Life as a South African Game Ranger

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Helen Winter

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Written by: James Cook

It is hard to give a typical example of what life was like as a game capture ranger. Every day was filled with different experiences, adventures and, of course, seeing some of the world’s most incredible animals.

Working with animals was a dream-like concept to me. It was something that I knew would be an amazing experience, but I never imagined myself actually doing it. Following a series of unpredictable events, a friend of mine pulled out of our long planned safari in South Africa, which finally gave me the push to try what I had always wanted to do. I was still going to see the great wildlife of South Africa, but now I was going to get closer than I could have possibly imagined.

Home on the range

In South Africa, conservationists breed both endangered and general game species for the restocking of new areas. To achieve these aims animals are captured, transported and released under the safest conditions possible. It may seem cruel at times, and it was always hard to see such majestic animals frightened, but game capturing is a crucial part of wildlife conservation.

The first week alone proved to me that I had made the right decision. In those seven eventful days, I helped capture around 100 blue and black wildebeest and red hartebeest, watched a herd of giraffe from 50 metres helping their calves feed, tracked a bull white rhino on foot to find his mate that had got a wire in her foot, and sat watching sunsets with herds of eland, springbok, gemsbok, and blesbok. It was definitely more exhausting than a safari, but nothing can compare with being submerged in the action and the reality of the wild.

Anticipating the capture

One particularly memorable day we tried to catch 30 gemsbok, and spent the entire day constructing a 500m-long boma (a safe enclosure). We returned the next day to catch when the light was better. However, when the helicopter began to round up the antelope, they refused to enter the boma – they had seen something, perhaps one of the wires on the boma, or perhaps they had got a sniff of human on the wind. This experience demonstrates that game capture is not for tourists in the sense that what goes on is not orchestrated for your benefit – what you see really happens. My favourite expression from the A.C.E. coordinator was: “This particular experience is as real as it gets.”

However, when a catch goes well, it goes really well, and you will be in the thick of it. In my third week we set up another boma to capture a herd of 80 blesbok – a medium-sized antelope with horns of up to 12 inches long. The helicopter herded the animals into the mouth of a cone-shaped enclosure and as they proceeded through, we drew curtains across its width to systematically close the animals down into a smaller space. Once at the end of the boma, the animals entered a fencing area where they were chased up onto a truck before being tranquillised for transport.

No words are adequate to describe what it is like to help these threatened animals. I will remember these experiences for the rest of my life, and will never hold back on something ever again.


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