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BLOG December 12, 2014

Heeding the Call - Reflections from the Game Ranger's Course

Who has not dreamed of sneaking through the tall grass of the African savannah, the sun slowly dipping below the burning horizon, looking for the mysterious troop of lions you heard calling in the night?

I held this dream with me ever since I was a child. In love with Africa, I always wanted to tread its soil and meet its rich and varied wildlife. A mixture of fear and fascination envelops me every time I think about it.

Some time ago, I convinced myself it was an imperative that I needed to take a leap into this world. I wanted to immerse myself, to better understand, what the word “Wild” really means “. I needed to get away from the world I had found myself living in, too superficial and without magic for my taste …

I started my journey on the Internet, searching for the perfect project, which would satisfy my wanderlust and my thirst for knowledge. My search quickly turned up the gem I’d been looking for.

 

“WORK WITH THE WILDLIFE”

African Conservation Experience (ACE) is an organization that I was already aware of. Many of my friends took an alternative holiday with ACE and came back with stars in their eyes and a satisfying sense of accomplishment.

To become a conservation volunteer is to make a valuable contribution to protecting wildlife & ecosystems. It is also an opportunity to understand some of the issues from which we are often too detached.

By browsing through the different missions, each more exciting than the last, I realized that I not only wanted to be a conservation volunteer, I also wanted to deepen my knowledge about African wildlife. I wanted to be an active member of a team but also full-fledged student. Action and education.

Finally, I came across the “Game Ranger Guide Course”! Walking in the bush to tracks animals? Learn to situate myself for my own survival? Studying animal behaviour and adapt myself to dangerous situations? All that, with a good dose of action and interaction with animals? Click, book, fly.

 

INTRODUCTION AND IMMERSION

May 20, 2014, Johannesburg airport. Last gulp of civilization before taking the plunge into the wonderful world of the South African Bush. I dive into the back of our vehicle where I meet my future companions, colleagues and game partners. I listen to everyone’s story and what led them to this course. It seems we all have the same desire: To experience the great Wild!

While the landscape whips past my eyes and houses become fewer and far between, giving way to the Africa that captivates me, I remember Martin’s words. Martin, ACE manager that we met at the airport, explains that we are here to participate in a large scope project. More than just students, our commitment must be complete. Simply put, ACE needs us.

After a few hours’ drive spent in good conversation and lots of laughter, we arrive at our final destination: The Mapungubwe Nature Reserve. This reserve, one of the northernmost in the whole of South Africa, will be our base camp for a week. I will stay with four other volunteers: Nina (Australia), Sabine (Switzerland), Jo (UK) and René (Botswana).

The immersion is total and immediate: after passing through the huge entrance gate we stopped in the middle of the Bush. In the darkness, we just pick up the sound of a vehicle in the distance. A few minutes later, its powerful headlights dazzle us. Stopping in front of us, a man grinning out of the car approached us. A mixture of authority and kindness emanates from him. Don Bird will be our guide, teacher and educator during these 7 days. And more than that…

After quick introductions, we jump into the back of the bakkie. The vehicle starts, we pick up serious speed. The fresh air of the African night whips our faces, illuminated by broad smiles. We know that animals are there, all around us. We feel them. The adventure begins, we are ready … I mean, we thought we were ready! Don’s speech puts us back in our place. “You are, no more, on the top of the food chain” he says. “In this wilderness, the Bush is the king and caution is one of the most useful virtues”.

Boomslang, Puff Adder or the Black Mamba will be our invisible companions throughout our stay. At the mention of these iconic and terrifying snakes, each of us has his moment of panic. Eyes glued to the ground, we scan the area in long and wide. No sign of movement! Maybe because we do not know how to spot them…for now!

After some explanations of the course and the art of living in Mapungubwe, we all enjoy our first traditional meal together as “ranger guide apprentices”. To get to know each other, Don asks us each a simple question: What was the moment, the experience, the meeting that moved us the most? The one that, when shared, always brings a “WOW”?
Everyone shares their own story and our “WOWs” spread out into the darkness of the bush, accompanying the distant hyena’s “laughter”.

scenery-y-macherez

 

6:00 AM. The sun stretches in the sky and warms the wet savannah. We wake up with the feeling of being at the end of the world. But above all, burning with the desire to discover it all, understand it and become a small part of it. After breakfast, we meet JC and two of his apprentices, Ampie and Johan. They will be our eyes and ears, with ours not yet sharpened to read the bush. They will form the team that will surround us during our many walks. Rifle to shoulder, we cross fingers that they never have to use it! For our sake and that of the animals…

 

Our first step is to make a quick survey of the reserve and start to find our bearings in our new environment. We soon realize that we need to gain altitude. The hill, in the distance, will do nicely. In his deep voice, JC gives us the first instruction on how to better orient ourselves in an unknown space. With the sun and time, the most logical and visible mark, we can determine the North. This is already a good starting point to survive in the bush.

