How these SA rangers are celebrating World Ranger Day during a pandemic
World Ranger Day is celebrated on July 31 every year. While in the past rangers would celebrate with guests, this year things are a little different.
The coronavirus pandemic caused tourism in South Africa to come to a grinding halt, and many international and local safari fanatics were unable to travel due to lockdown restrictions and border closures.
Many rangers, including Solomzi Radebe and Ruan van der Westhuizen, both from Pilanesberg National Park, took a financial strain, unsure when they would showcase the wild to their guests.
Radebe, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, said he will celebrate the day by honouring his fellow rangers.
"I celebrate my brothers and sisters out there who dedicate their time to protect our precious planet, nature and cultural gems that our country has to offer. While Covid-19 has affected many of us financially, I still have not lost my passion for being a ranger.
"Being a ranger is not just a career, but something that I love and am passionate about," he said.
Van der Westhuizen said he started the celebrations on Thursday afternoon when Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane announced that tour operators will be allowed to conduct guided tours in open safari vehicles.
"I'm pretty excited to get back to work, and I am busy arranging safaris. I have not planned anything special, but I am glad we got some good news. We certainly needed it," he said.
The new normal
As locals travel for safari escapes within their provinces, the experience will look quite different.
Radebe will miss seeing the smiles on people's faces during their safari as it's mandatory for people to wear a mask.
However, he is willing to adapt to these changes, especially if it allows him to do what he loves.
"Things will not be the same again. I won't be able to see the reaction of people as they experience the game drive. Of course, it's something that I am also looking forward to as I get to meet amazing people during these game drives and walking tours," he said.
Van der Westhuizen said the safari industry has adapted well to the changes and are ready to hosts guests safely.
"Our industry is prepared. Being in hospitality most of the health regulations as well as documentation on people visiting these places has been in place long before the pandemic. The new normal, in terms of safari and lodging, will not be dramatically changed," he said.
Looking for change
Both Radebe and Van der Westhuizen want to see changes within the industry, starting with government support. They believe that the travel industry, particularly game reserves, should be afforded the same opportunities in term of funding as other industries.