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) 

Behind the Scenes at Garonga: Meet the Farm & Maintenance Team

Our small team with the big job of making sure everything runs as it should.

This month we are going further behind the scenes to meet the team of men who aren’t scared to get their hands dirty. They run a tight ship, making sure that everything at the lodge and on the farm is up and running as it should be. Their skills range from painting to plumbing and even mechanics for our vehicles. It’s for sure that things would grind to a halt without them.

Steffen:
Leading the team as Farm and Maintenance Manager, Steffen has been at Garonga for 18 months and is married to Charlotte (Safari Camp Manageress). Steffen is extremely committed to performing great tasks and always puts 110% into what he does.

Albert:
Having moved across from Makalali some 15 years ago, Albert is our Assistant Farm and Maintenance Manager. He is perceptive in finding any problems and resolving them. He is very committed and proud of his work. A great asset and someone who always has a smile on his dial!

Farm and Maintenance team at Garonga
Albert

Fixon:
Fixon has been on the Farm for over 30 years, since the previous owner of Garonga. This makes him extremely knowledgeable of where things are and capable of putting his hand to everything. He is also not afraid at all to get stuck into those drains! He is always happy to help out.

Farm and Maintenance team at Garonga
Fixon

Given:
Given oversees the Farmhouse area, which is considerable, and Bernie’s house in the afternoons. He is very proud of his work and ably assists in maintenance when required. A very keen footballer and a great team asset.

Patrik:
Having joined the team permanently 3 years ago, Patrik was originally only called in for casual work as and when we needed more hands. He is a very capable person on maintenance issues and also with vehicles. Patrik is very committed to his job.

Farm and Maintenance team at Garonga
Farm and Maintenance team

With this incredible team, Garonga is able to run like a well-oiled machine and we are forever grateful!

Behind the Scenes at Garonga: Meet the Security Team

Meet Garonga’s Security Team – the men who watch over the camp, because lions don’t sleep at night.

This month we invite you to meet our Security Team, another essential ingredient in the Garonga operational cooking pot and one, without which, we would be left tossing and turning in our four poster beds. The phrase ‘unwanted guest’ takes on a whole new meaning at a safari camp after all!

These 4 chaps only come out at night (much like many of the predators they protect Garonga guests and staff from) but play a key role in the overall hospitality experience at Garonga. Their tasks include escorting guests between the common areas and the tents in the dark, general upkeep of some of the grounds but of course most importantly keeping watch for any intruders. They have in the past encountered elephant, lion, hyena and leopard in the camp and, as you can imagine, have many a story to tell.

Introducing the team:

  • Jazman: Head of Security
Jazman
Jazman

Jazman has been employed at Garonga for almost 10 years – since 2009. He started off as a General Security Guard and is now Head of the whole department which is no mean feat at all. Very well spoken, highly intelligent, and not afraid to speak his mind, Jazman is the ideal person to have in charge.

  • Lloyd: Security Guard
Security team at Garonga
Lloyd escorting guests

Lloyd enjoys driving guests to and from the local airports. Additionally, he is involved in routine night security patrols ensuring the safety of guests. A very personable fellow with a profound sense of humour, he has been employed at Garonga since 2014.

  • Thomas: Security Guard
Thomas
Thomas

Thomas’ main responsibility is assisting with luggage when guests arrive, and day to day security tasks. He has been with Garonga since 2008. A very pleasant and intelligent person, Thomas uses his initiative and is always willing to go the extra mile for guests.

  • Anold

Anold’s main task is night security during the ‘Quiet Hours’ between 10pm and 6am. He has, on many occasions, taken the initiative and sorted out problems for guests without having to involve management. On other occasions he has of course reported to management when he feels necessary even if to inform them of what has happened and what he has done about it,. Anold has been with Garonga since 2013.

Garonga’s Uninvited Guests:

As amazing as our team are at keeping guests and staff safe, this is the African bush, and occasionally the beautiful creatures that we so long to spot on our game drives, come to us. It’s at times like these that the security team’s real experience and professionalism shines through. Anold (night security guard) recalls escorting guests back to their rooms after dinner one evening and being greeted by two mock-charging elephants! On another occasion, a whole lion pride with cubs were found toddling down the main pathway of the lodge just before the guests came back from safari in the evening. Other special appearances have been made by hyena and leopard.

Imagine bumping into these guys on your way back from the Bush Boma…

We can’t thank the security team enough for what they do for us and our guests. Well done Jazman and the team for always being alert and aware, and especially for always going the extra mile for staff and guests. Without you Garonga wouldn’t be the peaceful ‘safari for the soul’ that it is.

Leopard Spotting at Garonga Safari Camp

From agile antelopes to impressive elephants there is always something intriguing to see in the thick Makalali bushveld. But it is predator sightings that tend to be the most rejoiced.

Claire Birtwhistle, who recently visited Garonga, describes her most memorable sighting during her stay:

‘At first glance, there was nothing but bush. However, slowly but surely, the unmistakable rosettes of a leopard became visible and an enormous male leopard emerged from the thickets.

Makalali leopard sighting

I could barely contain my excitement, let alone focus my camera. As quickly as he had appeared, he was gone again. Like a unicorn of the bush, he left us wondering if we’d even seen him to begin with. After all, spotting a leopard in the wild seemed like a far-flung dream for me at the time. I was desperate to see one of course, but after several different wildlife safaris, countless game drives and still no leopard sighting, my hopes weren’t high.

As soon as the leopard disappeared into the bush, our expert guide, CJ, and tracker, Phineas, sprang into action. Their familiarity with the bush was unbelievable as we bundu-bashed our way down to the dry river bed. Positioning us with a clear view of the river bed in front of us, CJ switched off the engine and we waited. Sure enough, just a few minutes later, we detected some movement in the bush and the leopard revealed himself again. This time I was ready with my camera, and despite the low light conditions, managed to capture a couple of photographs of this magnificent creature.

It was incredible to watch as he casually strolled past us, stopping every few meters to mark his territory. In true regal leopard fashion, he barely acknowledged our presence, reminding us of our low ranking on the wildlife hierarchy. It was a privilege to witness this leopard in the wild, and an experience that will likely stay with me for life.’