Committed to Wilderness

By Lynette Strauss

To work in the lowveld, in which one can still find some of Africa's vast open spaces which are mostly roadless, is a privilege, but also  carries a special responsibility for Kruger National Park (KNP) wilderness trails ranger, Johan Enslin. Having been a wilderness trails ranger for the last seven years has not only honed Johan's wilderness training, skills and expertise, but has also deepened his commitment, dedication and passion towards wilderness as a way of life.Johan is based at Kruger's oldest wilderness trail, Wolhuter, located in the south western parts of the park.

It will celebrate its 30th year of existence in June/July this year.He believes being on a wilderness trail in Kruger can be a deeply spiritual and philosophical experience, on par with the physical experience itself. He feels that these are highly important wilderness values, together with the economic and scientific values wilderness provides.For Johan, there is something so special about the huge open spaces, the solitude and the naturalness one experiences when in wilderness,  that a person cannot hold back the almost inevitable ensuing spiritual connection with the surrounds.Johan was born and schooled in Pretoria, where he also obtained a national diploma in nature conservation at the Tshwane University of Technology, formerly known as the Pretoria Technikon. After completing the theoretical stretch of his studies,Johan did the required one-year practical training under the guidance of Johann Oelofse in the Mooiplaas section of Kruger in 1997."I do not think I could have asked for a better mentor to set me on my path in nature conservation," says Johan. After obtaining his diploma, Johan worked at Kapama Private Nature Reserve for two years. As far as Johan can remember he always wanted to work in Kruger.

However, reading and dreaming about a life in the lowveld is not the same as living it and the first few years necessitated some adjustment and were an eye-opener for Johan. When the park decided to introduce day walks in their product range to visitors, Johan seized the opportunityto return to the park where he was stationed at Talamati, doing night drives.Some nine months later he joined Werner Swarts as back-up rifle on the day walks at Orpen. In April 2001, Johan transferred to Letaba Camp  where he assumed the lead rifle position for the day walks."On July 8, 2001 I did my first wilderness trail in Kruger - a day that I will never forget," albeit in a relieving capacity, says Johan.Not long after, Johan was on full time duty as the wilderness trails ranger on the Olifants wilderness trail. In April 2002, Kruger  outsourced its wilderness trails product to the KNP Wilderness Company.

Johan was appointed and conducted the Olifants trail for the next two years and eight months.It was during this time that he met Vicky, a nature conservation student based at Letaba and his wife-to-be. They married in 2005, the same  year Johan transferred to the Wolhuter trail.Johan has walked all seven trails in Kruger, having been based at four in the last seven years. "Drawing from firsthand experience,has given  me a wonderful opportunity to share the various trails' uniqueness with visitors who want to know more."He has had many memorable encounters over the years."I have seen a Cape clawless otter make a mockery of the abilities of a decent size crocodile, have ended up between an erect monstrous mamba  and a bunch of lionesses and lost my favourite cap in a dark "croc infested" pothole in the Bangu gorge in an attempt to rescue and impress  my wife after she slipped and fell into the pothole.

"It is experiences like these which Johan passionately pursues and through which he hopes a shared understanding and commitment to wilderness preservation will be instilled with every visitor.Wolhuter is based in a proclaimed botanical reserve. "Nestled amongst beautiful granite hills and outcrops with some spectacular mountainous scenery with scattered bushman paintings it makes for a great wilderness experience. Some rare animal species occur in this region including, eland, sable, tsessebe, Lichtensteins hartebeest, mountain and southern reedbuck, black rhino and wild dog. Side-striped jackal is quite plentiful considering its secretive habits and caracal, African wildcat and serval now and again make their appearance.On some days you trip over white rhino, which sometimes causes for interesting encounters resulting in trailists' nervous giggles.

"In addition to his trails ranger duties, Johan has been appointed as project co-ordinator to facilitate a wilderness training programme for Kruger. With the assistance of the Wilderness Action Group, Kruger recently completed a training module workshop as a building block for the final programme."We want to cater for all people and will provide a wilderness orientation, facilitation and management course. In addition a wilderness awareness strategy in the form of talks and seminars is being developed. Eventually we want to provide this training through the South African Wildlife College."At this stage, with the couple's firstborn expected in October, Johan hopes to focus on sharpening his wilderness knowledge and skills - and to spread wilderness awareness, knowledge and appreciation as far and wide as possible.

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