The African bush has always been a place of storytelling, where people gather around the campfire, listening to the sound of the darkness and the crackling fire, telling tales of adventure and endurance, of heroes and loved ones, of nature and man’s confrontation with the wild.
The life of a field ranger in the Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves, is one of those tales that is most often unheard, untold and unseen by the outside world. These are men who have dedicated their lives to conservation, having a deep compassion for the land to which they have committed to defend, to protect and to conserve.
They are called to lives of sacrifice, to physical hardship and endurance. Each day they walk many kilometres into the bush, observing nature in her passing – a herd of elephants, a journey of giraffes, a flight of birds, insects, a distant call of a jackal. All that they observe is recorded on handheld computers, devices especially developed for rangers, some of whom may be semi-literate, and used to map and plot all wildlife and other observations. This ensures that a detailed archive of information is collected and is relayed back to conservationists who analyse the data.
The only unwanted intruder in this vast wilderness is man – more specifically, poachers. Poaching in the Kruger Park has gone from small scale subsistence poaching, where a man would set a snare in order to catch an animal to feed his family, to highly professional, military style poaching. Over 200 snares are set and the poachers are professionally trained military men operating within highly-organised mafia-style syndicates, armed with AK47s and automatic firearms, targeting rhino and other commercially lucrative targets.
The job of the ranger is to confront, catch and expel these poachers, handing them over to the authorities for persecution. Men armed with fully-automatic weapons are not entering the park on peaceful terms, and so to equip the rangers for this aggression, they undergo intensive paramilitary training and are taught to carry and operate firearms which are used in their defence.
So the stories being told around the campfire are not only of encounters with the wild, but also with men, who would not hesitate to pull the trigger and kill both man and beast if confronted. The rangers are acutely aware of the risk and are trained to deal with such encounters, as their lives depend on it.
The field rangers are men in service to conservation and to their country, but most profoundly to one another. You hear story after story of men who have risked their lives to save the life of their fellow field ranger. Of men who have gone so far as to put themselves in harm’s way of a raging elephant bull, or carried a friend for kilometres through the bush in search of help, and when facing the poachers, to have put their lives and safety on the line to save the life of a friend.
There are many such men – and the story of one portrays just a glimpse into the lives of many others who like Enock Manyike have dedicated more than 20 years of his life to conserving South Africa’s greatest asset – its natural wildlife.
Enock’s love for nature started as a child looking after his father’s cattle. He spent his days in the veld and if the cattle got lost, he would have to track and find them. He learned to set snares to catch small birds and animals, he ate off the land and developed an intuitive understanding and love for the bushveld.
His father too was a ranger in Kruger Park and retired as a field ranger sergeant. Field rangers work their way up a highly-disciplined hierarchy, starting from field ranger, to lance corporal, then on to corporal and finally a field ranger sergeant. Those who have the necessary post-graduate qualifications, may go on to becoming a section ranger. Enock has earned himself two stripes as corporal, however, he is following in his father’s footsteps and is determined to reach the same rank as his father
Enock is a man of few words. He is highly-trained and manages his team by example. He never speaks of himself, and when asked to reflect on his achievements as a corporal, he always tells the story of another man’s bravery and endurance. However, those that he works with and reports to, speak of a deeply loyal and committed man, who has more than once saved the life of a fellow ranger. He has placed himself in the line of fire against poachers, for which he has been nominated for a bravery award.
For Enock, life in the bush is far more than a duty – it is his passion. He is finely in tune with the nature that surrounds him, and his love for the bush is expressed through many years of commitment and dedication to conservation. As when he was a boy, he sees the animals as his cattle, for which he is willing to die. It would take many nights of sitting round a campfire to hear a lifetime of stories and tales about the African bush, experienced through this one man. And like him, there are many others, who each day risk their lives to conserve and protect one of South Africa’s greatest treasures – the African bushveld.
Who is your most remarkable South African?
My father – Paul Manyike.
Don English – section ranger – for leading by example, even in the face of danger and armed confrontation with poachers.
What is your South African message to the world?
People need to sensitise each other as to the importance of conservation and preservation of the whole eco system – not one specific aspect – and to respect that everything has the right to live. Animals should not be seen as money, they have the right to survive for the benefit of future generations.
Copies of the book "Remarkable South Africans" by Line Hadsbjerg are available via SA – the Good News.
Contact Camilla for more information.
Tel: 083 447 6305