Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rangers rock the Casbah - Writen by Bev Tucker

Olive green uniforms and men in SANParks epaulettes make my mouth slam shut and my eyes open very wide. My back straightens of itself. I pay rapt attention. I feel a salute coming on. Game rangers have X-factor. Specifically, old guard South African National Parks rangers.

I know. It sounds like I’ve contracted a case of khaki fever: the flushed skin, shining eyes and light sweat that can overcome women in the presence of handsome rangers. This is understandable when they’re tall and tanned with big calf muscles and slow, sweet smiles, but I’ve met some who are squat and unmannerly and smell of three-day-old sweat so bang goes that theory.

To pour more cold water on this diagnosis, at private lodges you’ll find a version I call Richie Rich Plays Ranger. This is the kid who did a twelve-month field guide course after completing post-matric at St John’s. He is now apparently qualified to race a game-viewing vehicle through herds of Wildebeest so they’ll gallop for camera-happy tourists. Richie would benefit from what my old dad the Dairy Farmer calls a snot-klap to knock a bit of respect for the bush into him. So no, it’s not khaki fever. It’s a kind of personal awe for a breed of manliness you seldom encounter nowadays.

I’m talking old school. The real SANParks ranger has very few smooth moves. He lives an isolated, often dangerous and largely under-acknowledged life in an environment that more and more resembles a war zone. He must be at ease with weapon handling, learn to fly small planes and successfully navigate 4x4 vehicles through proper 4x4 territory rather than just lightly potholed suburban streets between home and mall. He fends off bush fires, works with really wild animals, commands regiments of field rangers and is required to be a qualified academic in his field. His job looks like the ultimate Boy’s Own adventure. He is the envy of most South African men.

Before you rip off your tie, piss in the water cooler and storm from the office screaming that you always wanted to be a game ranger and that’s exactly what you’re going to do right now - for pity’s sake, stop! There is another way.

Enter the SANParks Honorary Rangers ( the voluntary organization for the man who sometimes wonders, as he fights traffic in a city that is definitely doing its best to kill him, what his life would have been like if long ago he’d listened to his heart instead of to Uncle Lenny’s offer of a partnership in the accountancy firm. I saw this in action when I joined the HRs in Letaba for their annual AGM shindig last week.

To the casual onlooker, HR members resemble bush junkies with badges and big-time ranger envy. In fact they’re a group of unpaid volunteers who put huge amounts of time and money into supporting the national parks, which have caught the sharp edge of government spending cuts in recent years. They dress like rangers, talk like rangers, walk like rangers. They charge around in their olive ranger uniforms devouring courses on raptor identification and bush interpretation and learning the correct Latin names of lizards and grasses, rocks and eagles. They spend weekends chopping out alien vegetation and manning park gates and picking up litter for fun. While they may come across as slightly embarrassing keenies, they achieve a great deal of measurable good and there is no question they’ll be called on to up the ante in the years ahead.

The continued existence of our national parks is not guaranteed, particularly in the face of dwindling funds and clamoring land-use demands from human settlements around park borders. The Honorary Rangers help hold the line. Their efforts make the lot of SANParks rangers a little easier. This alone makes them damn fine people, even though they can’t hold a candle to a dinkum old guard SANParks game warden, but I realize that would be a big ask for anyone and I have a bias.

This man knows more about his territory - plants, insects, geology, conservation, birds, animals - than most of us ever will. His everyday knowledge is equivalent to multiple post grad degrees in any other discipline and to cap it all he works virtually for nothing. We’ve all heard the quip: rangers get paid in sunsets. Try taking that to your bank manager.

SANParks rangers work for love. To stand in the presence of this holy truth is to have your own life put rather into perspective. It makes you want to be a better person. It makes you want to find the cajones to follow your heart and to turn a deaf ear to the part of you that whispers, “You can’t. If you try you’ll live under a flyover in a cardboard box eating dog food and then die stinking of your own urine.”

Being in the presence of people who work for love will do this to you. The world would be a better place if there were more men like these and, if it wouldn’t make them roll on the ground laughing, I’d let rip with that salute in pure admiration.
  Author: Christian Fourie on Google+

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