Stefan de Weerd, who has a Diploma in Tourism Management from the Vaal University of technology is one of our rangers and has eight years of ranging experience. He has spent the past two years at Morukuru Family Madikwe Game Reserve and describes living and working in the bush as a “dream job.” Many have a fantasy of being a game ranger but it is a complex and challenging job. We chatted to Stefan about his experiences so far…
Have you always had a love for the bush?
Yes, as a child my family used to go to the Kruger National Park on holidays. I have an older brother who was in the hospitality industry and I looked up to him a lot. His choice of career was to me the most awesome job I could imagine.
Tell us about your relationship with your tracker?
Godfrey my tracker was appointed as a maintenance staff member when I started working at Morukuru, and showed a lot of initiative and interest in the bush. So when we had an opening for a tracker we asked if he wanted to join the guide and tracker team. He has learned so much and we always have fun together on game drives and I am so proud of what he has accomplished so far in his tracker career.
What role does Godfrey have ?
He plays a very big part in the experience we give our guests. His support allows me to focus on the guests and the driving the vehicle. His main responsibility is to help spot the animals. By working together as a team we can cover more ground. Plus I can also send him to follow tracks (if he is comfortable to follow the specific track) while I cover a larger area at the same time. It is easier to pick up tracks from the tracker seat on the front of the vehicle so he is in the right place to identify leads.
Tell us about an average day?
Game drives begin before sunrise so my day normally starts around 4:30 in the summer months. It is quite a bit later when we move into winter. I begin by getting everything ready for coffee and tea before game drive and then I do the wake-up call. The morning game drive lasts around 3-4 hours depending on how far we go and what we look for. I enjoy breakfast with guests either at one of our bush breakfast spots or back at the lodge. During the day it is always different as it all depends on what the guests would like to experience. Here at Morukuru we offer excursions like fishing, walking safaris, school visits and lots of child-friendly activities such as making spoor casts and bows with the kids. If the guests want to have a relaxing day at the pool or at the lodge I will have a bit of down time. I take advantage of these gaps by doing a bit of exercise when I can, like running and riding bike. Afternoon game drive is around around 3 hours long with a nice stop along the way, to enjoy a refreshing sundowner and some snacks prepared by our chef. There is nothing like an African sunset and this is often a highlight for guests. Then we head back for dinner just after dark so we have the opportunity to spot some nocturnal animals like leopard, lion, civet, genet, african wild cat or owls.
What is your favourite part of the day?
I love watching the sun come up first thing in the morning thing and looking for tracks of the animals that have been on the move the night before.
List your top three sightings – and why?
1: Leopard catching an impala! We were the only vehicle in that area when it happened. We watched everything happen from beginning to end! It took place just before sunset and we sat there for a very long time (into the night) at the end of it the battery of the vehicle was flat because the spotlight had drained it. I had to radio in and get a back-up team to come out and give us a tow to jump- start the vehicle.
2: Lioness chasing Vultures away from a kill. The lions were resting in the shade of a tree just a few meters away from the wildebeest carcass. The Vultures saw a gap and decided to go and feed on the carcass. Knowing that the lions wouldn’t really allow this; I parked my vehicle a closer to the carcass in anticipation of the lion chasing them away. We saw the Lioness get up preparing to chase away the vultures. Everybody had cameras ready to film the action. When the Lioness did charge it was just a mass of birds everywhere. Right next to the vehicle the lioness jumps into the air trying to catch one of the vultures – just missing it ! It was incredible to see this lioness jump that high into the air after the vulture.
3: Watching a giraffe giving birth. We came across a female giraffe that just started to go into labour.. All that we could see was two little, perfectly formed, feet showing . We sat there for almost 3 hours to see the whole event… from giving birth to seeing the baby taking his first steps in life!
Why is the Madikwe the perfect destination for a bush holiday?
Madikwe provides you with the ability to see the magnificent seven: Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Cheetah, Wild dog and offers a wide variety of different plains game, such as Zebra, Impala and Wildebeest plus abundant bird life. I have had some of my best ever sightings in this beautiful game reserve and don’t forget there are the stunning views from the top of the mountains.