“But at night, how do you do that?”

“Be patient, one thing at a time.”

The reserve is so large that it would take years to explore. Don also tells me that there are remote parts of the reserve where even he never set foot. A 4×4 tour is therefore necessary to take in more of the landscape – It will take us the rest of the morning. With the study of different parts of the border, we learn that elephants take pleasure in destroying any fences that close in their boundaries. And you know how? They are simply pushing their calves so they roll over them! A smile spreads across my face, amused by the intelligence and resourcefulness of these pesky pachyderms.

Discovering the bush happens on two fronts: In the field and in the classroom! After the survey of the territory in the morning, Don invites us to take inventory of all species that call it home. Today, as most days that follow, we join him the classroom for a few hours of study.

This is a key attribute of a ranger: To have a deep understanding of the animals in the area, their physical characteristics and behaviour. To read the bush and understand the stories it tells us to ultimately take in all it has to offer us … safely!

Practice time! Our first walk in the Bush to get familiar with track identification. We all have a go at identifying which tracks could belong to which animal, found along the road, during our safaris or even on the beach. Well, we were off the mark. It is amazing to see the number of identifiable elements that determine the membership of the footprint to a particular species.

JC found us some beautiful fresh traces of what appears to be a cat. He explains how to position ourselves to read (the sun in the back) and shows us the elements to analyse: The number of indentions, claw marks, the spacing between the front legs and the back legs, the depth of the footprint. I then became aware of the extent of knowledge that you need to know which animal you are dealing with. And then to track him down …  “But that’s for another story, for another day!”

 

“I WANT YOU TO LEARN AFRICA’S SCIENCE”

It is with a steadfast desire to learn that we begin our second day. It will continue to increase throughout the week. Every day brings new knowledge, anecdotes and stories.

On our first morning trip we have the chance to spot our first towering giraffe, in the distance. What must be understood is that in Mapungubwe we face real wildlife. Indeed, they are free to roam between South Africa and Botswana, through the Limpopo. The direct consequence: They are not at all accustomed to man. The mere sound of a car engine, even at 300 meters, scares them into a stride.

Our only way to observe more closely is to approach on foot. Ampie leads the way and Johan brings up the rear. All on watch, we try to avoid being spotted by these long necked animals. Walking downwind is the first thing to do to, so the animal can’t detect our smell. Forty meters from the group, we root ourselves to the spot and enjoy the magical spectacle that Mother Nature gives us. Intense emotion overcomes me: I’m living a unique moment like never before. Closer to these magnificent creatures than ever before. I’m connected to them, part of a whole, which I have absolutely no desire to disturb … So I stay in the shadows of an acacia, silent, eyes and heart wide open.

On the way back to base camp, we examine more tracks and begin to really have fun with this little game. JC gave us more information to consider, to complete our task. Thus, droppings become a vital clue in identification. He also wants us to take in the environment when reading tracks, to have an entire consideration of the scene: Why did the animal cross the road at this point? Why are those branches broken on the side of this trail? What caused this streak behind the tracks?

giraffe observation

He makes a point that we have to learn the language of the Bush: “I want you to learn Africa’s Science, so you’ll be able to get the wider picture and track those animals properly” JC said

We understand that it’s not enough to learn the Bush in the books, you need to experience it. We must walk it, feel it, to understand it. That is the message he wants to convey us, the true soul of a Ranger!

Nevertheless, in light of our (still) slight knowledge on the subject, lectures are still needed and so after a light lunch we reach Don’s classroom. Reptiles, amphibians and arachnids are on the menu. The afternoon is rich in education even if everyone’s mind inevitably escapes into the surrounding Bush … the call is, each day, becoming stronger. “Who’s up for a night game drive? “You know how to speak to us Don!”

Do you know the mark of the perfect Ranger guide? Aside from the cartridge belt and sturdy boots, the 4×4 vehicle is one of the essential tools of the trade. It is really important to take care of. Thus every morning, some rituals are observed. The inspection of the vehicle’s condition is critical: oil, tires, fuel, brakes … Even if we are learning to survive in the bush, it is still better to be home before nightfall!

