Rangers and trackers live a lifestyle that is the
envy of many of our guests. They often ask us about
our jobs and of course they want to know of the most
exciting incidents that have happened to us.
We are fortunate in that many of our tales require
no embellishment (well, maybe a little!!) but they
are best told around a blazing campfire when a good
bottle of red wine has been opened. Here is a
selection of stories...
I have been lucky to have spent time in the Bush
from an early age and when I am asked of my most
memorable experience in Nature, one incident springs
to mind and even today creates a sense of excitement
and awe in me.
There was no blood spilt, no rifles fired and only
one quick command to my trailists to STAND STILL and
this makes the event even more unforgettable.
I was leading a foot safari from the Lodge with a
family of six who were dead keen on nature and all
it had to offer. We had been out for about an hour
and hadn’t got very far – the
dawn chorus of birdsong held everyone enthralled and
we were sighting new species for them all
the time. We had just crossed a gulley and had
gathered round a Silver Clusterleaf to discuss its properties and
view a prominent rubbing spot of a Blue Wildebeest.
A large group of Impala slowly ambled into the
clearing about 100 metres from us and one by one
they stopped to look at us and test the air. I
stopped talking as the antelope now held everyone’s
attention and the
father of the family lifted his
Suddenly, the herd exploded! With
alarm snorts and a burst of dust, they came careering towards us. Instinctively,
I loaded my rifle and brought it to my shoulder, commanding everyone to “STAND
Through the dust, we saw two cheetahs come at full speed into the clearing, in
hot pursuit of the impala. This herd had now broken into two groups and were
coming past us, no less than 5 metres away. So close that we became part of the
action, feeling their panic and sensing their alarm. So close that we could see
into their eyes and smell the danger. The cheetahs were totally focused on their
target and only had eyes for their intended breakfast and were not even aware of
Nearer and nearer they came, directly towards us. Suddenly, one of the baby
antelope panicked and split away from the torrent of impala coming down our left
hand side and stood, trembling, not 5 metres away from us and my immediate
thought was that if the closest cheetah selected this as his target, the two of
them would come tumbling right into our midst, tangling us up in the process –
it would not have been pretty. The cheetah did see the opportunity and altered
direction to pounce onto the hapless impala lamb but as he refocused, he saw our
group standing there like statues. Skidding to a halt, only about 10 metres
away, he signalled the danger to his mate and they broke off the hunt and loped
back to the other side of the clearing where a third cheetah joined them. One
last look at us and they vanished.
We all stood there, overcome with
adrenalin and the experience. It had happened so quickly but every moment was
imprinted on my mind and will go with me to my grave. The reactions of my group
were interesting – some thought that they were in mortal danger (which they
weren’t, as those cheetahs were never going to be a threat to
children, who were closest to me, said that I was whispering over and over “it’s
OK, it’s OK” so they said they were not worried. The father never took a picture
as he took my first command literally and never moved a muscle!
The family was on their first tour ever to South
Africa and can you believe, they had already had a cheetah kill right in front
of their car the day before in Kruger Park! Ho-Hum!!
If you have stayed at Mohlabetsi in the last 10
years, you will have met Pippa, the Border Collie. She has grown up in the bush
as Tony’s shadow and spends all of her day at his side. Well trained, she goes
on game drives in the front seat and will lie down on the floor when there are
any animals around that she considers risky. In her early days she even used to
go on walks, at heel behind Tony, until this confrontation. Pippa was even
featured in the South African Dog Directory 2007, under a section called “Dogs
with Jobs”. She has a faithful following of guests who even come back
periodically to see her!
following is an incident that occurred a few years ago.
We were walking in the
fairly heavily wooded area south of the Bush Lodge
with a group of guests. As the Trail Leader, one has
to concentrate in this locale as one often only
hears or smells animals before you see them in the
thick Grewia bush. Pippa becomes very useful in
these times as often she is aware of creatures
before we mere humans are.
