If you saw a positions vacant advertisement for a job in Africa with the specifications "able-bodied person must love wide open spaces and must be able to put three bullets into an orange 15m away in 15 seconds" you would have to think Ben Dark would be the ideal applicant. Oh yes, the ad also stipulated "must love Africa".
So, Ben figured he ticked all the boxes, packed his khakis and headed to apply for one of the world's wildest jobs an African park ranger.
Shamwari Game Reserve
Ben ventured to Shamwari Private Game Reserve, an hour's drive from Port Elizabeth on South Africa's eastern cape. It's home to Africa's "big five": elephants, rhinos, buffalo, lions and leopards, the shyest resident. It's also home to giraffe, cheetahs, zebras, hippos, 18 species of antelope and many other animals and birds.
It covers 25,000 hectares and is recognised as one of South Africa's premier parks. It is a pristine place, supporting a staggering amount of wildlife. It boasts five ecosystems enabling the support of many forms of plant, animal and bird life. It is steeped in pioneer history going back to a time when game roamed wild and free, and all concerned are toiling to bring things back to the way they were.
In 1919 the administrator of the Cape invited a hunter to exterminate a herd of elephant as he considered them dangerous and a menace by local farmers. In 1931, when Addo Elephant Park was established as a sanctuary, just 11 elephants remained of the once vast herd. Fortunately for the world, Shamwari co-owner Adrian Gardiner's passion of wanting to see and hear the animals as they were became a reality. Close relationships were formed with renowned conservationists and the concept of conservation and tourism working in synergy was possible.
Not one for sitting around in soft sofas chatting, in no time Ben was on the track with the reserve's senior ranger, Jason Friend, and discovered just what happens at the reserve.
To raise conservation awareness, Shamwari has three-day ranger courses for those who don't mind getting a little dirty. One of the first and very important skills taught is how to approach animals by vehicle. Rangers know when the animals are on a kill and it's a very good idea to keep a distance so they don't become agitated and charge. Mind you, the animals soon let you know if they don't want your company.
The first day involves shooting practice, target shooting and safety procedures followed by a game drive with emphasis on approaching potentially dangerous animals with safety, warning signs and escape routes. The next day involves walking safari procedures, safety and group control and a walk concentrating on tracking spoor, dung and insect identification. In the afternoon there is a bird drive followed by a fly camp sleep out, African barbecue, night drive, astronomy and folklore stories.
Park rangers also have a sixth sense at reading just how much their customers are prepared to do. Some just want to keep way in the distance others are keen to get up close. On day three you walk from the fly camp to the base camp and enjoy refreshments at the lodge.
Shamwari has seven lodges with five-star accommodation. The lodges are named Long Lee Manor, Eagles Crag, Bayethe, Riverdene, Bushmans River Lodge, Sirili and Lobengula. There is one to suit everyone.
Children can partake in various social, sporting and arts and cultural activities under the supervision of a children's co-ordinator. Options could include African bead making, clay-making activities, face painting, star-gazing and African storytelling
Volunteer at Shamwari
If you're looking for a way to fill a gap year, there is a wonderful and exciting to spend time as a volunteer at Shamwari. You will get behind the scenes and work with game rangers, as well as the wildlife department.
Conservation projects are life-changing and highly rewarding. It is the best chance to give something back and make a difference to the future of our natural environment all while having an exhilarating overseas adventure.
Worldwide Experience offers the chance to work as a conservation volunteer on some of South Africa's other private game reserves and leading marine ocean research projects. Visit www.worldwideexperience.com/gap_year_projects/shamwari.htm for more information.
Shamwari Game Reserve, an hour from Port Elizabeth on South Africa's eastern cape.
The Africa Safari Co has three-day Shamwari Ranger School Courses from Port Elizabeth. Accommodation, meals and return transfers are included. Courses cost $2520 per person twin share.
Emirates has super-low fares to Cape Town for a limited time only. For their most up-to-date fares on all routes call them or log on to their website.
Prices correct at April 30, 2009.
For further information
Ph: 1300 303 777
The Africa Safari Co.
Office 1, Block D
Illawong Shopping Village
273 Fowler Road
Ph: (02) 95414199
Fax: (02) 95320744
Visas: A passport is required but a visa is not.
Electricity: 220/230V 50Hz. Most plugs have three round pins.
Time zone: GMT +2.