There are two halves of a Sabi Sabi Safari team, and while each has a different role to play, they are both vital in providing a truly exceptional wildlife experience.
The Sabi Sabi rangers drive the safari vehicles and are largely responsible for talking to visitors, imparting their knowledge and looking after their guests’ comfort and safety. They are highly trained – undergoing very tough testing and courses before being allowed to take their first guests on a game drive.
At that stage the ranger is “mentored” by the other half of the guiding team, his Shangaan tracker. The trackers are amazing men, the lifeblood of the safari team, with irreplaceable intuition and bushveld knowledge which comes from growing up in the area in which Sabi Sabi is located.
Sometimes quiet, sometimes hilariously funny as they gently tease their guests, the trackers grow up with an innate love of the bush, a respect for all forms of wildlife and a lifetime of experience that can’t be taught. From the very start of a drive or a walk, it is clear that the rangers defer to their trackers. With just a glance, the tracker can recognise signs that an animal has headed in a certain direction, that a footprint (spoor) on the ground warrants following up, or that a thicket is just too thick to penetrate. They can recognise a soaring raptor from miles away; they are a font of fascinating information on myths and legends of the bushveld; they will patiently explain the medicinal use of indigenous plants. And, most importantly, with a subtle hand movement, they can quietly advise the ranger – steering guests away from any danger.
Even the most experienced rangers regularly learn new things from their trackers. Take Phios Mkanzi, for example – younger brother of Bush Lodge Assistant Manager, Lawrence Mkanzi. Phios has been with Sabi Sabi for over two decades. Recently, while out on safari, his vehicle was passing a female waterbuck. Signalling to the ranger to stop, Phios pointed out the strange call the waterbuck was making – a sound similar to the lowing of a cow. He explained that that particular call was a mother calling for her baby. The ranger and guests looked sceptical and scanned the surrounding area for a young waterbuck. “Be patient”, said Phios. “the mother went off to graze and left the baby hidden away from predators”. Not long afterwards, a baby waterbuck emerged from the undergrowth, ran to its mother, and started feeding. The guests – all seasoned bush-goers – as well as the experienced ranger, were amazed.
Another one of the Sabi Sabi stalwarts is Jabu Mathe, who is one of Sabi Sabi’s senior rangers as well as being the most qualified tracker. He has achieved senior status for trailing (following of tracks) and a Level 4 for track and sign (this focusses on the discipline of interpretation), which is an extremely proud and highly sought after qualification. Similar to our ranger assessments, which are conducted regularly, tracker assessments are carried out, and Jabu is both trainer and assessor, making him one of the mentors of our skilled team.
The rangers learn to trust their tracker’s instincts and rely on them not just for tracking elusive animals but also for filling in details, bringing local culture and customs into their stories and adding a certain magic to the safari experience. Sabi Sabi is immensely proud of the tracker team, each of whom hails from the Shangaan villages neighbouring the Reserve. Their passion for the bushveld and encyclopaedic knowledge of the area and all its wild inhabitants adds an irreplaceable depth and warmth to every safari.
As part of our ongoing Sabi Sabi Staff introduction, please meet one of Earth Lodge’s intrepid trackers – Pat Nyalungu. Pat’s easy manner, wonderful smile and incredible knowledge has guests warm to him immediately.