Behind the Scenes: Meet the Safari Guide Team

Meet the safari guide team who hold the dreams of our guests in their hands, when they set out in search of the perfect safari experience.

There is nothing quite like the excitement and anticipation of your first game drive. The wind in your hair and the scent of the bush whizzing past as you set off. This experience is what draws our guests to book at Garonga Safari Camp. Operating on 22,000HA private game reserve in the Makalali Conservancy just west of Kruger National Park, we have all the big game and heaps more. Being situated in a large wilderness area also contributes towards such an amazing game viewing area. With passion driving them, all members of our safari guide team are here to give you maximum game viewing experience.

Safari Team – Guides

Jaffeth:
As Head Guide at Garonga, Jaff started here as a tracker when we first opened 21 years ago.

Over time he has passed various qualifications and progressed through a position of guide to now our Head Guide. His key strength is his tracking skill. Currently he is trying to accomplish his Senior Tracker Level which is one step below the highest tracking level achievable.

He runs his own ‘Guest Walk Experience’ to show guests an insight into how he tracks, and also gives an in-depth knowledge on his cultural roots, ending with a fun ‘Catapult Shoot Competition’ with the guests. Something which is enjoyed by all. See more about our walking safari here

Josia:
When Jaff is on leave, Josia picks up position as 2nd in charge. He also has a “Walk Experience” to share with the guests – ‘The Solitude Walk’. Not always easy keeping people silent throughout a walk. He is a very accomplished safari guide and brings in great humour and fun to his safaris.

Garonga Safari camp, guide, Josia, Phineas
Josia and Phineas

Samantha:
Samantha is currently attempting her Trails Guide, which will then enable her to also carry out walks, or to substitute if Josia is away. She is an extremely keen and enthusiastic guide, and very willing to go the extra mile to find the game for her guests.

Derrick:
One of the ‘old school’ who has been guiding for over 20 years. Derrick is a very accomplished and experienced guide. Although only just started with Garonga Safari Camp, he has fitted in very well with the ‘Safari for the Soul’ philosophy. We aim to up-skill him even more to enable him to lead more diverse safaris.

Sophie:
Although having just joined us via the Bushwise Training Programme, Sophie has been guiding for over two years. She has traded her legal career in the UK for her passion – guiding in the African bush. She can communicate confidently in French, and can get away with passable Spanish, which is extremely handy for our European guests. Sophie is very passionate and enthusiastic about her new-found career. Sophie is also an excellent photographer and has the added responsibility of sending video and image content as well as written copy for use on our website and social platforms.

Garonga safari camp, guide, tracker, Sophie, Kaizer
Sophie and Kaizer

Safari team – Trackers

Kaizer:
Kaizer teams up with Sophie and is very knowledgeable and has that 6th sense as to where the animals are heading. A very capable tracker indeed and converses well with our guests. He has just passed his FGASA 1 Level Guides Exam theory and practical, so he is also a qualified guide.

Phineas:
He teams up with Josia and always carries a great smile and sense of humour. Phineas is a very capable tracker and works extremely well with Josia, making them quite an amusing team. He also has just passed his FGASA 1 Level Guides Exam.

Richard:
Richard has been here the longest amongst the trackers and he teams up well with Jaff. A very thorough and experienced tracker. You may also come across Richard behind the Manhattan Bar in the Boma, serving after dinner drinks. Richard has also just passed his FGASA 1 Level Guide Exam.

Steward:
He tracks with Samantha, and is a very likeable, well-spoken and intelligent person. Steward is fairly new to tracking but has taken to it extremely well. He received top marks out of all the trackers for the FGASA 1 Level Guides Exam and so holds great potential.

Garonga Safari camp, guide, tracker, Samantha, Steward
Samantha and Steward

Bongi:
Bongi is a very enthusiastic tracker and teams up with Derrick. Being very new to the team, our aim is to get him fully qualified up to a FGASA 1 Level Guide over the next 3 months. We foresee him being a great asset to the safari team.

