wonderful rangers, we have asked them a few questions that get to the heart of what they love about their jobs.
My love and respect for nature and wildlife started at a young age, and I guess I’ve got my father to thank for it all.
Whenever an animal wandered into a neighbourhood home my father was called to rescue both animal and friends. This of course triggered something inside me and my childhood was spent in a field behind our house. I spend hours and hours there experiencing nature in the most pure form there is. As a young boy, extremely curious, I reared all sorts of animals, from breeding with ticks to saving bats; this of course to my mother’s remorse. I was only introduced to the Big Five and the Lowveld at a later stage of my life and from there I KNEW. The biggest bonus of it all was that I learned that I could live my dream everyday and I went on to completing my guiding qualifications… and here I am today, the happiest guide in the Manyeleti.
That’s an easy one: look around! We are in the Greater Kruger, and Manyeleti Game Reserve nestled deep in the bush. It’s the unknown of each day that furthers my knowledge; nature is so unpredictable. The different types of cultures I meet and the friends I get because of that. The best of it all is the life experience I gain.
What is your favourite time to be in the bush?
24 Hours, 7 days a week, honestly there isn’t a time that is my favourite, all the different conditions and seasons of the bush bring with it a different experience, but if I had to choose, I would say summertime and early mornings. Summertime is great: it’s normally the start of the baby boom of young herbivores and rainy season, with lots of newborn general game around in the bush.
We always welcome the first rains in the bush with open arms. The drastic but beautiful changes that occur shortly after the first rains are a blessing. All the migratory birds arrive in full colour and song after their long journey; the proud and beautiful flowers sprout out everywhere; and it is also the time when the bush is teeming with life, often overshadowed by the more popular Big Five wildlife. Don’t forget the insects, tortoises, spiders, snakes and all the other little creepy crawlies that play such an important role in our environment. Oh, and the elephants having a plunge at the local watering holes on a hot day.
What’s your favourite sighting you have witnessed?
Eish! This really is a tough one, but there is one very special sighting I had opportunity to share with the guests. We got to have an amazing experience on foot with the very rare critically endangered African Wild dogs. We sat on the ground in a tight group while a pack of wild dogs played around us, and soon became quite inquisitive with us. Only a few individuals came a bit closer to investigate our presence while the others showed no interest, it took them a few minutes to realise we are not a threat nor prey, and they lost interest shortly after. Definitely a special moment for our guests, and one for the BOOKS!!
What aspect of the bush/animals do you love to learn about and why?
All of it! There isn’t a day in a guide’s life where we don’t get to learn or discover something new, whether it is animals showing behaviour we haven’t seen before or simply a question a guest had about a certain plant or animal that I don’t know, and researching it when we get back to camp after a drive. This means both parties get to learn. But if I had to pinpoint my favourite, I would say snakes and insects. It’s just a never ending rollercoaster of finding specimens I haven’t seen yet, or the types of defences that small animals may use when threatened. Insects have always intrigued me.
What do you love to show guests first? What gets people excited about the bush?
Well, it depends on what the wishlist is! But Wow!! The facial expressions of guests who get to watch a pride of lions hunting, or a leopard in a tree, or just watching elephants play in the water, is definitely something that brings me pride and joy.
What does the Manyeleti mean to you?
A home far from home with great culture, magnificent wildlife and pristine wilderness
I came to the bush because of my family’s love for nature. My grandfather and father used to live in the Manyeleti area. It was here where they used to farm and hunt. When I was young, I was fascinated by the amazing stories told by my grandfather and father about wildlife, so I decided from a young age to continue with the family tradition.
I came to the Manyeleti, and I have never left. I love to interact with the guests and share the knowledge I have gathered over the years with them.
What is your favourite time to be in the bush?
The winter months are the best time to be in the Manyeleti. You can see so many animals and its a lot easier around the waterhole, and the winter colours are beautiful. I love to sit and watch the animal behaviour, and the way they interact with the environment. One day we saw 24 lions taking down a buffalo bull. It took them nearly an hour, but in the end they were successful. It was the youngsters’ first time to kill an animal of that size.
Why do you love your job?
The Manyeleti is everything to me. It’s my job, and I’ve learnt so much over so many years. It is great to see the expression of guests when they see something for the first time and I love it when they have ticked off each of the big five and their feeling of happiness and satisfaction.
When I was growing up, I never dreamt or had any thoughts of working in the bush.
