Amanda Watson
News Editor
3 minute read
30 Nov 2013
12:00 am

Walk on the wild side

Amanda Watson

At 25 years old, Travis Askham is one of the youngest field guides at the Kruger National Park and represents a different but no less important side to anti-poaching efforts.

HAPPY CHAPPY. Field Ranger Travis Askham at his happiest – in the Kruger National Park.
Picture: Tracy Lee Stark.

He operates mainly out of the Olifants Camp situated on the

meandering Olifants River, a stone’s throw from the border with Mozambique – and sparking a love for the bush in visitors, is as important as the work done by the Ranger Corps.

“Some people are totally ignorant about conservation so you have to try and interpret it in a way that they are going to understand and leave richer from the experience. Even if it is something small like a dung beetle rolling a ball, you want them to appreciate nature.

“You want people to take pride in our heritage instead of taking it for granted. A guide has to be a people person; you’re dealing with different views and ideas

on the world and conservation every day.”

According to fieldguiding.com, field guides are people who interact mainly with guests and clients and provide a guided experience, on foot or in vehicles.

Game rangers, on the other hand, have little interaction with visitors and are primarily responsible for the physical and resource management of game reserves.

A winner of a 2013 Nxanatseni Regional Award for outstanding service, Askham’s love for nature began at a young age. “I always visited Kruger as a child with my family. I always appreciated the bush and decided early in life it was the best place for me.

“I couldn’t picture myself in any other career and the best way was to study nature conservation through the Tshwane University of Technology.

“There was a bit of a gap when I completed my studying, but when a position became available they remembered me for a temporary position as one of the guides was away on maternity leave. When another guide position opened at Olifants, I applied for it and have been there since 2011.”

Modern-day guides have come a long way from the grizzled old-timers, who lived with nature and knew its many moods simply from a lifetime of experience.

Now, studies in soil science,

environmental education, administration, plant and animal studies are de rigueur for those wishing to pursue a career in nature conservation.

“I studied at Tshwane, which equips candidates in as many of the fields as possible.

“Nature conservation is very broad; you can go into so many different things – animal capture, anti-poaching, and research and science are just a few.”

He has had a few close calls, mainly with hippos. “You do not want to be between them and the water.

“I’ve also been followed by an elephant bull, mainly out of curiosity but nerve wracking nonetheless. Once on a cycling tour we were charged by an elephant bull to the point we had to put the bikes down and back away. Normally we would leave them there and come back for them later, but these were guests’ bikes so we had to retrieve them.”

Askham recalls carefully putting distance between the ele-phant and his group, eventually putting them on a truck and then going bundu-bashing to pick up the bicycles. “I had to load them in a hurry on to the truck while the elephant was charging up and down, but we made it out intact.”

His best experience is one he lives every day he’s on the job:

“Seeing animals without actually disturbing them while on foot, without them knowing you are there, is very special.

“It’s a challenge, but to be in

the presence of greatness like rhino is an incredible experience I wouldn’t trade for the world.”