By Norma-Jean Naude (Lodge Manager)
Growing up on a farm from a young age I only truly felt at home when I was in the bush, from sliding down a muddy two-track on your belly after heavy rains, the only swimming pool was dams or water troughs filled with all sorts of living organisms I knew this was the life I wanted to continue to live. My name is Norma-Jean Naude and that is where my love for the bush started. For me the bush means the freedom of being able to have fun and learn all at the same time, I have been lucky enough to spend 5 amazing years in the bush as a lodge manager and will continue my journey here as manager of Garonga`s MCH Private Tented Camp.
Some photos of the stunning MCH Private Tented Camp – Click Here to enquire about availabilty
Before coming to Garonga I had a terrible fear of elephants mostly because I did not understand a thing about them, I had been on many game drives with many different guides trying to help me with my fear and I will admit it did help my confidence, but there were no ways I was going in alone.
Luckily for me, I got the opportunity to head out on a drive with Sophie one of the guides at Garonga in search of a herd of elephants. Filled with excitement to try to push my boundaries and see what exciting experience lay on the road ahead we headed off! Below are some of the things that helped me overcome my fears:
A gentle giant helping to ease my fears ©Norma-Jean Naude (@through_normas_eyes)
1 –Having an experienced Guide: This must be number one on the list, and no I am not saying that the past guides I went out on a drive with were not experienced. What I am saying is that Sophie’s super calm manner with these incredible beasts was not only admirable but fascinating the way she could interpret every movement of the animal and then explain in a way that a not so bush-wise person could understand and feel that not every movement that animal was making was a threat to little old me.
The highly experienced characters of the Garonga Safari Team at work!
2 – Camera or phone: This one is more of a distraction than anything else as well as I kept telling myself that I may be able to get a cool picture out of it. I found that when looking at an elephant through the viewfinder of my camera I focus more on trying to get the right angle or image that my fear doesn’t go away but it somewhat subsides, especially having my guide calmly talking me through each action of the elephant I was trying to photograph.
Being eye-balled by a large elephant was made infinitely easier by watching through my camera! ©Norma-Jean Naude (@through_normas_eyes)
3 – Trust in your guide & tracker: This one may seem easy at first after all every time you go out on safari you are accepting that your guide and tracker have your life in their hands just like every time you climb onto an airplane the pilot holds your life in his or her hands. You trust that they will keep you safe but sometimes when fear takes over you, like a massive five-ton animal approaching you while you sit in a vehicle that is like a tin can for an elephant you may forget that this is their job, their livelihood, their passion and they will do their utmost best to protect you not only this but most of them have been in the bush their entire lives it’s their backyard, and with this thought running through my head I found myself being able to relax and trust in the guide and tracker.
The dynamic duo of Sophie and Bongi
4 – Time: Spending time with the animal in a safe and comfortable environment helps when I could just sit back and watch them go about their daily lives as if we were not even there this is when I learned the most from them.
5 – Research: Yes, I do read – sometimes. I would find a few books that I had at home to find out more about elephants, not only cool facts about them but I focused on learning about their behavioural patterns, as well as spending my fair share of time on YouTube watching encounters of elephants how they reacted to certain movements, being able to tell the difference between a not so happy one or a very relaxed one that just wants to take a walk, eat some food, maybe have a drink of water if it is nearby or just play around with other members of the herd.
Watching videos and going through photos in your own time is a great way to come across different animal behaviour – if I ever find anything I don’t understand I just ask the guides!
This is not to say that after one drive I have overcome my fear completely! It is definitely a daily learning and growing experience. The more I expose myself to going on safari being able to spend time with them and learn from them the more excited to see them I become, and now I want to learn a whole lot more about elephants!