International World Ranger Day: Meet 3 of SA's top women rangers

2019-07-31 09:30
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Today is International World Ranger Day. This day is a platform, first and foremost, to commemorate rangers who have died in the line of duty as well as to raise awareness about the work done by rangers every day. 

With the increasing threat of armed poachers and militia groups, over 1000 rangers have lost their lives in the line of duty in the past 10 years. According to records kept by the International Ranger Federation (IRF) and Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA), 54 African rangers have died since 31st of July 2018.

"As rangers we pride ourselves in preserving our natural heritage, being the voice of the voiceless and taking care of the master’s creation,” says Eric Madamala, who works in Limpopo Transfrontier Park – Mozambique and GRAA Executive member.  

Here, three exceptional women rangers share what they do every day:

WATCH: The faceless heroes in combat on the frontlines of SA's rhino-poaching war 

Eugenia Mkhatshwa

Senior section ranger in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park

ranger

(PHOTO: Supplied by SANParks)

Rangers reporting to her, patrol the Tsitsikamma coastline including recently rezoned areas to allow local communities to fish in a Marine Protected Area (MPA) and polices the forest areas as well. 

"Growing up in the Eastern Cape between the borders of East London and King Williams’ Town, I naturally wanted to become a forester. After tertiary training, I joined the Department of Forestry as a forest conservator in 1998. I was one of the people transferred from the Department to South African National Parks (SANParks)," says Eugenia. 

Favourite place in the park?

"I absolutely love going to the viewpoint (part of the multi-day Dolphin hiking trail) to take a deep breath when I feel overwhelmed. There I can look at the combination of forest, fynbos and ocean right in the face. It makes protecting the mountain to ocean catchment that is Tsitsikamma worthwhile.

Advice for aspiring rangers? 

"Passion is what will sustain you, so it’s important to have an unshakable love for nature. Then it’s crucial to be able to listen, and be patient. You’ll start out feeling small and then grow into your role which by the way, you have to carve out for yourself in a male-dominated world. You’ll need layers upon layers of tolerance, patience preparedness to put in hours of work- you may not necessarily see outcomes of." 

Dominque du Toit

Section ranger in Goudveld, an old mining town in the middle of Knysna 

ranger

(PHOTO: Supplied by SANParks)

Back in 1876 gold was discovered by James Hooper along the Karatara River. Later in 1887, more discoveries were made in the nearby Millwood area. Millwood in those days had hotels, a church, a shop, a surgery, a bank, school and a Post Office.   

Today, Goudveld is an activity hub attracting more than 80 000 visitors. Some of its activities include the Dalene Matthee Memorial & Big Tree, mountain biking routes including the Homtini Trail, Drupkelders: meaning ‘overhanging cliffs that drip water.’ 

It is a 45 minute climb down to the Homtini River. It is one of the secret gems of the Knysna forest, picnic hangout Jubilee Creek and the Outeniqua Hiking trail: A two day hiking trail that starts and ends in Bibby’s hoek. 

"When I was younger, I was always involved in camping, brownies, girl guides, hiking clubs and I somehow suspected I’d end up working in nature. I wasn’t sure how, but I took baby steps after matric to study towards a diploma at the Cape Town Technikon.

"I then went to work for Forestry in the Eastern Cape and then for Timbavati for another 4 – 6 years. Then I moved to the Southern Cape to work for the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) then over to SANParks," says Dominique.

Liesl Wagner

Field ranger in Windmeulnek, Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park 

ranger

(PHOTO: Supplied by SANParks)

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She was one of the rangers at the forefront of the recent fires. The fires affected the area although there no major losses on hiking trail huts, the park lost an ablution and lapa facility at nearby Platbos. She is also part of the team rebuilding the area after the fires and says the workload has almost doubled as a result of the fires. 

"I’ve been working for SANParks for 13 years. I began as a general worker for about 2 years and then became a field ranger. What inspired me was my love for nature but my father had worked for SANParks before.  I’d watch my father get up to work early in the morning and that is heart-warming," says Liesl.

Favourite place in the park?

"Windmeulnek has the best views of the Outeniqua Mountains! 

"Tracking spoor is often fascinating as there are large mammals in the area," she says.

How have things changed since you started your job?

"As a young supervisor, I have learnt over the years that people may change, but having a certain approach to dealing with people is always better. It’s also important to exhaust the carrot approach before using the stick. So I’ve found having an open mind,  and listening with an intention to support and not defend, can go a long way in building relationships," says Liesl. 

How you can help our rangers

This International World Ranger Day, help our rangers by sponsoring their insurance for a year. It will cost you just R362! That is less than R1 per day. 

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