Learning from the Insiders: Life in Camp

Feb 7, 2017 People of Wilderness
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“Wait! Something’s happening over there!” exclaimed Ron, our guide, after spotting a herd of tsessebe, all staring in the same direction. Ron immediately fired up the Land Rover and headed in the direction the odd-looking antelope were looking. Before we could anticipate what was to transpire, Ron pointed towards a beautiful-looking female leopard – walking with just the white tip of her tail peeking through the tall green grass across the open floodplains of Vumbura’s Kwedi Concession.

It turned out to be a beautiful cat that we were to follow the entire morning in an attempt to learn more about its behavioural patterns. It’s fascinating that what led us to spot this leopard was Ron’s incredible ability to read and analyse the behaviour of the tsessebe.

What made this sighting special is that our fellow guests in the game drive vehicle had been to two of our Wilderness Safaris camps on the same trip but the only animal they had not yet seen was the leopard. They had been hoping that Vumbura Plains would deliver. And it did!

The Vumbura concession was pumping with wildlife, even in the pouring rain… And apart from the leopard, lion and tsessebe there were amazing sightings of wild dog, elephant, kudu, hippo, impala, waterbuck and so much more. There was plenty of birdlife such as storks, marabous and eagles too. However, my absolute highlight was the sighting of a southern ground-hornbill.

A prized sighting

I was a very young herd boy living in rural Eastern Cape when I last saw and heard the unique call of this bird species. It is classified as vulnerable to extinction as a result of, inter alia, loss of habitat to croplands, overgrazing and loss of nesting trees.

This was the start of my weeklong stay at both Vumbura Plains South and North, where my brief was to immerse myself in the workings and running of the camp. My first day in camp was also the day of the fresh freight delivery by Wilderness Air. This freight run reminded me of the American poet Mattie Stepanek and her words, “Unity is strength... when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved”. Moving the freight from the Wilderness Air aircraft to the Land Rovers took less than 10 minutes, mainly because of the solid teamwork amongst the staff of all three Vumbura camps (North, South and Little Vumbura). It was absolutely wonderful to see “all hands on deck” – which made the entire exercise fairly seamless.


After loading the freight into the vehicles, I joined the rest of the management team on a separate Land Rover to embark on our next adventure.. A game drive of a different type, or the bumble, as the team affectionately calls it. This is a frequent, arbitrary team-building expedition designed to maintain the oneness within the management teams of all the three Vumbura camps. The start of this bumble coincided with the start of a huge thunderstorm! The heavy rain was not enough to dampen the high spirits of the team, the sundowners were aptly termed ‘raindowners’ and stories and laughter ensued. I must admit, the rain ponchos on the vehicle were put to serious test on the day. This bumble was also a way of welcoming me to the Vumbura Plains team.

As we were slowly making our way back to camp I reflected on the conversation I had had earlier at the airstrip with the Airstrip Manager, the legendary Mr. Baeti Maheta. We spoke about a variety of things, including his early days and his growth path at Vumbura Plains. But what stuck with me about my conversation with him were his words, “For you to evolve and grow, you must never stop learning”. His words were fitting – considering that the reason for my trip was to learn more about camp operations and life behind the scenes at our camps.

With the the legendary Mr. Baeti Maheta

Apart from the freight run, my other duties for the week included separating the non-biodegradable waste such into paper, glass, plastic etc. Vumbura Plains has rubbish cages where this waste is stored before it is transported to Maun for recycling. I was very happy to have assisted our environmental team with cleaning the fat trap – which, I was told, helps to significantly improve the overall environmental performance of the camp kitchen facilities by reducing the levels of solid organic waste, grease and fats discharging into the camp’s sewerage system.

Another eye-opener was my visit to Vumbura Plains’ solar plant. Vumbura relies solely on solar power as the primary energy source, thus reducing emissions substantially. I shudder to think of the negative damage to the Okavango Delta’s ecosystem if all these environmental management systems were not adhered to. This exercise certainly made me think critically and be more conscious about my own ways of doing things.

As the saying goes, ‘There’s never a dull moment in the bush.’ It is a good idea to always expect the unexpected. On one of the evenings all the lights went off in one of the guest rooms and with Lops’ guidance, I managed to hop under one of the guest rooms to lift the tripped electrical switch (I must admit, the thought of encountering hippos or an opportunistic leopard didn’t escape me while manoeuvring my way towards the room’s main switch). It was exciting to hear the guests’ loud applause from the tent when the lights came back on.

Another truly unexpected event was when the office workshop was hit by a huge tree that had fallen from the heavy rains. All of a sudden, the office pretty much looked like a construction site. Thanks to the environmentally friendly way of building that we have adopted in all our camps, the office will easily be brought back to life!

Standing in front of the workshop office with the fallen tree in the background

One of my favourite tasks was hosting our guests and answering all their questions – especially during dinners and serving pre-dinner drinks at the bar. Nothing beats a fascinating conversation with our guests from all walks of life. Each story takes one into a different world of learning possibilities, a transformative journey. No wonder Mr. Maheta’s words stuck with me; spending time with the Vumbura Plains guests made me realise that I am a sucker for learning – I treat every encounter as an educational opportunity.

Saying our goodbyes

The absolute highlight of my week was spending time with the people of Vumbura Plains! I do not think I have the ability to conjure up the words that describe the way I was welcomed, made to feel part of the team and accommodated. It made me realise once again that people are the true cornerstone of our company. Having shared meals, some frustrations and the responsibilities of running a world-class camp with them, I can say without any doubt that without these amazing colleagues and their passion for what they do, the experience that we deliver would be very different indeed!

Written and Photographed by Yandisa Ngcuka, US Sales Manager, Wilderness Safaris

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Kate Collins  Mar 5, 2017

A great read. Looking forward to more updates from the Sales team

Cayley Christos  Feb 7, 2017

Wonderful Yandisa! And you even got your hands dirty with the dreaded fat trap! Well done :)