Deep within the African bushveld there is a man with dreadlocks that fall across his shoulders and sunglasses that would put Maverick from Top Gun, to shame. This man carries a fiery passion for conservation in Africa within his heart, and he walks to the unsteady heartbeat of the safety of White and Black Rhinos which he would like to protect for future generations.
May we introduce to you Wildlife ACT’s Head Rhino Monitor and Bush School Teacher for over 10 years running, based in Somkhanda Game Reserve in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa – Mr Zama Ncube.
Past volunteers may have met Zama while they were out monitoring for African Wild Dogs at our Somkhanda Project, but for those of you who have yet to visit us, we caught up with him to tell us a little bit more of the wonderful work he is doing and you will see why he is recognized as one of our Conservation Heroes.
What were you doing before you were a Rhino Monitor?
Zama Ncube: I worked for a short while on the boats in St. Lucia and then moved to a job in town but none of these jobs were what I was looking for. At the time my Dad was working on a game reserve, so the one day I gave him my CV to take to the person in charge at the reserve… and I got the job in the anti-poaching unit!
Why did you become a Rhino Monitor?
Zama Ncube: I grew up next to a game reserve and listened with fascination to the stories my granny shared about the bush as well as the stories my dad brought home from his job in the reserve.
But the decision to become a Rhino Monitor came to light when I was lucky enough to help with the introduction of Black Rhinos to a game reserve, as part of the WWF Black Rhino Expansion Project. This was the first time I had spent so much time with these animals, and all I could think about were the stories my Granny used to tell me. So the love that I had for a long time growing inside of me from Granny’s stories, came true.
Why is it important to have people, like yourself, as Rhino Monitors?
Zama Ncube: Being a Rhino Monitor is most definitely a calling. The duty falls on you, every day, to make sure that all of the Rhinos within your care are safe, alive and well. All that you think about as a Rhino Monitor is how you are saving the world from losing its beauty to the hands of criminals. The future of Africa depends on the survival of animals such as the Rhino.
Who was your mentor?
Zama Ncube: Co-Founder of Wildlife ACT, ex-Black Rhino Monitor and friend, Dr. Simon Morgan. I enjoyed tracking Black Rhinos with him every day. He taught me the importance of the work that I do and motivated me to never give up. Through him I learnt new things, and he made me aware of the feelings you get from Rhinos as a Monitor. Almost as if they know you are there for them, to protect them. That you are part of their family.
Are rhinos your favourite animal? Which animal is your favourite animal?
Zama Ncube: This is an easy question. Rhinos! I love all of the animals with all of my heart…but not as much as I love Rhinos.
For those you have (and will hopefully get to meet you) the first thing that people notice is your great sense of humour. Do you have a funny story you would like to share while being on the job?
Zama Ncube: I have so many stories with my rhinos that it’s very hard to pick one.
You are incredibly fit, which must be from all the walking you do while tracking Rhino. How many kilometres do you think you walk on average a day?
Zama Ncube: It depends on where the animals are, or which way their tracks are going. It’s very rarely in a straight line so I would say, on average, 10 to 15 kilometres per day.
What signs do you look for while tracking rhinos?
Zama Ncube: There are quite a few signs that you look for. First prize is finding the rhinos tracks, or footprints. If you are in an area where you cannot see those then you need to start looking for signs of them passing through like fresh dung piles, browsed vegetation, scrape marks or rubbings.
Poaching is unfortunately a very real threat which Rhinos face every day. How does Rhino poaching make you feel?
Zama Ncube: I have been unfortunate enough to find a poached rhino on a number of occasions. Each time I have seen a poached rhino, I do not know what to do with myself. I feel so bad. Particularly if it is a rhino which I knew well and have watched over for a long period of time. To find a poached rhino which I knew and loved, with blood still running out of their body, brings tears to my eyes and immense pain in my heart. It is like losing a family member.
You have a young son and daughter whom we know you love very much. What message or advice would you like to give them and other youth about Rhino Conservation in South Africa?
Zama Ncube: Yes they are both very special to me. My daughter is starting to ask me a lot of questions about my job, and though she does not always understand what I tell her I can see that she loves the animals that I speak about.
What I would like the youth of today to know is how important it is to save our nature because the beauty of the planet we are living on belongs to all the creatures that live here. All of the hard work that people like myself are doing now, is not to benefit us but to benefit them, the future generation. They must work together to help protect these animals for their future.