A little girl born in Mhinga village, 29 years ago, took a winding path before she became one of the two female section rangers breaking new ground in the Kruger National Park. Basani Claire Ntshane, section ranger at Houtsboschrand, finished high school in Lulekani near Phalaborwa, moving to the area when her father accepted a position at Foskor mine.
After school, she was employed briefly as a private teacher which made it easier to decide on a career. When the opportunity to study arose, she enrolled for a teaching diploma at Tivumbeni College of Education in Nkowankowa, near Tzaneen. She completed this in 1997 but, to her disappointment, she could not find employment and resorted to selling insurance to earn a living.
Her ambition dictated another path and she enrolled for a diploma in nature conservation at the Technikon South Africa. The following year she was appointed as field ranger at Lower Sabie in the Kruger National Park. It was shortly after this that Operation Prevail, the transformation process in the Park, gave her the chance to become a ranger in Kruger.
She says when asked then she maintained it was 'a very lonely place', but now it is the 'only place where I want to be.' She is also now more comfortable with handling a rifle as part of her duties looking after the 115 524ha, stretching from Kruger's eastern border with Mozambique to the Klaserie, Umbabat and Timbavati Private Nature Reserves bordering on the east.
She has 11 field rangers and six general workers to assist her in the day-today activities including monitoring the area, dealing with any undocumented individual from a neighbouring country, patch burning and game captures. Basani completed the national diploma in conservation in 2002.
She enrolled for a masters degree in environmental management at the Free State University. Basani is an avid soapie follower and finds it a relaxing to keep track of the Generations, Isidingo, 7de Laan, Backstage and other soapie characters' daily escapades.
That is in between answering her daily batch of e-mails and correspondence for which she only finds time at night. She has a daughter who lives in Phalaborwa. Basani says, "I am content with where I am now, although one never knows what the future holds."
In her compulsory practical year to complete the national diploma in nature conservation, Karien Loubser, found herself doing game drives and walks in Kruger. She was where she wanted to be. Though Karien was born in Pretoria, she spent her first four years in Giyani, Limpopo.
She then moved to Mokopane (Potgietersrus) where she matriculated in 1997. After a month in Europe she enrolled at theTshwane University. She started in Kruger in 1999 and was appointed as Vlakteplaas section ranger in 2001, following the transformation process, Operation Prevail, in the Park. "I have always wanted to work outdoors and do what I do now," says Karien.
She ascribes a portion of her passion to her father's influence, having been a nature conservation official for many years. Her team of seven field rangers and five general workers, are currently responsible for the 110 000ha Vlakteplaas section in the northern parts of Kruger. She is also keeping an eye on the Shingwedzi section until a ranger is appointed.
Apart from her usual ranger's duties, Karien also tends the enclosed endangered species (roan) area. She assisted with the translocation of roan and Lichtenstein hartebeest to the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. She has noticed increased animal movement, mostly giraffe, elephant and buffalo, crossing the Mozambican border where about 50km fence was recently removed.
Karien also battles poachers and people crossing to South Africa from Mozambique. Three rhino have been poached in the Vlakteplaas section in the last two months. She says the illegal immigrant traffic usually picks up this time of the year until after Christmas and is most active during full moon.
Accompanied by one (or all) of her four dogs, Karien's daily chore also include fixing borehole pumps and generators in between constant combat with Telkom. Despite little free time, she and fiance, Dewald Keet, cares for a considerable, but much reduced, tropical fish collection.
The couple plans to marry in October. Karien says she loves the solitude and peace of Kruger and is "exactly where I have always wanted to be." She would like to stay in the Park, possibly spending time at other sections as well.