10 Minutes With Head Ranger, Jono
One of the highlights on any safari holiday is without a doubt the Big 5 game drives.
If your game ranger is experienced and passionate about wildlife and conservation, you will be treated to a most memorable safari, one where you’ll learn all sorts of fascinating facts about the African bush and its animals.
We are fortunate enough to have our Head Ranger, Jono, at Bukela and Hlosi Game Lodge on Amakhala Game Reserve.
We recently took 10 minutes to catch up with him, and learn a little bit more about what makes him tick.
How long have you been a ranger for?
13 years in the industry, 11 years guiding.
Describe your typical working day?
It always varies. In season, days consist of waking up at 4:30am to be at one of the lodges by 5am, prep vehicle and morning drinks/snacks, leave on first 3-hour game drive at 6am, back at the lodge by 9-9:30am.
Breakfast. Head back to the workshop area. Check on workshop, have a chat to the mechanic, ensure all vehicles good for the afternoon drive. Check emails, make changes to the ranger’s roster and adjust allocations to rangers or new bookings etc.
If guests would like to do an activity (archery, walk, birding drive), this would happen between 11:am-1pm. If no activity, this would be the time I have a nap.
Leave for the lodge again at 2:40pm, prep afternoon drinks/snacks. Leave at 4pm for the second 3-hour game drive. 4pm-7pm. Arrive back at Lodge at 7pm, sort out equipment and settle guests.
Head back to the staff village around 7:45pm, I will relax a bit, maybe download the photos from the day. Catch up with any changes that might have happened during second game drive.
If guests would like a night safari, we would head out around 8-8:30pm until +/- 10-10:30pm. If no night drives, it’s supper and bed for me.
Off season there are fewer guests, so if we’re not driving guests, this is the time we use to get out and do fieldwork / training /road repairs etc. Guides will also take some annual leave over the off season. A normal standard working cycle is 21 days at work, 7 days off.
Your most epic sighting and your favourite spot to drive?
I’ve had the privilege to spend a fair amount of years in nature, so have witnessed a few amazing sightings. A few that stand out would be following a pack of wild dogs and watching them bring down a Kudu Bull. Mating leopards or a female leopard with newborn is always a highlight.
Lions flushing out a pair of Honey badgers. After a long noisy encounter, a lioness managed to kill one of the honey badgers and walked around with it in her mouth.
I also really enjoy my birding. I once witnessed a Crowned eagle kill and carry off an impala lamb as well as hunt monkeys off cliffs, pretty spectacular sight.
I also always get excited when seeing the less common, rare species such as pangolin, aardvark, serval, genet, caracal and honey badger etc.
I don’t have a favorite spot; each has its own uniqueness. All depends on what you are looking for at that particular stage of your life. I am a keen wildlife photographer, so love the variety of fauna and flora and scenery each area has to offer. I am from the Eastern Cape, so very biased! I love the ocean and the bush. The Eastern Cape offers both on your doorstep, which for me, is a winner.
What do you think makes a good game ranger?
First and foremost, passion and a love for the job/industry. An ethical, conservation approach to your guiding is essential.
Secondly, obviously important to have a broad knowledge of all aspects of guiding (Fauna/flora/anatomy/geology). A hunger to constantly learn more and broaden your knowledge is essential. Guides have guests lives in their hands constantly, so it is vital to be cautious at all times while guiding.
And lastly but probably the most important from the guest’s experience, is people skills. The ability to deal with all ages and all cultures and give your guests a fun, learning, memorable, safe experience, is the key to a good guide.
What part of your job do you find most challenging?
Running a guiding department can be tough. You live and work together for 21 days. Often under stressful conditions and the days are long. So, finding a balance between being a “boss” and also caring and building your team up while going through life’s ups and downs together, can be a challenge.
Saying goodbye to guides you have worked with for a few years is challenging too - you become like a family.
What do you find most enjoyable?
The minute I leave the lodge with excited guests and head out into nature. And of course, nothing beats the look on guests faces the first time they see our wildlife and experience Africa.
If you could give advice to future rangers, what would it be?
Guide with the animals best interest as a priority.
List 2 words that describe your character.
Loyal & funny.
If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?
Elephant. I’ve always wanted to know what they think about.
What would you do if you won the lottery?
Travel and take photos.