 

After our daily mechanical check, we’re leaving for the Wild. From every bird species we pass, each new tree observed, we learn a new story, new information about the Bush. Once more, I think see this ecosystem contains priceless treasures. No longer connected to the human world, where technology and profits are the prime forces, forgetting the wealth that is all around us. Reachable to the everyone who knows where to look. We forgot that the Mopani tree is like a large pharmacy. We forgot that it is sufficient to observe the behaviour of the Sand grouse to find a water source. They will inevitably bring us to it. Essential knowledge that is no longer useful in an urban environment, where humans have shaped nature to their will. I understand that to want to be a Ranger is also a desire to live differently. Being as close to our planet’s essence and feeling connected, belong to it. At this moment, driving under the hot sun, I also want to be part of it. I am a long way off from being a Ranger Guide but I am just beginning to get their philosophy.

The morning is dedicated to finding the lion whose tracks JC observed earlier. A lion! Our excitement is at its peak, especially for our first animal tracking … on foot! Not bad for a first time. Arriving on the scene, we jump from vehicles and begin our tracking. We will need patience and concentration to follow the tracks that will lead us closer to our mark. In a line, walking in the same direction, we analyse and follow the trail. One print after another. Many factors can complicate our reading: The passage of a herd of wildebeest on the trail annihilates two hours of work. Unable to continue our tracking, we are just about to give up … But we didn’t count on the experience of JC. Staring at some more dense forest, a hundred meters from us, he turns to Johan and asks him to follow him. A few seconds later, they disappear through the dense vegetation. It will take us ten minutes to understand what is happening: JC has found the lion. Wanting to be sure about his analysis, JC proposes to put a camera trap at the entrance of it. This is the first time I have my hands on this little gem of technology. But, to my delight, it will not be the last time.

“Let’s go back to the camp! We’ll take it back tomorrow morning and check out the pictures!” I can’t wait.

Again, we are in the classroom with Don to spend a studious afternoon. A big chunk ahead: Bird identification. Don will do us proud and offer us a full range of sound effects to accompany the photocopies carefully prepared. I’ve always been amused that the rangers are often more excited about observing birds that meeting the Big 5. But the scarcity of certain species and their total freedom to fly to horizons remind me that the reason is obvious. However, don’t ask me to be as amazed by a grey hornbill as I am by tracking leopard!

What we will learn this afternoon will stay with us for the rest of the stay. If you’re in the bush, in the forest behind your house, on a long beach that borders your town, stop and listen! Take the time to hear and experience all that life teeming around you. Wildlife is everywhere and birds are its music. I could let myself be lulled by their sweet melodies indefinitely.

This very evening, with a fire burning and my belly filled, I get carried away by african scoop owls and other nightjars. I escape in this ocean of sounds that is the hallmark of the African night. Only Don’s jokes and ensuing laughter get me out of this semi hypnotic state … It’s time for me to let my companions go find Morpheus’s arms!

 

reading tracks

“Well, unfortunately no lion! “JC says, watching the little pictures captured by the camera trap (this one is only triggered by movement). Apparently there has not been much overnight. Facing our disappointment, Don proposes a game that will bring our general levels of excitement to new heights and fire up our competitive spirit.

Two camera traps, two teams: Girls (Nina and Sabine) vs Boys (Jo, Rene and me). The goal is to divine the best place to put the camera trap and obtain a maximum of interesting shots. The winning team (because, of course, we need one) will be the one who gets the most beautiful and varied shots. As simple as that!

But how to define a location for our camera for the most interesting results? The key is to find a transition zone, with traffic. The tracks will be our best allies. The boys team opts for a large and open space where many traces of passages are observed. The girls decide to move towards a dam that we already identified in the past few days. They hang their camera trap on the trunk of a tree, facing the water reserve. Moist soil is covered with hoofprints. They set their camera so that each movement will trigger it. We must therefore clear the space in front of the camera: a branch, some wind and you’re good for thousands of unusable shots! Observing their set-up, I think they found a pretty good spot. My competitive spirit fires up and I begin to have some doubts about our own. Results in two days!

The day starts well but the best is yet to come: One of the most anticipated events of this adventure is just on the horizon. Throughout the afternoon we prepare for what will remain a night etched forever in my memory and in my heart: Camp mattresses, provisions and wood, torches and guns. Everything is carefully arranged in the bakkie. We jump into the other vehicle. We are now en route to our final destination, where we will spend a night under the stars … In the Wild!

