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Phinda Wildlife Research Project: 28 November - 12 December 2023*
Latest ranger course report
A long-awaited group from Johannesburg International Airport arrives at about 16h30 in Hoedspruit on a bus that has been travelling for most of the day. Some delay on their route to the bush and well, here they are! A diverse group ranging from all walks of life both boys and girls disembark for their stay with me in the African bush on the Game Ranger Guide training course.
After a short introduction to who, where and what they have let themselves into, we are on our way... well almost. A final stop at the shops to get those last chocolate supplies, we are off into the darkness of night to camp. We travel for about an hour and a half and finally, we arrive at the camp nestled on the banks of the Oliphant’s river.
Our first night is always a big greet and get to know each other followed by the beginning of dinner and their first evening in the bush.
Morning is greeted by many weary faces, all filled with excitement and eagerness to get out there and see stuff. Bino’s hanging from their necks, notepads and pens, khaki gear and we are set to get going for our first walk, one of many…
"Hey!" Shouts Hayley. "There are some elephants down by the river! Can we go and see them?"
We will do even better; we will walk into them and watch them on their own terms in the bush. All of us get ready for this epic journey as we walk in single file to the river where we can hear the animals feeding. "Be very quiet! Stay close to me and listen to my every command… is that all understood?" We sat and watched them for a long time and had them feed close to us without them knowing that we were even there. Then, one elephant cow started coming closer to where we sat and I decided to make our way back to the vehicle for the safety of the group.
Eyes sparkling, hearts racing and cameras with captured moments to tell the rest of the world, we boarded the "landie" and made a start to get home for dinner. Well, nature had some other plans for us and we were about to learn our place in the ecosystem. A massive elephant bull came crashing through the bushes and walked within a few meters of us. Strange behaviour! At just that moment an even larger bull came through the river following the first. Well, it was a sight and it turned out that the first was being displaced by the second and as we were in the route of these two, we now became displaced too! The second male started after us and must have followed us for about two kilometres. Every time we would wait to see where it would come through, it would surprise us and walk faster than usual in our direction. At last, it turned off and left us to our own devices still pursuing the first elephant.
This was just the beginning…
Our time in the bush is always very special with a lot of emphasis placed on learning about the environment. We spent a lot of time walking in the veldt, looking at the components of geology, mammals, birds and so many more. Too many to mention just here. Our days were filled with cold early morning wake-ups, coffee and tea, then off to see the world on foot and to get the heart racing all over again.
We tracked some lions the one morning after we spent the previous evening tracking and following them in the vehicle... no luck though. So it was back to getting the tracking skills going and hopefully we could locate them. After a long day of following and tracking down these yellow beasts, we retired with our heads low and hungry to camp. All was not lost even though we did not see them but the experience of tracking and following them was even greater because now it was noted how difficult it was in the bush.
The group did some of their own tracking as well where they had to track a man leaving some clues and signs. Ever seen people walk in circles trying to decipher signs? Well, I had the fortunate opportunity to see just that. "Where did he go?! He could not have flown away!" He must be here somewhere, anywhere, just carry on looking…
Clearly, they need more experience!
The driving of the Land Rover was a big anticipation for many and it was accepted with great eagerness the day I agreed for this to happen. All got some time behind the wheel and we had great laughs as some drove us almost into trees and ditches. Associated with the driving were spotting game and the not too often mentioned word, BIRDS. This was clearly not a big "have to see" on the list of the folks that were on this course, but we did eventually get some birding done even though some would not even recognize a bird if it sat on the hood of the vehicle which almost happened in the evaluations.
We saw so many elephants along the river, hippos and a glimpse of rhinos one evening drive. We also saw leopard and tracked the infamous "king of the bush" but had no luck. Also a lot of general game ranging from giraffe, zebra wildebeest and a whole lot more.
I believe all the participants have learned a lot about my career and shared some special days in my life as a guide. They too have grown in themselves and it is evident as they go home enriched and carry some knowledge of the African Bush in their hearts.
Compiled by Johann Lombard
Professional guide and training officer