A Ranger's Interview

by Trainee Ranger, Robyn Sewell

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Robyn sewell with camera
Trainee ranger, Robyn Sewell

I arrived

for my interview with no idea what I was in for other than knowing that it was a two-night stay and that I needed to be at my best for the entire time – we all know how stressful an interview can be. Furthermore, being a female ranger put me in a unique position. The numbers of males in my line of work far exceeds the number of females. Even more unique was a girl coming for an interview at MalaMala where there has only ever been one female ranger. Challenge accepted boys.

It soon became clear that my interview at MalaMala was completely different from any other interview I’d had in the past. Instead of the stock-standard request to take the Head Ranger and some of the team for an ‘interview drive’ I was told to enjoy the guest experience, join the rangers for some drives and meet the team at a ranger’s braai. Talk about unusual. And wow, did MalaMala perform!

I was offered two safaris as a guest. On the first afternoon we set off from MalaMala Camp and just as we crossed over the Sand River we spotted a pair of cheetahs; a male and a female resting in the shade of a few massive riverside trees. This was particularly exciting for me as the area of the Greater Kruger that I had been working in previously saw very few cheetahs. I had not seen one in over a year! We sat and observed the pair for quite some time before choosing to move on.

Our ranger heard of a leopard sighting over the radio. It was the Emsagweni female and her two cubs. We joined the sighting and decided to follow the three leopards as they moved through the long grass. We were treated to an incredible moment where one of the cubs discovered a small antelope carcass that he then began to eat whilst his sibling watched on jealously. Their mother had just moved off to rest when we were suddenly alerted to the unmistakable sound of an elephant breaking branches. We turned in our seats to see an elephant cow and her young calf less than 50 meters from our leopard sighting. Uh oh… we all watched with bated breath as the elephant, using her long trunk, picked up on the smell of the leopards. See reverse for more. Luckily, the Emsagweni female appeared just in time to distract the elephant cow’s attention from her cubs. She stood her ground as her cubs moved the carcass further away. When the elephant came closer with an aggressive trunk swing she snarled and bared her teeth in defiance! Unbelievable bravery! The cow then charged towards the leopards, stopping only when she found the bloodied grass where the young leopard had been eating his meal. The leopards slunk off into the long grass and left us sitting alone with the elephants and a beautiful sunset. On our way back to camp we bumped into a pack of Cape hunting dogs on the hunt, they were moving quickly and the light was failing but we managed to get a glimpse of them giving some zebras a run for their money before disappearing into the darkness.

two leopard cubs

The next morning, we left camp at first light with the feeling of “Well how could we possibly top last night?” Well, we did. We decided to climb Campbell Koppies to enjoy a cup of coffee with a view. As I sat down with my rusk in one hand and coffee in the other I noticed two animals running at an incredible speed… a cheetah chasing an impala! I was so happy all I could think was “Wow, I really want to work here!” Later we joined a Cape hunting dog sighting, we watched them fighting over some scraps from a fresh kill when, out of nowhere, the hunt was on again. A young impala had wandered right into the pack! We held on as our guide expertly maneuvered the Land Rover through the bush, we saw the little impala just about flying with the dogs right on its tale and then suddenly the dogs seemed lost. The young impala had dashed into the reeds along the banks of the Sand River and disappeared! We were all a little confused, we were elated that the impala had escaped the dogs, an almost impossible feat, but we were also sad that the dogs had been unsuccessful in their hunt. What a rollercoaster of emotions. On our way back to camp, we passed herds of elephants and saw rhinos as well. What a treat, two safaris and I’d seen six of the MalaMala Seven.

That afternoon I had my formal interview, a slightly daunting prospect when you walk into a room with four people from various levels of management. I was then told that I’d be joining the rangers for a drive, I couldn’t wait to see what the bush would show us this time, and again, I was not disappointed. Later that day I joined the rangers braai where I got to meet the team and enjoy stories from the rangers who had been working at the camp for a while.

On my last morning, I was fortunate enough to head out on yet another drive with a vehicle filled with rangers. We passed a couple of bull elephants and some rhinos wallowing in the mud. We drove along the Sand River and were alerted to the sound of a squirrel ‘alarm-calling’ – this is often, but not always, a sign of some predator being nearby and so we all searched the long grass and trees for a cat, raptor or serpent. Suddenly we spotted a shy female leopard as she jumped down from a huge tree into some long grass. She moved quickly, gave us one look over her shoulder and then disappeared. My fifth leopard in two days, just incredible! As we were driving back into camp we bumped into a herd of roughly 30 elephants, their sizes ranging from huge bulls to tiny little calves. We stopped the vehicle under the shade of a large tree and watched as the entire herd filed past the vehicle, some covered in mud and others almost red with a coating of soft sand. The herd was incredibly relaxed and showed no interest in us, one bull even rubbed up against the trunk of a tree that was offering us shade from the sun. The herd then moved into the riverbed right in front of Sable Camp where the guests were eating their breakfast.

I left MalaMala with the hope that the team had liked me as much as I’d liked them. I had also fallen head-over-heels for the crazy sightings that seemed too amazing to be real as well as the great team of people that had made me feel so welcome over my short stay.

Fast-forward a month… I find myself writing this blog from the comfort of my very own couch in my very own room at MalaMala. A few days after my interview I was contacted with the incredibly exciting news that I’d been successful in my interview and they wanted to know how soon I could start. I was over-joyed with the news and after telling my friends and family I quickly started to pack all my belongings. What an incredible privilege to be able to say that I now work at one of the most historic and predator- productive game reserves in Africa. I am now known as Trainee Ranger Robyn and hopefully, I’ll have more exciting stories to share with you in the future. For now, I’ll be studying my trainee manual and familiarizing myself with this special place.

Travelling to MalaMala