Anyway, I could see that she was getting agitated
and as I was about to halt the group, a low growl
started up in a drainage line ahead. Any Field Guide
will tell you the
rush of adrenaline and the focus
of senses you get when the “V8 engine starts up”.
This was a lion that was not happy about our
presence. I ordered the group to close up to me and Pippa moved between my legs and then started
growling in reply! The lioness immediately came out
her hiding place to investigate and into full view.
This was too much for Pippa, who started barking.
The lioness came towards us on low legs and the
situation was getting complex – trying to keep the
dog quiet, keeping the guest reassured and trying to
halt the feline’s advance.
The distance rapidly decreased and things were
getting serious! By now, I was shouting rude words at the lioness and this was
stressing Pippa even more. Suddenly, she turned and bolted away from the scene,
having decided that enough was enough and that she would have to take her future
in her own hands. Of course, as she ran, the lioness immediately started off in
pursuit, taking her across the front of us. I was very worried about my dog and
ran around to cut her off, shouting and screaming at the lioness who fortunately
gave up her chase and skulked back to the drainage line, still rumbling and
grumbling and twitching her tail. Our group backed off and headed off to a rocky
outcrop to relive the moment – half of the group was mad as hell with Pippa and
the other half worried about her safety as we were about 3 kms from camp. I have
to admit that I was a bit of both!
The story ended on a happy note- we got back to camp 2 hours later and there was
Pippa on the lawn as happy as anything to see us and having forgotten the
Pippa is living the life of an aristocratic lady in
her later years – she still welcomes all our guests and comes on game drives but
she is getting stiff and crotchety and needs to sleep longer – a bit like me!!
ranger stories with interest start out in the same way, and this one is
by no means any different from those great ones.
It was a quiet afternoon game drive and none of the rangers including
myself have found anything of interest, So I do what the book says (
“the book” every ranger has his or her book of special tricks to make
the best of the bad) and retire for a beautiful sunset and some
And here comes the classic start to my story:
In a dry river bed close to the spot I chose for drinks there where I
chose to take a bathroom break suddenly some tracks appear…and they seem
to be fresh, so fresh that I could still see the animal that had left
Meanwhile back at the vehicle not knowing about the monster lurking in
the bush not to far away, the party of eager photographers are flashing
away at what seemed to be at that time the most beautiful thing they had
seen the whole day.
A BIG BIG male warthog going about his daily business, in that peculiar
fashion of front legs bent face down in the grass oblivious of the
threat that he is facing.
Back behind the tree I chose, being as curious and bored as I was, I
followed the tracks. Usually it takes a while to “pick up” something if
following the track, but this day I could not believe my luck!
In the bush about 50 meters ahead of me lay four big hungry lions and
they were on a collision path with none other than…
The BIG BIG male warthog! Before I could do or say any thing one of the
young males sprang out from the cover he was using and closed the
distance between, man, warthog and DINNER!
The movement immediately had the warthog running, but he was a split
second too late and heading straight towards me…
Frozen in that moment I could not lift my legs to run, and flushed with
adrenaline could see it happening in slow
motion and what felt like an
eternity was over in a few seconds!
A few meters in front of me in a big cloud of dust, growling and
squealing, the four lions each ran in a different direction with his
prize - had I moved it could probably have been me.
All the enthusiastic photographers had frozen solid and had not been
ready to film the spectacle but had one amazing experience.
As for myself, I live to work another day!
It was an afternoon drive when I found two snakes in an Acacia tree.
The snakes were a male and female Boomslang (Afrikaans name meaning
Tree Snake). What was amazing for me was that we found these two
snakes in the same tree for the next seven days. I had never seen
or heard of snakes staying in the same place for so long. Every
drive I would go past to check on them. On day 3 the female’s eyes
were big and milky. On day 7 I went there in the morning and both
were still there. In the afternoon I went back and they were gone
but I found the old skin of the female. This was the first time in
13 years of working in the bush that I see a snake changing its skin.
None of the other Rangers I spoke to had seen this either and because
of this I think I am very lucky. This is a sighting I think of as
one of the best and I will not forget.