After an hour’s drive (yes, the reserve is really vast), we are finally on the scene. I quickly realize that the spot was not chosen by chance: A huge stone slab is in front of us. It overlooks the bush and allows us to have maximum visibility. Behind us, it continues to rise and offers the perfect space for withdrawal in any emergency case. I feel secure in this serene environment and I cannot wait to dive into this cool and starry night.

Once the camp is set up, Don proposes to have a little tour of the area. I come to understand that this spot is definitely not chosen by chance. Locked under a large rock mass, a few meters from our camp, rock paintings of unparalleled beauty litter the walls. For hundreds of years, Bushmen had chosen the same place to settle down. A strange feeling overcomes me and I feel more and more connected to this wild world. The only world known by our ancestors, one we have forgotten, that we destroy a little more each day.

We continue exploring the area and enjoy a beautiful sunset, perched more than 200 meters high above our camp. The shadows slowly grow longer and it is time for us to go down to the (relative) safety to our camp. Equipped with our flashlights, each of us has a specific task. I am in charge of making fire with Johan and Ampie. I’ve always been in love with this element. In this situation, it becomes our indispensable companion, one that will warm our bodies, calm our minds and offer us a warm and comforting meal.

macherez night sky

 

Once installed, the pots on the fire, we take advantage of this moment to do what we do best: Messing about! Don offers his best stories and we begin an unplugged concert, clapping our hands and emitting sounds that disrupt the quietness of the surrounding savannah. After general hubbub, eyes turned skyward, we admire in silence the sea star and planet. Away from light pollution, the sky is incredibly clear. We admire the Milky Way, the Southern Cross, the Scorpio constellation end even Mars. Face illuminated by the flames, Sabine turns to us: “It’s like our 1000 Star hotel here! “. General approval!

Just before dinner, we also take the time to decide who will take which portion of the night’s watch: one person per hour and a half. I always knew that I was very bad at drawing straws, even if it’s nothing more than luck. Result: I end up doing a round of 3:00- 4:30 am. It’s gonna hurt!

FROM DREAM TO REALITY

I can hear them! All around me. Are they laughing at me? It’s so dark. It is 4am and the fire is not the only one to keep me company. I constantly scan 360 degrees, more focused than ever. At every turn, I expect to come face to face with one of them, the hyenas who constantly taunt me. Because of the tiredness, I do not know if I would be happy or completely terrified to see one. And it is precisely this unsettling feeling that I was looking for, when I chose this “Game Ranger Guide Course”. The rawness that surrounds me, the vulnerability that’s driving me, that feeling of belonging in this place at this very precise moment … I simply feel alive!

Hyenas will not come closer …

It’s over a cup of hot rooibos tea that we share our experiences of the night. So, I’m not the only one who lived it as a dream, overcome by fatigue … A dream come true!

We are going back to the camp, all exhausted by this short and beautiful night. I will try to rest up a little bit during the day because at the end of it we face what we all fear since the beginning of the adventure: The final exam. The same proposed to validate the Level 1 FGASA (first level ranger guide). A review of forty questions about a wide range of subjects: guiding in the natural environment, geology, astronomy, trees and animal behaviour. We spend a good hour on this base test. And it is with pleasure that we all nailed it and realize the progress that we made since our arrival. I could have never had the chance to learn that much about the bush without spending so much time with passionate rangers.

And, to celebrate this shared success (while compiling with general fatigue), Don gives us a brilliant idea: “What about watching a good movie?” But not just any: It’s a choice of circumstance. “The Ghost and the Darkness” is based on a true story of two lions, man-eaters, who killed a hundred people in the Tsavo region of Kenya. Perfect to build confidence for our next tracking in the bush!

After the theory, the next day is dedicated to practice: Analysis of our camera trap’s findings in the bush. We leave at daybreak to get our precious boxes back. They didn’t move at all. By examining the site, tracks and broken branches, we can confidently say that there has been some movement in the night.

Back at camp, we crowd around Don who begins to download the pictures. Impalas, Kudus, Nyala … For both teams, it’s a parade of herbivores. Then, further into the images from the boy’s team, a jackal. Just the tip of his nose. Balance in our favour … Our victory is secured when, on the screen, appears a beautiful brown hyena! There is something magical in these pictures. They show unusual behaviour of animals rarely seen so close and we all feel privileged to watch the show, even virtually.

