Game ranger gets candid about Covid-19, 4am wake up calls and guest satisfaction
Ruan van der Westhuizen, aka Ranger Ruan, is a 25-year-old ranger from Shepherd’s Tree Game Lodge in Pilanesberg National Park.
He chats to Clinton Moodley about his career, game drives during the pandemic and the most challenging part of his job.
What got you into this profession?
My parents introduced me to the wildlife setting as a boy. I remember spending time with them in the bush and feeling at absolute peace with myself. I guess my love for animals and my passion to educate people about nature sparked my interest in being a ranger.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
I wake up at 4am to start prepping the safari vehicle, wake my guests for the morning safari and prepare their morning coffee.
We are on a game drive for about 3 hours, which runs later if we spot a rare sighting. When the guests are indulging in their breakfast, I do maintenance checks and clean the vehicle. The rest of the morning is spent welcoming new guests and bidding farewell to others. I use my free time, from noon to 3pm, to read, edit my wildlife photographs or take a nap before the sunset safari that starts at 4.30 pm. The safari lasts for three hours.
What are the safari protocols in place for Covid-19?
Before departure, we screen and sanitise all guests and make sure everyone wears their masks. We make use of disposable coffee cups and individually wrapped snacks for game drives. We follow all Covid-19 protocols throughout the journey.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
It is juggling different interests from different guests. For example, a couple may want to learn about birds while a family enjoys more wildlife sightings. While we can’t predict which animals we will see on a game drive, I want to give my guests the best sightings and make their trip memorable.
And the most rewarding?
It’s seeing the smile on guests faces when they see an animal for the first time. All the hard work is worth it when a guest is happy with their game-drive experience.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope to run a game lodge. I foresee being very hands-on and will go the extra mile to ensure that my guests have the best experience.
What advice would you give a first-time safari traveller?
Appreciate everything, from the smallest to the tallest creature. From experience, I have noticed that high expectations lead to disappointment and relaxed guests lead to leopards. *Laughs*
What do you do in your spare time?
I like to practice my other passion: photography. When I capture an image, I aim to show the emotion of the animal sighting. A picture says more than a thousand words.
The motto you live by?
My mentor taught me to “take only pictures, leave only footprints”.
Respect the bush, and she will reward you.
Read our March 2021 edition of IOL Travel digital magazine here.