What seemed to me and to be just a full day game drive safari for the day, out on a reserve I’ve never been to, turned out to be a lifetime experience. Only once I got back to Ghost Mountain did I find out that Jean set me up but what a setup it was.
I arrived bright and early at the game reserve gate ready for the day, the entrance boasting the big names in wildlife conservation that recognise this place. I was surprised to find that I had no knowledge whatsoever of the reserve and what on earth they were protecting inside. With organisations like WWF, Black rhino expansion project and Wildlands trust, I knew they had something special wildlife waiting inside.
I arrived at their restaurant to be greeted by members of the Wildlands conservation trust, the team of Ezemvelo Wildlife vets and Wildlife act.
In the corner a box caught my eye and on closer inspection found medium sized tracking collars and tracking equipment, perfect size for what seemed suitable for a cat or a wild dog. What on earth are they going to find?
Ease-dropping with the crowd, I overheard something…something black and white. Are they talking about which dog has certain markings or the rhinos?
I finally asked some Wildlands trust personnel and it was rhino they were going after.
After everyone finished a full English breakfast it was all systems go! The Ezemvelo pilot fired up the light weighted game capture chopper and set off to locate our first rhino.
Finally I understood what I was there for and that I was responsible for driving with our cruiser to where they dart the rhinos from the helicopter and race into the bush with the vets, cameraman and volunteers from Wildlands.
Stroke of luck, this was to be my second rhino encounter and interaction. I remember clear as daylight my first rhino tagging and encounter with the men and women of Kapama back in 2007.
Basically, Wildlands and Wildlife act received funds to track, tranquilise, touch and test tracking devices for black and white rhinos on this new piece of land. After reading a wildlands magazine lying around the lodge, I finally understood the whole purpose of this operation and how the reserve came to be and how Wildlands are working with the Nkosi of the Gumbi community to protect and run a reserve just outside Mkuze.
Even though I was just the driver I was very much involved with driving to the rhinos, taking loads of ‘Kodak moment’ photographs, assisting with bringing equipment to the vets and wildlife act team who rush out ahead into the bush to locate the hallucinating animal, settle it down carefully in a stress free position and then begin the process of fitting the tracking collars or drilling into the fragile rhino horns and fitting it with a tracking device deep inside the keratin.
It’s not an easy job and the entire operation has to be done quickly and efficiently, so Ii kept well out of the way as the guys from Wildlife act and Ezemvelo were working under constant pressure and they needed to keep their focus and their cool.
That Monday morning was hectic and the time flew by and we successfully located and tagged four rhinos. Two white and the rarest of the rare – the infamous black rhino! What a magnificent creature and I didn’t hesitate to become ‘touchy’ with the bhejane. I don’t get to see, let alone touch a black rhino! my memory of my first wild black rhino I’ve seen dates back to when I was a laaitjie driving through Kruger National Park with my family and stumbling on the road near Letaba we found our first black rhinos. And here I am probably 10 years later, reaching out and running my fingers down the sweaty, rough and rugged rhinoceros.
Everyone was buzzing with excitement with everyone taking in the experience.
Most of the Wildlands staff had never done this in their lives before. It was truly special for them as most of them spend their lives in an office or living in a big city. As for me, I was familiar with everything going on and I humbly stood one side to watch the drama unfold.
I couldn’t help but just smile and just appreciate nature on these two days of adventure and what we are trying to achieve, were here to protect these animals, to educate, to preserve them for future generations, I was there, and I gave my contribution to conservation. I couldn’t help but think about what Bruce Bryden wrote in his book-A game ranger remembers and watch his very words become real, right before my eyes! It is so true-in the life of a game ranger you are never well-off but you do get to see things and do things no one else experiences, not in this lifetime.
I was amazed of what I am and where I am today. From surviving the polluted and overpopulated world of Shanghai to the wild, open spaces of Zululand. It’s here, where I feel at home and where I want to be and what I want to do with my life! What a privilege and experience it is to be an African and to contribute to protecting our heritage, our wildlife, our future.
After successfully tagging the rhinos with their devices, we all parted with smiles and satisfaction of a job well done. Wildlife act were amazing and extremely professional, Ezemevelo-the vets were in their element and the pilot was outstanding, some of the craziest and most skilled flying I have ever seen; and Wildlands trust for their contribution and education and their vision for the future.
A final bush toast-here’s to the future and many more adventures to come in sunny South Africa and the best job in the world!
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