Having celebrated 18 years in June as a field ranger, being awarded Best Field Ranger at the recent Rhino Conservation awards for Anton Mzimba was simply recognition for all the rangers in the field of active rhino protection who risked personal safety and comfort.
Holding the field ranger rank of sergeant, the former building site concrete mixer’s daily duties at the Timbavati Nature Reserve near Phalaborwa in Limpopo include patrolling the reserve and investigating wildlife crimes both inside and outside the reserve.
Thanks to Mzimba and his teams’ effort, no rhino have been lost in the past 14 months. He is also involved in the daily planning of patrols, conducting training for field rangers and he holds refresher courses to keep the rangers sharp.
“The course content is essential, nothing can be forgotten so I also have to remind them we are dealing with the lives of people sometimes, we have to make the correct decisions,” Mzimba said.
Timbavati is one of the reserves in the area which hasn’t been hammered by the rhino poaching scourge, thanks to early detection systems on its boundary fence and regular boundary patrols. When the fence alarm goes off, teams are immediately dispatched to investigate, which often turns out to be nothing more than an animal bumping the fence.
Mzimba views being a ranger as a calling and is driven by his passion for wildlife and the bush. “Some people don’t even last a month in this job. Seeing large wild animals up close while on foot, being bitten by ticks and mosquitoes, it’s not for everyone,” said Mzimba.
“Winning the award was not about me as an individual, but more about me representing women and men who have dedicated their lives.
“Some of them have died in the course of their duties. I was just chosen to receive the award on behalf of the whole field ranger team.
“Being a field ranger is not only limited to where you work. I’m a field ranger beyond the boundaries of Timbavati.” He’s not really scared of any animal.
“If an elephant is over there and a mamba is in front me, I’ll concentrate on the mamba first,” he said with a laugh. In the end, though, it’s about respecting animals and not entering their comfort zone. “If I push my face into yours when we are talking, it’s going to be uncomfortable.”
Mzimba would like nothing better than to see a solution to rhino poaching. “When rhinos are finished, poachers will move on to the next species and the next, until we are the last species to go extinct.”