AN INTERVIEW WITH RANGER MATT - nThambo Tree Camp
In June, we were lucky enough to secure Ranger Matt for an in depth interview created to give you a guide, from a guide, to making the best of your safari experience. Read on to find out how to create the most memorable experience possible!
MATT’S TOP TIPS:
1. Have the RIGHT MIND SET, and the right expectations about coming on a safari.
2. The middle seat is the best seat!
3. If we say DON’T run, DON’T RUN!
4. You don’t need to buy a new khaki wardrobe.
Tell us what your job is like – what does a typical day hold?
Well, it starts with an early wake up, around 4:45am because I need to wake my guests up for their game drive. Before that though, I set up the coffee stations in the main lodge, and I do checks of the vehicle to make sure we are set for our first game drive. I usually wake the guests at around 5, and meet them in the main lodge area at around 5:30 for coffee and snacks before we head out to see what we can find. After the first game drive, we share a hearty breakfast back at the lodge, and then the guests usually disperse for a little while to freshen up or to nap. During this time, I offer our guests the opportunity to do a bush walk out in the wild, which allows them to get a closer look at the things usually missed – tracks, trees, plants, insects and so on. Of course, it also allows them to experience a different level of game viewing – on foot! Otherwise, if the guests want to relax, I usually use this time to complete my other work – being a ranger is not all fun and games! If an elephant has knocked over a tree on one of our roads, we have to get over there and clear it, or we have to do things like bush clearing, lodge or vehicle maintenance and so on. If there is absolutely nothing to do, I usually take this time to relax and read a book, or prepare myself for the evening’s activities. After a light lunch with the guests, I’ll check with them what they would like to drink on their evening drive, and after packing it along with snacks in the cooler box, we head off. After about 3 hours, depending on what we see, we share dinner and share stories, and I am constantly answering the great questions that are asked. More than anything, my main priority is guest safety! Even when we are at the lodge, I am on the lookout – often we have had animals like honey badgers, elephants and lions all coming extremely close (a few meters away from the lodge, or, like the honey badger, right into the lodge!), so we need to ensure our guests are safe at all times. After dinner, we then usually all relax in the lounge or around the fire outside. Luckily I haven’t had any hard partying guests, so we are all then usually in bed before midnight, ready for the next day of activities!
Why did this position interest you, and how did you get started? What kind of qualifications does someone need to do your job?
I spent 13 years of my life living on a farm, so the love of nature was instilled in me at a very young age. I tried doing the city thing, and I worked as an electrician for 3 years, but it was not my passion. So, I did my training through Bush Wise bush college, which is a year divided into two sections; 6 months learning and getting our Field Guiding FGASA qualifications, and 6 months doing an internships at a lodge. I started at our sister camp, Africa on Foot, and I absolutely loved the idea of it all – The walks, and getting up close and personal with everything. I am also a qualified trails guide, and that’s where my heart lies – walking in the bush is an incredible adventure.
What parts of your job do you find most satisfying, and what parts do you find most challenging?
The most satisfying aspects are de definitely being out in the bush – and the unknown. You never know what you will see, or what kind of guests you will have, so every day is completely different. There are infinite developments and so many different scenarios that unfold in the wild, but this can also be challenging, as it affects the dynamics of the sightings too. We have to explain to the guests that this is not a zoo – we can’t guarantee anything will be seen, and it really all is a luck of the draw! Sometimes, it can be daunting to deal with guests too, as we meet people from ever background possible, all with different levels of knowledge, and all with different expectations, so we work hard to make sure we can meet them all. Even communicating can sometimes be tough, so sign language comes in handy! I have to say though that it is all part of the package, and the reward is being out here. Some people save up for many years, and only come on safari once in their entire lives, and we get it every day. I am so grateful for that.
What do you think the three essential items are for any safari?
Binoculars, definitely! A camera to capture everything forever! And a good attitude – the guests are here to observe and make memories. We take care of everything else for them.
What has been your absolute top sighting so far?
