After two weeks of gruelling training, 39 very proud field rangers received their certificates from Dr Bandile Mkhize, chief executive officer of the Kruger National Park during a formal passing out parade. The day was a culmination of sweat (perhaps a few well-hidden tears), hard work, dedication and many hours of study.
The initial group comprised 88 hopefuls that underwent a nine-day selection process to produce the final group of 40. One student became ill and did not return to complete the course. Two private ranger trainees from Spes Plan joined the Kruger team to complete the NQF level II Field Ranger I course.
According to Ruben de Kock, one of the course leaders of service provider, African Field Ranger Training Services (AFRTS), the training is based on a holistic approach. In between fitness and battery tests, casevacs, sleep deprivation and aggression tests, the trainees discussed HIV-Aids, other health aspects and broader life issues where they could get to know one another as well as share knowledge, understanding and experiences.
"We also spent many hours on weapons training and building the trainees' confidence in their shooting ability," says Ruben. The group operated in teams and spent at least a week in the bush - where they will spend most of their working life. During this part of the training, Kruger's corporals stepped in to assist with hands-on training. A lot of these corporals have been in the Park for many years and not only do they know the bush in general, they also know the Kruger bush like the back of their hands.
"This is the time when the trainees take responsibility for themselves and their fellow students," says Ruben, "as they are in a completely exposed environment." Ruben and his partner, Martin Thembu, evaluated the group over the last four days. AFRTS presented the course in partnership with the Southern African Wildlife College who moderated the training.
The best 23 trainees will be placed in the Park as field rangers, while the remaining trainees will be appointed as general workers at the various ranger stations. Mbongeni Tukela, regional ranger in the south and liaison between Kruger and AFRTS, is satisfied with the outcome of the training. "There is a bit of 'top up' to be done, but that will be sorted out at the various sections," he said. The rangers were very positive and were looking forward to assuming their duties in the Park.