The Bankenveld region is not only home to wonderful highveld grasslands, but also a group of very active honorary rangers (HR) The region is situated in the North West Province, and although no national park falls within this region, it does include the Vredefort Dome, a world heritage site with significant biodiversity and several endemic species.
The Bankenveld region consists of 13 members, of whom 10 have been HRs for longer than 10 years, and 13 new and very eager applicants, two of whom come from previously disadvantaged communities.
One of these new applicants is a teacher at Sei-phemelo High School in Ikageng and runs several environmental projects with a large group of previously disadvantaged teenagers. The members have a wide range of areas of experience and expertise. Since no national park falls within the region, the group focuses mainly on community awareness of nature conservation.
The fact that the Potchefstroom campus of the North West University is within close proximity, is of great help to the HRs. The HRs limit formal meetings to four a year, and focus on outdoor opportunities for training, learning about nature and teaching the public to appreciate the unique environment that is the Bankenveld Region. The region's HRs have offered the Applied Communications Course several times, and offer frequent Sense Active Awareness Walks in the Vredefort Dome for school children.
It is their hope that some of these children will become junior rangers (JR). At least once a year they make use of the expertise available in Potchefstroom to offer a course on grass or tree identification. In addition, they run an exhibition on nature conservation and the role of HRs at the Potchefstroom Spring Festival every year. The members of Bankenveld have designed and printed their own series of posters dealing with conservation, national parks and the national projects and activities of the HRs.
The Bankenveld corps renders services all over the country. Members often have valuable and interesting tales to tell and new things to teach their fellow participants.
This year started off with an indoor general meeting. In February the HRs ventured to the animal breeding centre in Lichtenburg. Children of a close-by school joined the group as friends of the centre. In March three groups of teenage boys were taken into the Vredefort Dome for a Sense Active Awareness Walk.
John Botha first did an introductory talk before HRs and applicants teamed up to take boys out in small groups. Unworried by a steady drizzle, the boys came up with lots of questions, a new awareness and artworks. Whitey van Pletsen is a keen birder and loves to share his knowledge of bird ringing with children. April was time for a general meeting in the public library once more. The members and applicants learned about malaria and bilharzia from Dr Kennè de Kock, a pioneer researcher in this field.
"For the rest of the meeting we dealt with business and preparations for the Indaba to come." Still to come is learning about bat ear-fox, aardvark and aardwolf conservation with a group of children, a bush camp, an alien invasive plant workshop in the Dome, the Spring Festival, the September hospitality course, a tree identification course and many more activities with teenagers. Management 'Chairperson, John Botha, is a professor of art history. He loves films, large motor cycles and working with bonsai trees.
He has offered the Applied Communications Course for several years, and will soon be qualified to offer the new Hospitality Course in our region. John is a natural teacher, and often takes the lead when we offer courses to the public," says Christien Terblanche, one of the Bankenveld members. Vice chairperson, Pieter Peens, is a business man and a forensic investigator. He has 18 years' police experience with specific focus on fraud. He loves fishing and woodwork, and is a very involved family man.
Neels Buitendag is the treasurer of Bankenveld and also a pharmacist. "He knows the veld very well, especially grasses and trees. He loves the Kruger National Park (KNP), and the other members can often listen to his experiences when he rendered service there. He is an involved family man, and he does whatever it takes to promote conservation and often assists people in his quiet manner." Secretary, Wilna Pretorius, is a technician in a laboratory for electron microscopy where she helps students and lecturers with their research, especially biological research.
"In her calm way Wilna keeps our region meticulously organised. She is the mother figure and mentor for all the children who become involved and for applicants. Suiting this aspect of her personality, she is a volunteer for Famsa and secretary of Child Welfare in Potchefstroom. She is fond of needlework, cooking (and we testify that she does this well!) and gardening. Her family and creating a home is very important to her.
She is passionate about conservation, especially trees," says Christien. Barbara Willemse, additional member, is an agricultural economist. She is a good runner, having completed the Comrades twice. She loves hiking and has completed several of the big routes such as the Fish River Canyon and the Otter. "You will always find Barbara outside, involved with anything that concerns nature, and if possible, some adventure."