Annejie Mkansi has just started her ranger training after successfully earning a Future Rangers Scholarship place at the South African Wildlife College. She talks to GCC’s Matt Lindenberg about her love for nature and what it means for her to start on a new journey to become a ranger.
Matt Lindenberg: What were you doing before you got this opportunity to become a ranger?
Annejie Mkansi: I was working at Timbavati Private Natural Reserve in Chimanimani as an operations room operator. I started working there in 2015 as an environmental monitor dealing with spraying alien-invasive plants and also making bricks with cement to build erosion structures. I was then promoted to the operations room where we deploy the rangers if there is an incident in the bush. We deploy the rangers, monitor the situation, and follow up.
ML: What inspired you to become a ranger and try out for a GCC Future Rangers Scholarship place?
AM: I heard that there was a selection process taking place at the Wildlife College to become a ranger and that has always been my dream.
Since I started working in the ops room, I saw the importance of taking care of nature so I pushed myself to apply, because I really wanted to become a ranger and protect nature.
ML: The selection process to become a ranger is extremely physical. How did you find the experience?
AM: I was not sure if I was going to be able to do it. But I was working on my self-confidence, pushing myself to go on. I also received a lot of encouragement that kept me going. We had to run 10km with a heavy bag. I don’t know how I did it. We were woken up during the night, we didn’t sleep at all, but because I wanted this, I didn’t sleep, so I heard the whistle when they called. As a ranger, you must always be listening and if you hear the whistle you have to wake up. This teaches you if you hear a gunshot you have to wake up and monitor and observe what is happening. If you don’t hear the whistle and continue sleeping, you cannot be a good ranger.
ML: Out of the 13 women who took part in the selection, you are the only one who made it through. How does that feel?
AM: I am very proud of myself. My body was so tired, my ankle was swollen, and I was limping. I wanted to give up, but the love and passion I have for wildlife kept me going. I pushed and pushed. My family is also proud of me because of what I did. I cried when I got home when I realized what I had achieved. There were 13 women at the start and when I saw them quit, I wanted to give up as well, because my body was so tired. But my heart, the love I have for animals, and all of nature, stopped me from giving up.
ML: How important is it for you personally to protect wildlife?
I want to protect nature and I am not only doing this for myself, I am doing this for the future. I also have a child and I want her to experience wildlife, I don’t want her to learn from books that we used to have rhinos and elephants, but now they are extinct. And I don’t want her to just read about them, I want her to see them, like me. I want to protect nature for the future and the children of the future, and not only my children, but all the South African children, and beyond so that when people come here to South Africa they can see the wildlife that we are protecting. We must protect it.
ML: Are you concerned about the dangers associated with being a ranger?
AM: The danger is there but I think that you have to put that aside. If you want to protect nature, you have to be brave, you have to have the courage to do your job, and you have to have the strength to protect both yourself and nature. We are currently learning about rifles and self-defense so we can protect ourselves from the dangers that will come.
ML: What experience has impacted you the most while working in conservation?
AM: I remember in 2017, I was off duty, but I didn’t go home that day and there was a rhino that had been shot. I went to see it and when I saw the animal dead, the pain that it caused me made me want to cry. If you are with animals, they become your family.
ML: What message do you have for poachers?
AM: It is very important not to accept bribes for quick money. Some people are influenced by bad people and I would encourage them not to accept anything from bad people and do something that isn’t right. I would encourage my fellow brothers from my community not to be influenced or forced to do something that could lead to them going to jail. So, I would encourage them to stop, to stop killing the rhinos because it isn’t only the rhinos that are affected but all the animals, even the birds, and the snakes, because they are part of the wildlife that we need to take care of. I would encourage everyone to take care of nature, it is very important in our lives.
ML: What would you say to a young person interested in following in your footsteps?
AM: Protecting nature is not only about animals, but it is also about protecting the environment; it is our duty to take care of it. I would encourage each and every person to protect the environment, not only because it is the right thing to do but because it also encourages people from other countries to come here, which in turn increases jobs. I would also say how important it is to take care of your job because now that we have COVID-19, jobs are rare and a lot of people have lost their jobs, so it is very important to take care of what you have, as it will help you in the future. I would say to young people, if you get a job from the area where you are protecting nature, you have to respect your supervisors, respect the people you are working with, listen to what they are telling you so that you can keep your job.
ML: How has the current economic situation affected your family?
AM: Today, I am the breadwinner in my family, I am the only one working to take care of the family and I am living in a big family, but I manage because I am using my mind and my heart. I am grateful for what I am getting from Chimanimani. It helps me to take care of my family, even if it is little, you don’t have to get more in order to do the right things.
ML: Can you tell us about your daughter? How are you trying to set an example for her?
AM: My daughter is so precious, I love her with all my heart. I will give her anything. She is my everything. As I said, I am not doing this only for me, I want her to grow up and be able to see this wildlife, all the animals, all the trees, all these natural resources. I want her to be able to experience all of the things that I see. I want her to know the importance of taking care of nature, and I want her to see what I do, and hopefully one day she will follow in my footsteps.
ML: You are on a really exciting new path; how do you feel right now?
My main problem has always been self-confidence, but I think that is changing now and I am starting to gain confidence because of all the encouragement. Some people like to discourage others by telling them that they are doing things wrong, but even if you make mistakes, and you are encouraged, it makes you focus and gives you self-confidence. Now I am gaining confidence thanks to you and your team who have been so good to me. I don’t know how to thank you but I will make it up to you.