JC interrupts this contemplative moment to tell us that this afternoon we will go out of the reserve and take the opportunity to do some field exercises. He wants to evaluate our progress and whether we’re a little more familiar with the bush. After coating my shoes with the red earth of Mapungubwe, I cannot help thinking: “I’m far from an expert but I see, I feel, your Africa Science … Try me! ”

 

river macherez

It’s along the Limpopo River, the natural border between South Africa and Botswana, that we will put into practice all the information that we swallowed the last days. Shortly before arriving on the banks, JC launched our first challenge: To situate and orientate ourselves. The goal is to reach the river that lies to the west. Challenge… Accepted! We quickly find the north (with the sun’s position and time, remember?) and start pointing in a westerly direction. Two things to know: After determining the direction, our shadow on the ground does not change. It works like a compass needle! We must analyse it before starting off and try to always keep it in the same way.

It is also recommended to do another position check every ten minutes. Man has a tendency to turn around in the great outdoors.

During this expedition, JC take the opportunity to ask us about the names of trees and their properties. He also questions us about the reason for the presence of various tracks and traces and tries to guide us in a comprehensive reading of any situation that we encounter. Like a crime scene, every little detail is useful. It takes extreme concentration not to lose the thread and teamwork greatly helps the analysis. That feeling of being in the present moment, all focused on the same goal, looking for one of the bush’s truth hit me again … This is exactly what I came for!

After an hour of walking in the bush, we begin to hear the river rumble in the distance. The closer we get, the more our attention waivers. Serious mistake – without consequence, this time!

“I’m starving! “I say. JC shows me the back of his bakkie. We extract timber, meat and vegetables…perfect for a delicious braai. We dig a hole in which we put the wood. I look into the bags to find something to light the fire … no lighter, no matches. A large smile appears on the Don’s face and I understand instantly: Another lesson about “Africa Science”. I’ve already said, I’m mesmerized by fire. Learning how to light it with my own hands will put the same big smile on my face.

The idea is simple: Find a flexible timber to make the base and a hardwood one to build the baton. Friction by rotation on the flexible base (previously cracked to provide air) will cause the appearance of smoke and embers … in theory!

In practice, it is necessary to add a lot of sweat and elephant dung to the equation. After a quarter of an hour working the baton, the smoke timidly appears. A bit more effort and we will get that little spark. Covered with a mixture of straw and dung, this long awaited flame should come.

JC gets the precious mixture in his hands, and by long and regular breaths, reveals us the miracle. Here it is, flame of life. Impossible not to cheer despite bruised hands and arms aching. And I find nothing better to say: “I’m Starving!”

 

“WE ARE NOT IN MAPUNGUBWE ANYMORE”

Our stay at Mapungubwe is coming to an end. It is time for us to leave the place that has awakened our senses and reconnected us to the natural world. Time to thank Don for teaching us so much and giving us his best stories. Time to collect our stuff, books, notes, memories and reach the Kruger National Park for three days of encounters and emotions. One door closes, another opens …

Ampie and Johan will be our guide for the next two days which we will spend in the Kruger, during which we hope to see as many animals as possible. It will take us a few hours drive to reach the north entrance of the park gate, at Pafuri.

As soon as we entered the park, we are all amazed by the concentration of animals. Elephants, cape buffalo, blesbock, Wwterbuck … We are dazzled! After a week at Mapungubwe, the contrast is striking. We enjoy the game and take the opportunity to revise our knowledge: Their identification, their behaviour, specific signs … We are an encyclopaedia on four wheels!

The day passes at breakneck speed and we have to wait until nightfall to see our first cat. At the corner of a pond, staring at us, a lonely young lion is drinking water quietly. Magical sighting… frustrating sighting. In a few seconds, he disappears into the thick vegetation. “Follow him!” I hear. But how are we supposed to do that? We’re not in Mapungubwe anymore. And here’s another observation: If animals don’t have complete freedom in this national park, we don’t either! It’s impossible to get off the tracks in order to track animals that we want. And even less so on foot. A sad reality that reminds us of the unique experience of our previous week.

macherez lion

 

We spend a cool night under the stars in one of the many camping sites of the park, lulled by the unmistakable sound of impalas in rut. A long day of driving ahead of us the next day and we have to be at Bayule before sunset. Terry, a bush specialist awaits us there. He will have the difficult task to check our knowledge and finalize our learning, so we will leave this adventure in the best condition.

