Unexpected Is The Name Of The Game Rangers Game

©Katy Johnson

A Game Ranger in your Backpack', is a new guide to South Africa's flora and fauna. Aimed at nature novices, starting off on the path to become naturalists, it provides novel insights into life in the bush. Unlike conventional field guides, which are often difficult to navigate and specific to a particular group whether that be birds, snakes or plants, this book looks across the board from mammals to marulas.

It provides an accessible overview of the plants and animals you are likely to encounter during your time in the bush. It also supplies the reader with a host of the juicy facts and tantalizing tips, they could expect from a guided safari. It really is like having a game ranger in your backpack and that is because it was written by one.

Ex-game ranger Megan Emmett teamed up with wildlife photograph Sean Patrick, to produce this unique guide to Africa's wildlife. The book's quirky mind-map style works brilliantly, as the main body of information comes in the form of small write-ups that are short, concise and to the point, allowing the reader to find the interesting facts without having to read through reams of text.

Megan's passion for the bush is clear upon reading the book, it is what makes the book so special. Like many South African's, Megan's love for the bush started at an early age with family trips to the Kruger. But unlike most of us, she followed her childhood desires and found herself living her dream as a game ranger, although it wasn't all plain sailing.

"Ever since I was 10 years old and first entertained the notion that 'a ranger' was indeed what I wanted to be when I grew up the response I got was, "Girls can't be game rangers..." from the pouted lips of my exasperated mother. Somehow I never let these dissuasions deter me.

There have been many times along the road of my career that I have thought mom may have had a point. As nothing in my all-girls school-education, casual family holidays to the local game reserves, or Sunday afternoons in front wildlife documentary on the television prepared me for the realities and adventures of becoming a game ranger.

Many people cautioned me "it's not easy", casting dubious looks over my flimsy frame and arriving mid-winter at a game reserve only to be told my first official game ranging task was to sort through barrels of frozen elephant guts illustrated that they might have a point".

Fifteen years on and Megan is as enthralled as ever with the bush. "Unexpected is the name of the game ranger's game, I soon learnt that. For instance it is completely normal for the undercarriage of the Toyota pick-up to intermittently burst into flames while driving overland through a remote stretch of Kalahari.

It is all in a day's work and luckily sand and a few blows quickly douse the flames". In an interview with African Geographic Megan explains how she is "still enchanted with her childhood illusion that game rangers are immediately issued roofless Land Rovers and sent off in search of big, impressive animals with the wind blowing their sun-stained hair across Ray Ban clad eyes".

The reality, she explains, is that, "a good game ranger needs to develop an intimate knowledge of the workings of the natural environment".

In order to host guests on safaris, Megan had to prove herself. "A roofless Land Rover and permission to pursue the 'big and hairies' comes, but to earn this there was one or two things I must achieve first".

This included walking the entire road network, close to 300km without a rifle in order to orientate herself and hone her senses, develop accuracy with a .375 Holland and Holland rifle in order to take on a charging buffalo on wheels and sit the eight hour exams that test your knowledge on everything from Stella constellations to grass species. These experiences made her a better game ranger and in turn provide an incredible depth to the information in her book.

Megan has shifted gears, and while still fully committed to conservation, she presently pursues her passion from Johannesburg. "There is so much to life and the bush can be very isolated and also sometimes you make a difference to conservation by being in the big city!"

Megan is doing just that by working for SABC environmental show 50/50, ensuring that conservation stories get the coverage they need, but she is keen to add, "I haven't left the bush...I just bounce back and forth. It seems that 'living' in the bush is seasonal for me", when asked what will lure her back to the bush, she simply states "it's none negotiable". So when the seasons do change and Megan does returns to the bush, I hope it will be with another book in mind.

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