I arrived at Londolozi in late 2010, clueless and slightly apprehensive about the next few months of training to become a ranger. Hanging out in the Ranger’s Room after morning drive I would make coffee for the senior rangers and hear tales of the Mapogo, the Sparta Pride, the Camp Pan male leopard, and all manner of exciting stories about encounters with dangerous game. To me, the Londolozi rangers seemed afraid of nothing.
Except for one thing.
It wasn’t a particularly cranky lion or a rogue hippo. Nor was it an elephant bull in musth or a leopardess with cubs. No, what sent chills down the spine of these men and women of the bush was the fear of getting stuck.
Let me explain…
You grow a thick skin as a ranger at Londolozi. Fast. We are a bunch of best mates, who would do anything for each other. We go on leave together, attend each other’s weddings, and even act as God-parents to each other’s children! Yet we still give each other a hard time. All manner of good natured banter and friendly ribbing goes on on a daily basis, and you learn to take it in your stride, as rangers past and present will verify.
But the one thing you will be teased mercilessly for is getting stuck. I mean proper stuck. As in a tractor has to be despatched to get you out. Never mind the fact that you may have been committing to the sandy riverbed or muddy bog in order to get your guests the sighting of a lifetime. If you get stuck and need to get extracted, you are going to come in for some abuse…
Having said that, getting stuck and being able to get yourself out does not qualify as getting stuck at Londolozi. No, no. Any self-extrication is overlooked as simply a temporary delay in the normal game drive. Getting stuck properly means requiring assistance in getting out. Be it mud, sand or beached on a rock (yes it has happened), if another ranger or tracker, or anyone who is not part of your vehicle has to lay a hand on your Land-Rover to help you get out, you qualify as having gotten stuck. And there is only one penalty for that.
The Pink Pouch.
The Pink Pouch was something I heard of very early on in my Londolozi career. People whispered about it while casting furtive glances around, and it was something about which you did not speak at dinner parties. The first rule of the Pink Pouch is that you do not talk about the Pink Pouch. Ok that last bit’s not true, but after a couple of years of hearing about it but NEVER seeing people wear it, we decided recently that it was time to resurrect the Pouch.
The resurrection may have arisen because I got severely bogged down in the Sand River last week, but that’s beside the point.
The Pink Pouch is now on the loose again!
The Pouch of which I speak is an ammunition pouch, worn on the belt, that holds the rounds for the rifles that all the rangers carry. Originally procured by Operations Manager Duncan Maclarty, it was in the hands of ranger Jess Boon for awhile and then apparently lost for a number of years (we think Jess realised how often she was going to need to be pulled out of the mud and so conveniently ‘couldn’t find the Pouch anywhere’!).
Officially, you receive the Pouch if you were the last person to get stuck. In Winter, you don’t want to be doing that, as chances are high that no-one else will be stuck for awhile, and you’ll be wearing the Pouch for a loooong time! In Summer when there is mud and water everywhere, the Pouch may exchange hands once a week, or even daily during heavy rains.
Having been duly presented with the Pouch last week for my idiotic attempt to pioneer a new crossing point in the Sand River, I was incredibly pleased that not even 8 days later, in a similarly ambitious attempt to access a sighting of the Mhangeni Pride, also in the Sand River, fellow ranger Ntsako Sibuye got himself nicely wedged between two palm islands, necessitating a helping hand from the habitat team in order to get him mobile again.
The ceremonial handover of the Pink Pouch took place immediately after that drive.
Will Ntsako remain in possession of the pouch until Summer, or will some error in judgement on the part of another ranger relieve him of it’s burden?
We shall have to see. Even though pink is not the most manly colour to be parading around on one’s belt (and let’s face it, it clashes horribly with khaki!) at leasts it’s a great ice-breaker when meeting guests for the first time.
If when you first meet your ranger on your next visit to Londolozi, he or she is wearing a bright Pink Pouch on their belt, at least appreciate that this is probably someone who is willing to push it to the limit (and probably physically push his/her Land-Rover!) to get you into that great sighting.
If you can stop laughing for long enough, that is…
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell