For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a game ranger. Surely there is no occupation more satisfying and rewarding than sharing your life’s passion with people from all over the world? The African bushveld is my life’s passion, and for that reason, I now find myself working as a ranger at Londolozi. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing to get to this point though, and I hope to try and portray just how much it takes to get to the point of guiding your first guests on their African safari.
Firstly, it is important to note that unlike many other safari lodges, Londolozi has their own ranger training programme. This is imperative in ensuring that all rangers at the lodge have had the same training, that their work is based on the same foundations, and that their values are consistent across the board. There is a certain level of professionalism that needs to be upheld after amazing rangers have passed through the system over the decades of Londolozi’s existence. The brand of Londolozi ranger is unique, and therefore a lot of time and effort is invested in ensuring that the team of rangers is of a consistently high calibre.
Day 1: 11 January 2020. We find ourselves standing outside the Ranger’s Room, excited yet slightly bewildered at the same time. Little did we know what a wild adventure we were in for (nobody could really foresee the journey that 2020 had in store for them! But that’s an unrelated topic for another day…).
I remember feeling embarrassed by my excessive perspiration when I met my future colleagues – it was a combination of nerves and the sweltering 38°C heat that resulted in my entire t-shirt being drenched and the sweat literally dripping off my nose.
Through a series of events, the number of candidates was reduced during the training course from twelve down to five. A reduction in numbers from start to finish is usually the case (sometimes only one person makes it through!) and ultimately the result is that those who finish the training course and become rangers are the exact mould that the lodge is looking for.
During training, various modules are completed, the type and size of content covered in each varying significantly. They range from mammals and bird behaviour to Londolozi history and guiding technique and culture.
A professional astronomer and arachnid specialist provided us with world-class knowledge on the relevant topics.
Renias Mhlongo, a living legend and one of Africa’s greatest trackers, who grew up as a child on Londolozi and subsequently worked as a tracker and guide for the lodge, took us out in the bush to teach us about the harmonious relationship between mankind and nature and how fragile the balance is. He taught us about tracking and told us stories of when he and his family used to live off the land to survive.
Along with most people’s 2020, we were thrown a curveball when lockdown hit South Africa. We went from spending time on foot, acquiring walking hours and learning animal behaviour, to being sent home as per the new government regulations.
The six months that we spent away from Londolozi felt like an eternity, but nothing would get in the way of our training! Those charged with training us came up with alternate ways for us to acquire knowledge and gain experience. We had weekly tests via Zoom on the relevant material and we even had virtual game drives where a scenario would be put to us and we would have to narrate what was happening guiding virtual guests through the sighting as if it were happening in front of us! Such are the times we live in…
And then came the great return! A post written during the lockdown last year sums up just how much extended time spent away from the place we love reminds us how grateful we should be to live and work at Londolozi.
It was during this final stretch before qualifying that my fondest memories of training lie. In order to learn the roads and be well orientated around the reserve, towards the end of the course you walk the roads for twelve hours a day, seven days in a row, by yourself. This was an experience I will never forget; being by myself, no cell phone or connectivity (only a radio in case of emergencies), in the most beautiful place on earth (sorry for being biased…) confirmed why I chose this path.
It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though; apart from being physically tired from all the walking and carrying my backpack and rifle, by the end of the week I was also mentally exhausted from having to constantly be alert and aware of my surroundings so as to avoid potentially dangerous situations. I was sunburnt, dehydrated and had blisters galore. There were times during that week where I thought I couldn’t finish the day’s walk, just like there were times during the training when I thought I couldn’t see the process through. There were a number of occasions where I thought it was all too much for me and I wasn’t cut out for the job, but as a team we saw these dark times through and came out stronger on the other side. It was a growing experience and I formed bonds with my fellow trainees that will stand us all in good stead going forward when we work as a team.
Guiding is more than just getting behind the steering wheel and showing guests what they would like to see. There is a common misconception that this is the case (in a way I did before I arrived here), but there is a lot more that goes on behind the scenes and the thorough training that Londolozi put us through ensures that we are prepared for anything. It is more of an art than people think, you are responsible for creating unforgettable memories and this isn’t always easy – different guests have different expectations and part of your job is meeting these. People management has been the biggest learning curve so far for me and it’s a skill that I will always look to improve.
I find myself feeling so incredibly grateful for all the lessons learned during my year of training, for I know that not only will they be useful during my tenure at Londolozi, but going forward in life as well. I’m grateful for relationships formed and skills acquired and I cant wait to continue on this path of growing that I now find myself on. I hope I’ve given you a taste of what the journey of becoming a Londolozi ranger has been like for me.