The Big 4, Protecting the 5th: a blog by Lyrischia Immanuellah

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Day 1
A lovely short drive from the capital to the reserve, where we were welcomed by the leaders of the APU with firm handshakes quickly followed by a short tense brief (all being filmed). At this point, I still wasn’t sure what I got myself into. We then hopped onto the back of the Landy and were escorted to the barracks where we were given a few minutes to unpack our bags for assessment. This was where we had to spend the night.


During our first preparation session, I realised that this was serious business

Day 2


05:00 – That’s the time the day started for us. Woken with loud bangs on the doors and steel bars on the floor, we had no time to catch one last shower before heading into the bush. The guys rushed through breakfast, but I luckily had saved a sandwich from the previous day and had an easy pass through the early morning madness. Breakfast was then followed by an operation and safety brief. Myself and my buddy were assigned to team Bravo who had two operation points left from their 5 days out in the bush. We were set to join them on the remaining two days. The drive to the drop off points was the best part of the morning. Views of the orange and blue glaze of the sun rising, free and live wildlife roaming the open field, and the best part was a silhouette view of the female rhino (cow) and her calf on the hill across the open water.


Nothing beats a 4×4 drive

The drop off


Was I ready? No. We reached our drop off. It was now time to hike up to our first operating point with our buddies who welcomed us warmly and led the way while answering all I had to ask about being a ranger along the way. The hike was chilled and not as hard as I thought it would be, with weight on back and shoulders from the camping backpack filled with all that I needed to survive in the bush. After hiking about 4km we reach our OP, this is where we spent the day observing any illegal movement. Settled in well and enjoyed the shade from the trees surrounding our operation point. I vaguely remember hearing communications coming through the device around 12:00 and I was just about to catch a snooze. The Alpha team happened to come across foot prints on their trail and team Bravo had to join in on assisting, as there were poachers roaming the reserve. This notification had me feeling both excited and terrified and at no point did I find it coincidental that there were poachers on our first day in the bush. It was all such a blur and rush. We were then picked up and rushed to a water hole where the supposed poachers were hiding. I immediately placed myself with my buddy with the firearm when we were preparing for ambush. Notifications kept on coming in regarding the tracking, until eventually the San people came and assisted and expedited the process for us. This was all set up! A well executed one. That certainly was the peak of the entire excursion. Thinking that we had actually caught poachers.


The mock-capture of the supposed poachers seemed SO real!

Day 3


The morning has broken and I still find myself snug in the warmth of my sleeping bag, but that was soon cut short. It was time to get up and ready for our next OP, and just before the hike we met with Marlice who smelled like fresh roses, couldn’t help but catch a whiff of her fresh scent while I smelled like the bush(LOL). We shortly hiked up to our next OP and this time the trail was not as easy as the previous one, but the view point was amazing. I could see satellites from my bed and had all kinds of conversations with my buddy as we stayed awake and ready for any illegal activity. The bush taught me how to enjoy the smells and sounds of nature and how to run myself a bush bath with just wet wipes and water.


As someone who enjoys the luxury of camping ( “Glamping”), being on the frontline of protecting our endangered wildlife in the open field of the Zannier Reserve has by far been both the scariest thing that I’ve done, but also the most adventurous. With a 50Kg Bag slung over my shoulders and clutching not a handbag, but 6l of drinking water, all this while hiking up to 5km. To top it off tinned food was what we called dinner. I had definitely thought that I had signed up for the wrong camp. I expected steaks in the bush, portable toilets and a comfy surface to lay my head down when taking my break from guarding the Rhinos. This was not the case. I received the full on ranger camping experience. It definitely put things into perspective. I now know what our rangers go through when ensuring our Rhinos are protected.

As someone who enjoys the luxury of camping ( “Glamping”), being on the frontline of protecting our endangered wildlife in the open field of the Zannier Reserve, has by far been both the scariest thing that I’ve done,but also the most adventurous. With a 50Kg bag slung over my shoulders and clutching not a handbag, but 6L of drinking water, all this while hiking up to 5km. To top it off tinned food was what we called dinner. I had definitely thought that I had signed up for the wrong camp. I expected steaks in the bush, portable toilets and a comfy surface to lay my head when taking my break from guarding the rhinos. This was not the case. I received the full-on ranger camping experience. It definitely
put things into perspective. I now know what our rangers go through when ensuring our rhinos are protected.

Another thing that was pleasant to see was the fact that the APU not only engaged the local communities, but also empowered them. The local communities in the area play a critical role in reducing wildlife crime in our country, from assisting in tracking, to the education about the environment in which we were. And I think women should become more involved in what is seen to be more of a male dominated role. Because the safety of our rhinos is not up to a certain group of people; it is up to all of us as a nation. And only if we stick together will we be able to reach our goal of saving our rhinos.

Another thing that was pleasant to see was the fact that the APU not only engaged the local communities but also empowered them. The local communities in the area play a critical role in reducing wildlife crime in our country from assisting in the tracking to the education about the environment in which we were. And I think women should become more involved in what is seen to be more of a male dominated role. Because the safety of our rhinos is not up to a certain group of people it is up to all of us as nation. And only if we stick together we’ll be able to reach our goal saving our rhinos.

They didn’t think a woman could be this comfortable in the bushveld!