Garonga safari camp, guide, tracker, Derrick, Bongi
Derrick and Bongi

This is a big team with a big heart. Their responsibility is a great one as guests arrive full of hope and expectation to see as much wildlife as possible. Time and time again the team continue to deliver using their experience, knowledge and passion. Thank you to all at Garonga Safari Camp for your hard work, energy and commitment to your roles!

Here we leave you with just one example of a rare sighting to the delight and astonishment of our American guests…

Tales from a Safari Camp: A Lion Cub Murder Mystery

On the 7th of July 2018 we came across a very sad sight on our morning game drive at Garonga Safari Camp. We found the bodies of two young lion cubs who had been killed…and so began our murder mystery. 

Identifying our Suspects and Victims

Unfortunately, life for a young lion cub is a tough one as almost every predator will kill them if they have the chance as it is all part of their instinct to remove competition and prevent the cubs becoming a threat when they are older. Whilst the pool of potential suspects was large, our investigative team was leaning towards an adult male lion as the culprit for the crime. The previous evening we had received reports of a pair of mating lions in almost the exact same spot.

Male lion from the Garonga Pride at Makalali Conservancy
Male lion from the Garonga Pride at Makalali Conservancy

It is always heart breaking to see any of the animals lose their lives, but the Garonga team was especially concerned that the dead cubs might be the two adorable trouble makers from ‘the Garonga pride’. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting them, ‘the Garonga pride’ it is made up of three feisty females; granny, mum and a perpetually curious daughter, two resident pride males and two heartwrenchingly mischievous cubs.

Playful lion cubs from the Garonga Pride at Makalali Conservancy
Playful lion cubs from the Garonga Pride at Makalali Conservancy
Tracking ‘The Garonga Safari Camp Pride’

For about 3 days our lions went into full stealth mode, and despite finding fresh tracks, they had retreated deep into the thickets and we saw neither hide nor hair of them. Now, as guides, strictly speaking you are not supposed to have favourite animals. However, the Garonga pride has managed to sneak its way into the hearts of our whole team and we were increasingly desperate to discover the fate of our cubs.

One morning it was quiet in the lodge so we collected together our expert trackers and set out to unravel the mystery once and for all. It seemed that the lions were missing us too as at about 5.30 that morning they had been calling. This gave us a heading and before too long we found our 3 females looking healthy and relaxed, but the cubs were nowhere to be seen. However, the cubs are still at an age where their mother will usually hide them in thick bush to keep them safe during the day.

A lioness from the Garonga Pride in the Makalali Conservancy
A lioness (and mother) from the Garonga Pride in the Makalali Conservancy

Not to be defeated we left the ladies and picked up their tracks, tracking in reverse to look for evidence that our cubs were still with us. To cover the maximum ground possible we split the team with Josia, Samantha, Derrick, Stewart and Sophie on foot and Kaizer, Phineas and Bongi on the vehicle.

After tracking the one female through drainage lines and across some of our more open plains we had the best discovery – miniature lion tracks sitting on top of the dew from the night before and heading towards a thicket that would be the perfect place to stash a pair of cubs for the day. We radioed in the rest of the team and had a celebratory coffee stop, delighted to have discovered that our little troublemakers were alive and well. Later we slowly started heading towards where the cubs had spent the day and were rewarded with two little furballs full of energy chasing after mum and pouncing on each other. The relief was shared by the whole safari camp team and was enormous.

The Sad Truth

It seems that the two cubs who lost their lives were, in fact, from a rival pride that had wandered into the territory belonging to the Garonga males. It is always sad to see such a sight but a male lion’s instinct to kill cubs that are not his own is one of the harsh realities of the circle of life, it helps to ensure that the strongest genes are being passed to the next generation of lions, which in turn will hopefully help to ensure that we can continue to marvel at these incredible creatures for years to come. The life of a safari camp guide is never a dull one and this episode of Bush CSI [Crime Scene Investigation] is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Lion cub from the Garonga Pride in the Makalali Conservancy
Lion cub from the Garonga Pride in the Makalali Conservancy

Photos taken, and article written, by Sophie Barrett (guide, tracker and photographer at Garonga Safari Camp)