A guest post by Oliver Lane (all photos were taken by the author)
From a young age, growing up in South Africa meant regular exposure to the natural world around me. By 13 years old, I had been lucky enough to experience just about every biome and natural niche that my country had to offer, and while every location holds a special place in my heart, the African Lowveld always kept me coming back.
Family tradition meant travelling to a friend of my fathers’ Bushcamp in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve every year, which was a greatly looked forward to event well into my teenage years and in hindsight where the foundation for my love for the natural world was rooted. Unfortunately life eventually got in the way and our annual trips became less regular and finally non existent towards the beginning of my high school career.
By the end of high school, I found myself caught in a whirlwind of expectations and decisions as to what my next step in life was going to be, and while the bush hadn’t been in my periphery for a good few years, hearing of an available “camp volunteer” position at a family friends Bushcamp quickly caught my attention and just a few weeks later my bags were packed. For an 18 year old, deeply introverted high school graduate with no idea where to go in life, this was, in hindsight, exactly the kind of step out of my comfort zone that I’d always needed.
Fast forward a year and a half and my “gap year experience” turned into something much bigger, the transition from volunteer to student ranger came effortlessly, absorbing all the information provided by legendary camp guides combined with an arsenal of textbooks put me in the drivers seat in no time, and after a few months under the wing of the knowledgeable trackers I was well on my way.
In the last few months of guiding out of Umlani Bushcamp, I have learned so much, not only about the bush and all its inhabitants, but about the industry as a whole and what it really means to be a guide. The early mornings and late nights, the weeks away from loved ones, and the stress of not finding that one “dream animal” for a guest will take a toll on anyone. But in the moments where it all comes together and you get to see your guests’ faces light up as they witness in person what they may have previously only seen through a screen, all the stress and fears seem to melt away and you get reminded of why you do what you do.
By this point I’ve dealt with all these obstacles, but the excitement of seeing what each new game drive has to offer always keeps me on my toes. To date I have seen things I would have written off as fiction had I not actually been a few meters away from the action. I’ve been fortunate enough to see the brutal reality of 2 male lions take down an injured buffalo less than 10 meters from my vehicle, only to have the rest of the buffalo herd come back and chase off the lions to rescue their herd mate, demonstrating the true power of numbers. But at the same time I’ve witnessed the more tender moments, like the first steps of a baby elephant as it leaves its mothers side and is gently welcomed by the rest of the herd; or the moment a new born hyena pup takes its first steps out of a den site.
Guiding, like just about any job, has its ups and downs, and I’ve been blessed to have experienced some of the greatest “ups” I could have ever dreamed of working in the bush. Travellers to the camp always say that “Once Africa gets a hold of you, it doesn’t let go” and this especially holds true to guides. At this point, I don’t know where life will end up taking me in the coming years, but one thing for certain is that the bush will always be part of it.