My top sighting involves a very brave pack of Wild Dogs and a courageous warthog! A pack of 10 dogs were walking around, and they finally settled around an old warthog lair. They relaxed for about half an hour as we watched them, and they were all looking away from the seemingly deserted hole. Suddenly, a big warthog bolted from the hole giving all of the dogs a huge fright. Instinctively, they got up and chased the warthog, but it was too late. After this, the dogs settled down again, and began to sniff the air – impala were around. A few of the dogs found them standing in a clearing. Some of the dogs separated and formed a net around the impala, and one unlucky baby impala shot off right into the area where the dogs were waiting! It was gruesome, but seeing a wild dog kill is so incredibly rare. In any situation, we want to make sure our guests are comfortable. So, if there is something that makes them uncomfortable like a kill, we play it by ear and discuss with the other guests what the plan of action will be.
Any horror stories?
Luckily I’ve never had anything too bad, but there was one family from Argentina that had some terrible luck with snakes! During their time with us, I intervened on numerous occasions where they stumbled across snakes out on a walk, or at the lodge. Most of them were quite dangerous, and were mistaken by the guests as a stick, or they were curious about them so wanted a closer look. It just goes to show that the safety is once again our main concern! I’ve also had plenty of elephant mock charges – one particular one was when we had guests in camp, and a grumpy old bull was approaching the lodge. I said to the other ranger, ‘He’s going to charge, isn’t he?’. The ranger nodded and said yes, but he was very calm. So we instructed the guests to stay inside the lodge, ‘just in case’, and if he did charge – do not run! You are supposed to walk away slowly in situations like that. But, of course – as soon as he charged, the guests scattered as fast as lightning! It was okay though, and the situation was controlled – but it created some great photo opportunities for the guests!
So many reasons! The setting, first of all. We cater to clients who are genuinely interested in all aspects of nature and the bush. We draw the really passionate people. nThambo has a comfortable, quiet and relaxed vibe, allowing for the focus to be on the wild. My co-workers are all really nice people. I’ve worked in industries where people see their job as a chore, but here, everyone is in love with their life – we are so much more in touch with nature. This is essentially home.
What do you do in your time off?
We work 6 weeks on, and 2 weeks off, so I usually see family and friends. In my time off at the lodge in between working, I like to read and further my bush knowledge. We are disconnected from TV and media here, so reading is my best for of entertainment, and my life is better for it!
What are your top tips for planning a safari?
My top tip would definitely be to get the RIGHT expectations. Often we have guests who come in with a full on checklist for the animals they want to see, which is fine and can be fine, but it is incredibly important to remember that this is the wild, and not a zoo, so no sightings can actually be 100% guaranteed. If you come with an open mind, you will have the best time. Nature can’t be controlled, so it’s just about having the right mind set. Clothing wise, I definitely recommend neutral colours, especially if you are planning on doing a bush walk. It’s also important to bring your good pair of binos, a good camera, and a torch. I also recommend planning your safari for at least 2 nights at the same lodge, and a perfect amount would be 3 or 4 nights in each. This way, you get a good feel for it and you don’t miss out. If your lodge offers it, I definitely recommend partaking in a walking safari too – make the most of your experience while you can, and get to know the smaller things in the bush too. If you are also self driving in the public Kruger, I recommend coming to your lodge first so you can work with your guides to get to know the wildlife, so you have some good foundation knowledge when you self drive. Etiquette wise, we do explain everything at the lodge, but generally it is to respect the rules of the rangers, and to respect the animals and nature first and foremost; No flashing lights at the animals, no standing up around elephants and so on. It’s pretty easy going though. We love it when our guests ask questions, it’s great to see genuine interest and curiosity – plus, it helps us further our learning too! An interactive experience is the best experience.
TIPPING – this is a huge question we are asked by our clients. Can you give us some insider info?
You know, tipping really varies. First and foremost it is up to the guest what they want to do. We are not here to become rich, we are here for the passion, so what we earn from tips does help us a bit, but it is completely up to the guest and not expected.
When out on game drive, where is the best place to sit?
I personally think the front row, or the second row is the best. The third row is the tipping point and is quite bumpy, and next to me would be the last position I recommend, because I position the vehicle so that the guests on the back can see – this often means the view from where I am sitting is compromised to ensure great viewing for the rest of the team. So, the front or middle generally has the best height to see the game.