I was tracking with Tony one morning & left the vehicle to follow up
elephant tracks. There was a small herd of them, moving east down the
Mohlabetsi towards Xikulu Dam. The tracks were of a group of males but
one set were strange – they went like this… left front foot, left back
foot, circle, right back foot...!! These puzzled me as it looked like
the elephant had a bucket on its right front foot & this was leaving
a circle print on the ground.
I decided to follow them up & eventually came across the herd. I then
set about watching them so I could find the cause of the tracks. After
a while, there it was – a young bull elephant, wearing a tire around
his ankle like a bracelet. Every time he picked up his foot, the tire
slipped down onto his foot, so as he put his foot down, the inside rim
of the tire left an impression on the ground.
I stayed with the herd for a while to see how the elephant managed with
his new piece of jewellery. He had to walk by lifting his front leg around
in a wide arc & this was slowing him down but he was still able to keep
up with the herd. He also was playing a lot with the tire with his trunk,
trying to get it off, unsuccessfully.
I went back to the Lodge with my story & it was decided to monitor the
situation for 24 hours to see whether the elephant could get the tire
The next morning, I went out tracking & there was the circle on the ground!
It was decided to call in a vet to take off the bracelet – our rule in the
reserve is "if nature has caused the problem, then nature must solve it.
However, if man has caused the problem, then we must fix it."
That afternoon, I had tracked the elephants, who were now a small group of
4 bulls, into an area east of Bush Lodge. The helicopter, carrying in the
vet with a dart gun, was given the location, while we waited in Landrovers
along with our very interested guests.
We watched the vet lean out of the helicopter, and then saw it veer away,
once the dart had been fired. The next moment, 3 elephants came racing out
of the thick bush & the helicopter circled over the remaining one. As soon
as the signal came that the elephant was down, we moved in & located the
bull – but no tire around the leg!! We all questioned each other about the
bulls that ran away & were sure that none of them had a bracelet
Then, the helicopter landed & the vet came running over to tell us that, as
the elephant was stumbling around, it stood on the tire just before it fell
over & ripped it off. I started tracking & soon found the spoor of the tire
as it rolled away. I located it under a bush a short distance away & brought
it back to pose with it next to the elephant, along with my colleague, Quentin.
The vet checked the elephant & revived it & it headed off to join up with its
mates, none of the worse for wear!
To say any one experience that I have had is the best would be difficult.
Having witnessed, from an unobtrusive distance, the silhouette of an African
Civet Cat carrying her cubs across a shallow river, being charged by a lone
Elephant bull, stalking within metres of a White Rhino, undetected and seeing
a female Leopard losing her Impala kill to a wandering Hyena who also promptly
lost the fresh uneaten meal to a group of Lions and also bearing witness to
countless sunrises, sunsets and starry nights African landscape.
I have to say sleeping "under the stars" in the wilderness embodies the emotions
of all the above experiences. Now by sleeping under the stars I mean no tent,
mattress or pillows. No campsite, facilities or ablutions.
One particular occasion is easily recalled. It was on a training exercise in
the Lowveld. It was autumn and the bush was dry, most of the trees had long
lost their leaves and green grass was a thing of the past. One morning we set
off on our routine walk at 6 a.m. however this time at around eleven o’clock
knowing full well that we were miles from camp and usually back at this time.
Our instructor told us that we would be camping here tonight. Having little
more than the clothes on our back and a bit of water we would have to employ
some of the survival skills we had developed. The instructor left us saying
that he would see us tomorrow.
We set about collecting water bearing roots and firewood. Others began to
make animal traps and search for food
The afternoon went by quickly and soon
night saw us taking shifts to watch for danger. Sleep was broken by the change
of guard and the over-powering night sounds. The noises ranged from Owls to Bats,
Insects galore and a nearby Leopard.
The sun rose on a new but somewhat familiar landscape. Having slept on African
soil and gathered the essentials from the surrounding bush we truly felt at peace
with nature. No waste was generated and our footprints were all that was left.