In fact, I worked on an open cast coal mine after finishing high school, but hated every day of it. One day, on my way to work I decided to resign. All I knew was, I wasn’t going to spend the next twenty to thirty years working on a mine. By chance, I had an opportunity to work at a lodge in the bush, and now more than twenty years on, I still love it. I`m glad I gave up the quantity of life for the quality of life!!
Most people that work in the bush say: “I have passion” or “because of passion”. But I believe that true passion leaves a positive footprint on the area. The main thing that keeps me in the bush is knowing that my footprint will be too small if I had to leave now. I still have so much more to achieve.
What do you love to learn about in the bush?
In the past, I liked to learn about everything, but in the last few years I’ve become extremely interested in how everything in nature magically works together – how intelligent the design of nature is.
What do guests get most excited about?
I find that guests get excited when they are surprised by a sighting or animal. Also, I love it when they are involved with finding a specific animal that they haven’t seen before, or just how we track the animal until it’s found.
Why do you love the Manyeleti
To me, the Manyeleti is truly the wildest game reserve that I’ve worked at in twenty two years.
My passion for nature started as a young boy on a farm in the heart of the Northern Cape, close to Kimberley.
It was a small game farm with various antelope species and a riverfront of 3km bordering the mighty Vaal River. Most of my school holidays were spent here and this was where my sense of adventure and the outside world started! After studying at the university of the Free State, I made a life changing decision to complete my guiding training and move to the Greater Kruger.
Since then I’ve never looked back!
There is only one word that can describe what keeps me in the bush, and that’s passion! Passion for animals and the environment in its whole. Everyday in the bush presents a new adventure and an opportunity to learn something new. As a guide you serve as a link between mother nature and the guests visiting this pristine environment, giving them an opportunity to experience the bush veld in a holistic way.
What do you love to learn about?
I enjoy learning about all aspects of the ecosystem; especially animal behaviour. As wildlife photography is one of my strengths, I always like to include my guests in the moment by providing tips of when and how to capture images of our beautiful wildlife in action. Most importantly, it is about creating awareness of South Africa’s wildlife and the conservation of our natural wonders.
What has been your best sighting?
In all my years of guiding, its almost impossible to single out one specific sighting! But if there was one that iIll never forget, it was a sighting of a breeding herd of elephants in the Manyeleti that just had a newborn calf.
Watching them as they helped the little one to his feet, milling around him, encircling him as protection was a privilege to witness! Being in the presence of elephants could be overwhelming to visitors due to their mere size and the incredible aura they have about them! It’s always a pleasure to introduce our African giants to the guests that visit Tintswalo Safari Lodge. The possibility of discovering something incredible in the Greater Kruger normally excites most, but being able to set foot in South Africa’s most renowned National Parks is simply a dream come true and a once in a lifetime experience!
What do you love about the Manyeleti?
In my humble opinion, the Manyeleti is undoubtedly one of Africa’s gems! And to be able to be a field guide in ‘The Place of Stars’ is an honour and a time of my life that will be engraved in my memories forever!
Jacques du Toit
I was born and raised on a farm, and I grew up with a big love for nature and all its gifts. It all started when my father took me out on the farm in our little patch of bush. It was a father and son day, and my father showed me how to use some of the trees as traditional medicine. He showed me how to learn from nature, and from age of 6 years old; I was hooked!
What do you love about the Manyeleti?
The Manyeleti is, for me, the best reserve I have worked in. In the course of my career, I have travelled all over South Africa, working in many different game reserves, and I finally found the place where I want to stay for good.
What was your best wildlife sighting?
My best sighting was the day that one of guides called in wild dogs over the radio. In all my years of guiding, I had never seen wild dogs, and so my first time was a sighting to remember—especially when pups appeared and started playing around the vehicle.
Which animals do you most enjoy learning about?
The animals I love learning about the most are elephants. These gentle giants can tell you so much without saying a word. When going on a game drive, I love adventure. My father told me to always take the path less travelled—you never know what you might find. The things I like focusing on are the plains game (zebra, giraffe, wildebeest etc..), I love telling stories about animals I have learned over the years. Of course, I enjoy the Big Five, but there is more to impala than meets the eye and gathering knowledge is key. Knowledge that is not shared is knowledge waisted.
What does the Manyeleti mean to you
The Manyeleti, for me, is a beautiful place where adventure is around every corner. That’s what gets me out of bed every morning — going out there to find surprises. It’s all there—you just have to follow me, I’ll take you there.