To the best of my knowledge, game drives in South Africa must be conducted by certified professionals called park rangers or guides. This ensures that the facts they share regarding the animals and environment are true and that the visitors, the wildlife and the land remain safe. The rangers are also responsible for keeping tabs on all the animals’ health and whereabouts.
Game reserves differ from the national parks in that they are run to make a profit for the owners. Many game reserves started out as cattle farms and have gradually been developed into a reserve. The game are purchased, from the national parks or other reserves. The owners have strict guidelines regarding their animals and national veterinarians come to check on their health and well-being. Whenever babies are born, they have to be reported to the officials, who come to examine them. Although I prefer to believe that owners have a more altruistic motive (they love the animals), the fact is that they must care for their animals or their business will die.
It’s not like a zoo. Occasionally the animals are in pens, large pens (over a hectare). That seems to happen when the animal is unable to live in the wild because it’s injured or too comfortable around humans. Sometimes it’s done for breeding purposes. But most often the animals live as they would in the wild, if there was more wild for them to live in. They live in herds, they mate and have babies, they hunt and get hunted. In other words, they live their lives the way God intended.
And it’s amazing to be riding along and see a journey of giraffe walking across the road. Or to watch zebra in a herd and understand completely their defense of disruptive coloration – with those stripes going every whichaway, it’s hard to focus on just one. And just when you think you’ve seen all the impala you’ll ever want to see, the whole herd starts running and leaping and you can’t take your eyes off them.
The best rangers explain everything. They don’t sugarcoat animal behavior, but they delight in the cycle of life. They understand how to track game and they point out the footprints, the scat, the broken limbs, the flat grass, even the scent of urine wafting in the wind. They hold up their hands for silence so everyone can hear the animals calling to each other.
In short, if you want to experience an incredible game drive get an incredible guide. Here’s to you, Deon, at Tshukudu! And Matthew, too, at Black Rhino!