Without them, the precious fauna and flora of our national parks and nature reserves would be at great risk. Rangers selflessly dedicate their lives to protecting our natural heritage and educating visitors to our wild places. For this year’s World Ranger Day on 31 July 2018, Wild meets three inspiring rangers.

On World Ranger Day, celebrated annually on 31 July 2018, visitors to South Africa and Swaziland’s protected areas have the opportunity to say thank you to all the rangers making a huge difference at Wild Card destinations.

Wild caught up with three rangers to find out what inspired them to become guardians of natural spaces and what a typical day in the field entails.

Surprise Mahlalela
Big Game Parks of Swaziland

World Ranger Day-Big Game Parks (2)-min

Picture by Peter Chadwick

What inspired you to become a ranger?

The love of looking after wildlife so that future generations can see wildlife and nature without having to hear about it through stories of what these things used to be like. It’s important that our descendants can experience the richness of our heritage.

What does your typical day look like?

I often start by servicing my firearm and radio. I then go on patrol to make sure there have been no poaching incursions – that the animals are all safe and and fences in order. Even when we take a break, day or night, we are on 24-hour standby, ready to tackle any emergency. I also patrol with the working dogs to keep them fit, exercised and healthy.

What is your most treasured wildlife sighting?

Rhinos have always been my favourite animal. On one occasion, soon after I joined the ranger force, I watched in amazement as two white rhinos came down to a waterhole to drink. They encountered a herd of elephants at the water and I expected the rhinos to wait for the elephants to finish. However, the rhinos moved forward and the elephants quickly moved off. I had always thought that elephants were the boss of the bush, but this occurrence gave me new insight into how animals interact. I also love the way they nurse their newborn calves and how gentle they can be.

Franco Nell
Tsitsikamma, Garden Route National Park

World Ranger Day-Garden Route National Park-min

Picture courtesy of Nandi Mgwadlamba

What inspired you to become a marine ranger?

I am from the George area and there was a patch of forest just across from my home. My friends and I used to play there when we were little. In no time, houses mushroomed and the forest disappeared. The generation after me did not have the privilege of playing in that forest. This inspired me to want to protect forests and nature.

What route did you follow to your current posting?

In 2015, when the Department of Environmental Affairs decided to rezone 20% of the Tsitsikamma coastline to allow for angling by local communities, I was one of the people hired as an environmental monitor. This was during the pilot project phase. I then moved to Bloukrans where I worked with the trails team and then back to the marine team. Last year, I was appointed as a marine ranger.

What does your typical day look like?

I start at 04:30 working on the three rezoned areas using all resources at our disposal. I get home after 20:00 at night.

What is your most treasured sighting?

I can never get enough of whales frolicking in and out of the Marine Protected Area.

Make sure to keep an eye on Wild’s Facebook page in the coming days for more on the Garden Route National Park’s marine rangers.

Ntombizodwa Mathebula
Swartberg Nature Reserve, CapeNature

World Ranger Day-CapeNature-Swartberg-min

Picture courtesy of Ntombizodwa Mathebula

What are some characteristics of a good ranger?

A good ranger must be a leader and someone who pays attention to detail. You should be very vigilant and willing to help and share information with others. A good ranger must be honest and focused, and both physically and mentally fit – being a ranger requires a lot of energy.

What does your typical day look like?

My day usually starts at 07:30 when I inspect our vehicle and all necessary equipment. At Swartberg, an early start is key – the reserve is big and we sometimes have to drive some 300km to get to a specific site. My job as a field ranger involves a lot of walking as we do a lot of inspection and field work. It’s very challenging. After each inspection, all data has to be captured on CapeNature’s database.

Your favourite time in the reserve?

Definitely early mornings – it’s refreshing, calm and cool. During summer months, temperatures around Swartberg can reach up to 45 degrees. An early start also offers great bird sightings and the gorgeous scent of fresh, sweet protea flowers.

What makes Swartberg so beautiful?

Swartberg Pass. Everything about that area just takes my breath away. I especially love the many trails. Although they are long and challenging, I love reaching the top of the mountains and admiring the many views.

Featured picture by Peter Chadwick