The Call Of Nature – What Does It Mean To Be A Ranger In Africa?

Sabrina Colombo

Since I was a kid, I always dreamt about Africa, its wildlife, nature, culture and its untouched wilderness areas. I have always wondered what it is like to be a Ranger in Africa. I tried to imagine how the hot air could feel on the skin, how a lion would look like. How the smells could be compared to the ones of home, where pasta and smog were my daily reality.  Do not get me wrong, I really love Milan, my city. All the memories that I collected in my life: from the tennis career, to the degree in tourism, to the awesome time spent with my best friend, family and grandmother. However, at a certain point of my life, the call of nature became stronger and stronger, almost irresistible.

After spending a few months looking for a suitable project to go to, I found LEO Africa, a wildlife monitoring, conservation and sustainable living volunteer project based in South Africa.

The choice of South Africa was quite “casual”. In fact, more than choosing an African country, I was driven by the need of seeing lions in their natural environment and most of all, understand if this could become my new life, the one that I have always dreamt of.

26th November 2011: here I am, on the plane that from Milan would have taken me to Johannesburg. I was alone with my discrete English, however full of adrenaline and enthusiasm!

Africa ranger
Sabrina Colombo monitoring lions – South Africa

While volunteering for two months at LEO Africa, I learnt the basics of conservation, wildlife monitoring. Even a bit of anti-poaching principles, as the director and owner of the project was at the time security manager of the reserve. LEO Africa really enhanced this passion that I had since I was a kid. Made me believe that I could do this job. It was now clear to me that I wanted to become a Ranger in the African bush, to preserve the environment and protect its wildlife from poaching and other threats.

What does it mean to be a ranger in Africa?

Working as a Ranger in Africa, in a game reserve is a wonderful job. Although it comes with its risks and sacrifices.

As an Italian, of course, I really miss my food, my friends, the liberty of walking around anywhere I want. Here, in South Africa you always need to drive to reach your destination, for safety and logistic reasons. I go home very rarely, maybe once a year. The job is very intense and the flights are quite expensive for someone who works in conservation. One of the risks that a ranger faces on a daily basis are, of course, having the chance to encounter dangerous animals in their natural habitat. Although I am there to protect wildlife, a lion, a rhino, an elephant will never know the difference between a human with good intentions and a poacher. Animals see us as a threat.

In addition, as a ranger, I always have to be careful of illegal activity, intruders and report of any suspicious tracks in the field, so that the dedicated anti-poaching teams can follow up. Many people think that this is not a job, rather a holiday.

Sabrina Colombo – monitoring cheetah – South Africa

I can agree to a certain extent: as much as I love being out in the bush for hours, the focus that is requested for many consecutive hours, under the boiling sun and in the company of “lovely bugs”, is not to be taken lightly. In saying this, every time I am in the bush. I am happy because I am following my passion and I try to make a difference for wildlife and in people’s lives. I am trying to make them understand the importance of protecting nature and our environment for our present and future.

My work to safeguard nature

My job consists mainly in three parts: wildlife monitoring, conservation and sustainable living education.

Being out in the field to monitor wildlife in their natural environment is absolutely rewarding and magical. By spending time in the presence of these animals, I get to know their “habits”, behaviour, spatial movements. Most importantly, who they are and how many of each key species there are in a specific reserve, thanks to the data collected in the field and with the help of the numerous camera traps that we set up in the bush.

Monitoring wildlife creates amazing, forever memories that could easily become a book of novels. One night, for example, we were busy with a lion census. We briefly stopped to stretch our legs and eat our packed dinner.

One of the volunteer had just asked:” what would happen if a predator would appear right now?” – my answer was: ”probably, a hyena would sniff us and go, as they are pretty shy, while a lion would be inquisitive and even much more cheeky!”. Two minutes has not passed yet, that I heard some quiet steps behind me. I was sipping my coffee by the car bonnet, shining with my torch from time to time. At first, I thought it was a volunteer, but there was no light. So, I turned around to check and guess who was sniffing my trousers? A spotted hyena! I started laughing thinking about the question of a couple of minutes before. Together with my torch pointed towards the animal and a bit of noise against the vehicle, the hyena left. I am not sure who was the most surprised!

monitoring meerkats
Sabrina Colombo monitoring meerkats in the Kalahari – South Africa

Conservation work is a vital part of my job as I take care of the environment where the animals live. This is an incredibly important topic for the future of all the inhabitants of planet Earth: without a healthy environment, there would not be animals, insects, nature… We would basically go extinct.

With the help of the LEO Africa volunteers we remove alien plants, we assist with erosion control, road maintenance, wildlife capture and relocation. Too many animals in a reserve are detrimental as in the long run they would die of starvation. Remember that nature reserves in South Africa are fenced to protect animals from entering human-wildlife conflict situations – what if a lion walks in a village and eats a kid?

Alongside with the conservation work, there is the aspect of the sustainability. We must all revise our lifestyles to use less or no plastic, buy only what we really need, do not waste and respect nature resources, from which our lives depends on.

I have been invited by Insider Release to talk about all these “wild” topics, and much more.

I look forward to this opportunity and above all, I cannot wait to share all my adventures from the African bush with you all!

Stay tuned,

Sabrina Colombo

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