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The Bush Gives What the Bush Gives

In December 2021, one of our conservationists, Lana, had the pleasure of interviewing Patience Bogatsu and Vincent Dyele from Thakadu River Camp in Madikwe Game Reserve. They discussed conservation and how it relates to guests at the reserve, delivering a new and important message to us all.

Conservation and Guests

When I started going to the bush in 2010, up until 2019 before I left South Africa to study overseas for two years, I was so proud of how all of my bush experiences were totally centered around, and respectful of, the animals. This was the standard that I believed existed in the South African bush community. However, upon my return to South Africa at the beginning of 2021, I was not so confident to say the same. Upon two visits, I noticed that more pressure was being placed on guides to provide unbelievable sightings of the Big 5 and to get as close as possible in order to get some good photos, ignoring the animal and its boundaries.

This really bothered me and I wanted to see if it had been a growing trend throughout the guiding community, so I asked Patience and Vincent what they thought about it. Patience is currently the General Manager at Thakadu River Camp, however, prior to this, she was a guide for 15 years. In fact, Patience was the first black female ranger in South Africa and she is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with. Vincent, who has also been a ranger for 14 years at Madikwe, was offered the opportunity to do so as part of one of the many community projects initiated by Madikwe Game Reserve within its surrounding communities. He is now amongst the most experienced and well-respected guides within the reserve.

As I was formulating the question, both Vincent and Patience looked at each other and exchanged a little smile so as to indicate that they had engaged in this topic previously. Vincent was hesitant to talk about the negative aspects of guests and their impact on conservation, while Patience gave an incredibly wise and, in my opinion, respectful response. She began by emphasising that it goes both ways, that guests coming to the reserve contributes to its growth as part of their money goes into conservation and community outreach. With regards to the negative aspect, Patience does indeed agree that guests are placing more pressure on guides, however, she ultimately states that the responsibility of ensuring that the respect of the animals is upheld, is one of the guides’. Although guests come with an interest, this must be not expressed as a demand.


Guides are in charge of their vehicle and their guests, as well as managing their expectations. “When we go to the bush”, Patience states, “we must remember that we are not at the zoo”. Rangers do not know where these animals are, together with the guests, they are trying to locate them. And this is what the bush is all about. Let me stop here and repeat: this is what the bush is about! The journey, observing and appreciating everything along the way. If you see any animals, you are very lucky and should appreciate all the sightings.

Here Patience went on to distinguish between passionate and non-passionate guides. Those who guide with passion, do not obey commands like “we want to see the lions!” and immediately race to where someone has radioed in their location. Rather, she/he slowly drives the guests around the reserve and explains all surrounding insects, flora and fauna – including dung beetles and bushes. Patience refers to guides who focus on the Big 5, as ‘Big 5 Rangers’ and unfortunately, she states that guiding has been diverted to the Big 5 with little mention, let alone explanation, of the whole ecosystem in the bush. “These days, the first thing guides do is turn on their radio and ask where the lions were spotted. It’s no longer interesting. People don’t go out with the passion that they want to find the animals and along the way, stop to talk about everything they come across.”

We then got into talking about how, just as much as it is the ranger’s responsibility to control his/her vehicle and the sightings, guests should also come with the right intention. The bush is for those who love nature and just being in it, everything else is a bonus. It is important not to come in with an expectation that you will see the Big 5 or an elephant giving birth, but rather with the intention to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and reconnect with nature – appreciating every plant and animal that you see.

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Controlling the Sighting – Rangers’ Code of Conduct

One of my favourite things about Madikwe is how controlled their sightings are. This is due to the fact that they have a very strict and effective code of conduct, centered around animals’ wellbeing, which is followed by all the rangers within the reserve. For example, the maximum number of cars at a single sighting is three but ultimately, it is up to the first ranger at the sighting to control the number of vehicles depending on the situation or animal’s mood.

Patience elaborates by saying that this code of conduct was designed by rangers and is amended by them annually. One of the newest editions to the code of conduct is that the first ranger at a sighting is in charge of it, she/he has the responsibility to assess the animal’s behaviour and feeling towards to vehicles and to make appropriate call as to how many vehicles (if any at all) are permitted at the sighting.

She then spoke on the radio used between rangers during game drives. She emphasised that the radio is not for the guests, it’s for the ranger to plan his/her drives and so guests should not be asking what is being said on the radio. Furthermore, Patience went on to elaborate on the code of conduct, saying that during sightings, good rangers will maintain a comfortable distance from animals when rested to ensure minimal human interference on their being. She says that a 20m distance is ideal and that this should not be ignored because a guest wants a better picture from their iPhone, but only when the animal itself willingly closely walks past the vehicle. She jokes that we should all come with better cameras instead of asking our rangers to get closer to the sighting, so as not to violate animals’ comfort zones.

“I have one rule only: respect the animals, or they will not be there for our grandchildren to see.”

Patience Bogatsu
General Manager at Thakadu River Camp

Patience gives us an example of this. During her guiding career, she was friendly with a lioness, who she described as naturally grumpy. Thus, rangers knew they had to keep an appropriate distance when encountering her, at all times, regardless of whether she had cubs or not. However, throughout the last three years of her life, before she died naturally of old age, she became incredibly grumpy, barely tolerating game vehicles at all and specifically, one vehicle of a particular colour driven only by one of the lodges in the reserve.

This means that one of the rangers at this lodge, provoked the lioness on multiple occasions, disrespecting her comfort zone and eventually causing her to be completely intolerant of people and game vehicles to the point where she would jog towards rangers tracking her on foot. “Humans did that to her, we turned her into that. Whatever we are doing, we are interfering on her comfort zone. I have one rule only: respect the animals, or they will not be there for our grandchildren to see”.