Everything You've Ever Wanted to Ask a South African Safari Ranger

We talk economics, tourism, and local impact of safaris

Keenan, Head Ranger, behind a herd of female elephants. Olivia Balsinger

TripSavvy.com Sustainable Travel Editor Olivia Balsinger recently had the privilege of spending time at  The Karongwe River Lodge in South Africa. The Lodge is part of The Karongwe Portfolio, with its four other properties-- Kuname River Lodge, The Manor House, The Chisomo Safari Camp and The Shiduli Private Game Lodge. All are located on The Karongwe Private Game Reserve, about a 45-minute drive from Kruger National Park, home to the "Big Five" - lions, leopards, buffalo, rhinos, and elephants.

The Karongwe River Lodge, like all of Portfolio's properties, is known for its tranquil riverfront setting, Pan African cuisine, and life-changing safaris. Guests relax on the Lodge's porch underneath the stars illuminating the sky and taste the extensive selection of top South African beers and wine. Or relax poolside and hear baboon mating grunts just feet away. This seamless luxury woven into nature is what she experienced during her stay. But she needed to know more. She decided to interview Keenan Houareau, Head Ranger at The Karongwe Private Game Reserve.

 

OB: Why South Africa as the go-to safari country and destination?

KH: I think the number one reason people should come to South Africa for their safari fix is the level of professionalism and expertise our guides possess. The rangers have to go through a number of training exercises and theoretical tests before even touching a vehicle. Our knowledge along with the love of the natural bush and the diversity of wildlife and fauna and flora in South Africa makes each and every game drive a unique experience. 

OB: What about the people who claim safaris do more harm than good to the natural environment?

KH: Tourists should never feel they are endangering any natural habitats or threatening animals on safari. All the rangers or guides are well trained on how to prevent certain situations and make sure that they are always being the most ethical guide possible. Rangers love the bush too much to let it get destroyed, and they will do all they can to protect it. It's our livelihood.

OB: So we hear you are quite the guide, always spotting The Big Five and more. What's your favorite animal to spot?

KH: My favorite animal to spot will always be the leopard, otherwise known as the "ghost of the bush.” Leopards are an elusive creature and definitely the most difficult to find out of The Big Five. This what makes it so thrilling to find them...I still feel like a five-year-old on Christmas morning every time I get to see one of these amazingly beautiful cats!

OB: Moving over to more economic chat for a bit. How does the local economy benefit from the tourism safaris bring?

KH: Tourism is the largest contributor to our local economy. In perspective tourism is responsible for one in every twelve jobs in South Africa. The local community surrounding our reserve is dependent on our lodges. We employ a large number of staff from the local community and these jobs are vital to the villages. The area we are in is run nearly solely on tourism. Without tourists coming to see our wildlife and without lodges then there would be a huge unemployment rate in our area.. So tourism I would say keeps our economy going and let's our people and habitats survive .

OB: We decided we want to safari. Now how do we choose which to book?

KH: Guests must not look at more than a name when booking a safari. The biggest thing is the quality of a game drive. Look at Facebook, Instagram and Trip Advisor. All lodges now are using social media to keep viewers up to date with sightings of the day. Also I would definitely say that tourists must look at how lodges are being sustainable and how they are protecting the wildlife. Tourists should get involved with these initiatives as we need as much help as possible.

OB: We’ve heard there is a difference between private and public safaris. Give us the inside scoop—which is better?

KH: I recommend a private safari instead of a public one. A private safari gives you the more intimate and personal touch. It gives you a chance to get to know your ranging team and gives you the opportunity to get closer to animals which you cannot do on some public safaris. As a private portfolio, we strive to give the guests the most personal experience possible. You will be part of our family when you leave.

OB: There are some negative associations with safaris. Explain poaching and the severity of it.

KH: Poaching is a massive problem in not only South Africa, but in Africa as a whole. Poaching will come in forms of smaller incidents like poaching for "bush meat" and then the larger more serious issues like rhino and elephant poaching. Poaching for bush meat is when locals are hunting for smaller species of food to survive. This is a major concern for any land owner as it is a loss of income. The biggest problem we are facing is the issue of rhino poaching. Rhinos are killed and their horns removed.

Most of the time this is not done humanely and it's more of a massacre than a hunt. Rhinos are sometimes left to walk around with their faces literally hacked off. This poaching is purely done for financial gain as rhino horn is worth more than gold and cocaine on today's black market. The truth is, all of the "cures" and " powers " a person can get from rhino horn are fallacies. Rhino horn is made up of the same substance as finger nails. So unfortunately we are in a war trying to protect these beautiful creatures.

I just hope we can stop it before it is too late.  I would love my children to see rhinos in the wild but it's a promise I cannot keep at the moment.

In my opinion the only way to stop the pain aching situation is education. There needs to be more awareness of animal protection on a global scale.

OB: This has been great information and definitely encouraging to take a safari. One last question. Your favorite safari moment. Go.

KH: My favorite moment on the game drive would have to be the day I saw a male lion jump into the bush and catch a pangolin. It's a rare sight to see a "kill" happen in front of you but to see it happen to the rarest animal in the bush was something else.