Life was different in the Kruger National Park (KNP) of 1950 and 1960. Getting a job meant you had to have a wife. "And they wanted to see her before they would appoint you." Sandaled field ranger feet trudged alongside horses or donkeys, moving cautiously through the bush, with only the front ranger bearing a fire-arm, and the others having to defend themselves with their assegais.
These are only some of the images that flashed to mind as Million Coosa, former lance corporal in the KNP rangers' corps, shared a few anecdotes at one of several birthday bashes held in honour of Kruger's 110th year in existence. Million's first day on duty in Kruger was in 1958 in the Satara section where he stayed for two years.
"After that I was called for duty at Pretoriuskop, Kingfisherspruit, Skukuza, Punda Maria, Mahlangeni and Lower Sabie sections." Although he retired in 2000, he continues to serve Kruger as part of the environmental education team.
Life may have been less modern when Million was young, but the dangers lurking in the bush have not changed much. "One day a colleague and I were on bicycle patrol and we stumbled upon an elephant as we came around a bend in the road. That elephant did not want to see us, and it charged." Million's colleague ran away, but Million was on the ground where he had fallen beside his bicycle. "It brought its trunk very close and I knew 'it wanted to get me.' I did not know what to do.
"The next moment he hurled the bicycle at the elephant, "almost getting it hooked on the tusks." As the elephant ran off, Million got on his bicycle and manoeuvred it with great speed in the other direction. On another ocassion, he was confronted with an irate buffalo. "A buffalo which has just woken from its nap does not want to be bothered with anything. When the buffalo charged Million, he was stunned at first and sprung into action with the buffalo on top of him.
"I grabbed my gun and did not lose my job," he said. His encounter with a black rhino may conjure some comical images, but could have had some nasty outcomes. When he noticed the rhinos, they were some distance away and he was not too perturbed at first. Then one spotted Million and charged.
There were no climbable trees nearby, only very young ones. "I ran a short distance and when I realised the rhino was very close, I dodged it around one of the small trees - then this side, then the other." After a short cat and mouse interplay the rhino stomped off, leaving a relieved Million behind. "Thereafter I was never afraid of black rhino again - I regarded them as my cows!" Million retired in 2000, but within a few months he was back in the park, sharing his knowledge and experience with youth groups who visit Kruger. "I love working in the park," he says, "it is my home." Million is married and has 15 children.