October 27, 2009
A True Game Ranger of Africa by Johna Turner
In the words of Carlos, a student from Portugal; “To have to sit or lie in contact with the veld ground directly for about 10 hours during the night, silently and without movement, was at the same time disturbing and enlightening. It gave me time to reflect and improve myself as a person and as a game ranging student”.
And so began a course that gave us a mixture of field and classroom work.
The course exposed us to the seldom-understood challenges of a game ranger. We undertook erosion control, alien plant removal, broken dam repairs, brush packing of overgrazed areas and bush encroachment remedies. We experienced the need to assess the situation, formulate a plan and then follow it up with physical labour using whatever resources were available – sometimes in temperatures of 40 deg Centigrade.
Ralf complemented the fieldwork by covering the theory and sharing his more than 20 years experience working in the Kruger National Park. The course took place in the Makuleke concession area of the Kruger National Park and the Karongwe Private Game Reserve. We were able to appreciate these parks in a different light. The foundation was set by understanding the geology, landscapes and biodiversity. We then discussed numerous topics such as management plans, recreational operational zoning (ROZ), veld assessments, animal condition, stocking policies, biodiversity concepts, rare species management, fire policies, water management, road design and waste management. The scope was almost endless and we realised that behind the scenes major challenges face the game ranger – the Jack of all trades in the bush. Above all, the need for an integrated approach – the Black Pot Principle – is key to managing the environment.
Conducting patrols is an important game ranging activity we undertook and it produced some exceptional encounters with game. Patrols were conducted both by vehicle and on foot (walking trails). We saw the big five, hippo and cheetah. A consort pair of leopards treated us to an aggressive growling interaction with a third (male) leopard temporarily in a quarantine boma. An elephant in the Makuleke fever tree forests stood face to face with us in our vehicle separated only by a few meters. Buffalo in the Karongwe disease free breeding program came within a few meters of our vehicle.
And we still had time to identify trees and birds and learn about ecology.
To cap it all, the wilderness experience was great – spectacular sunsets, the night sounds, the ambiance around the fire, and both the sounds and silence of the bush.
I enjoyed working with Ralf on this course and Ralf and I would like to thank the students for their enthusiasm and dedication, which made the course a success!
We were one of the first companies to conduct formal training programmes for nature guides. We are known in the industry as the pioneers and leaders in field guide and nature training. We started in 1993 with a mission to raise the standard of guiding in Africa. EcoTraining is the oldest field guide training company in Africa.