But, before these final lessons, we take a new road trip to make our cameras whirr! Once more, the day brings some incredible encounters. But this slight feeling of not really being connected to the environment lingers. What strikes me the most is probably the difference of behaviour between animals met at Mapungubwe and those seen here: It’s quite easy to approach a zebra in the Kruger; it doesn’t even pay me any attention. The animals are simply accustomed to human presence and do not consider us as potential threats.

Their survival mechanisms, their wildest nature is altered. Some of the things that I learned on the course about the behaviour of these animals  can’t really be applied here in Kruger. Although this is a chance to see them so close, in relative freedom, I gain less pride and happiness than I gained from the wild encounters that I’ve experienced in Mapungubwe.

We finally arrive at Bayule, at the end of the day. We take a moment to enjoy the incredible view over the valley. Terry is one of the first people to greet us. Small, unshaven and with lumberjack’s hands, he seems perfectly suited to the bush. We understand soon enough his love for it, the place where he grew up and that he knows like the back of his damaged fingers. Tomorrow we will again be students, his students. Two days to discover this new place and refine our skills.

We will observe the animals we didn’t have the chance to meet before. We will learn a lot about the ability of the bush to give us everything we need, “the best pharmacy”. We will understand the interdependence of different species. And most importantly, we will respond with aplomb and conviction to most of Terry’s questions. A good team effort that Terry will not forget to underline, impressed by the good store of knowledge we gained in such a short time.

But the bush is unpredictable. It changes all the time. We would need a lifetime to be able to claim to know it. And those who forget to respect it will be promptly called to order.  We were not far from our first penalty when, on the way back, in single file, we all walk just next to a puff adder. It took took Johan’s screams, for us to realize the situation. A thrill ran through all of us … and yet, we cannot say we were not warned!

 

macherez bush walk

Our adventure comes to an end! We have one last night to pass at Bundox, near Hoedspruit. My mind wanders and I trace the progress that we made since our arrival. I see those hours scouring the bush, the notes scribbled during our lessons, the bright stars over our head, every night. I feel each moment again with the same intensity: The night when we arrived at Mapungubwe, our encounter with the giraffes, the hyenas around our camp during the sleep-out,the countless laughs with the team and all the friendships created. But the most intense emotion was about to come.

After a last braai and a few stories around the fire, we decide, exhausted, to go to bed. In the light of our torchlight, each of us entered their tent which had been set up in the middle of the reserve. Suddenly a huge roar followed by a screech, pierced the quietness of the savannah. “Did you hear that?”, Jo whispered. Then I remember what we were told by the owner, this morning. Apparently, a leopard has been observed for the last two nights in the same camp. In retrospect, our attitude at that time was not absolutely worthy of a ranger: We heard so much about this magnificent creature and knowing that he’s so close…we have to see him! Armed with our ridiculous torchlight, we scan the bush. One step after another, we dangerously get closer. My heart beats wildly, I am alert, I feel alive … but after few minutes of expectations and few meters more, no sign of life. We decide, a little disappointed, to return to our tents.

Lying in my bed, wrapped in my multiple duvets (in the bush, the cold is intense at this time), I begin writing our exploits of the day. No sooner have I begun to scribble a few words, a singular snap is heard behind our tent. Silence. Time stops. I freeze. A growl. My heart misses a beat. It is 5 meters from me and only a slight nylon fabric between it and me. I cannot even turn my head or move my arms. I’m totally paralyzed by the intensity of the moment. I do not even breath. I hear footsteps, the creaking branches under his weight. His growl, the sound emanating from deep within the body, I will never forget …

Every minute seems like eternity. I’m scared and at the same time enthralled by what’s happening. The leopard is so unpredictable and so powerful. Leopards are very shy animals and it probably would not attack the tent for no reason, but I’m afraid! The fear is irrational, right?

It is now twenty minutes that it walks around the camp. It is not in a hurry to leave. I then try to relax and take the situation as a gift from the bush. This unique experience that I hoped for … I have received. In a second, my body just relaxes, soothes my mind while keeping my senses alert! I want to hear everything, experience everything, print everything in my memory and never forget. My eyes slowly close, ending one of the most beautiful experiences of my life!

I fall asleep with the soul of a ranger, albeit still far from having the knowledge of one. This course allowed me to put one foot in their world and to understand what it means to be a ranger, to live as a ranger. I am now in possession of a grain of knowledge and a mountain of passion that will allow me, if I choose, to push the adventure further. I was looking for a thrill and I found it. This incredible experience will remain etched on my mind, on my heart. And it will be this experience that I will share, in the evening around the campfire, which is bound to raise a “WOW!”

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