To be a game ranger needs great passion and energy for wilderness and conservation, a mind open to learning, plus a love of sharing your passion with people. We were wondering if it is any harder to achieve a dream of being a game ranger if you are a woman in a traditionally male dominated industry. We asked Pascale, one of the many female rangers at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, how she has managed to live her dream.
In her own words, Pascale shares her journey with us…
I am fortunate to have grown up surrounded by strong, nurturing women. These women taught me the importance of hard work, integrity and kindness. As children, my parents encouraged and supported my sister and I to pursue our dreams, teaching us that we could become anything in life as long as we set our minds and hearts to it.
From a young age I was interested in nature, finding beauty and joy in the natural world around me. This interest was fuelled by weekends and holidays spent close to nature in national parks and in the country side. When I was 12 years old, I decided that I wanted to become a field guide and conservationist. From then on, many birthday gifts were themed around this dream – birding courses, tracking courses, guide books and being allowed to accompany my father on work trips when he visited lodges to meet and learn from guides.
When I was 16 years old I first met a female guide. She shared with me the wonders of being a guide, of living so close to wildlife, constantly learning from nature, and the joy of sharing one’s passion and knowledge with others to help protect our natural environment. She also gave me good advice on how to pursue my dreams, encouraging me to first go to university to get a degree as this would help me in a male dominated industry.
And so, I worked towards achieving my goals by first applying to study Conservation Ecology at Stellenbosch University. Being dyslexic I learned how important it is to hold a dream in your sight to motivate yourself to work hard to achieve it, no matter the mountains in your path. In 2008 I graduated from Stellenbosch University with my BSc and in 2009 started my field guide training with Eco-Training. Living in and around the Kruger National Park for a year was an amazing, learning experience. During this time, I grew within myself, finding my voice, confidence within myself and the realisation of the joy of constantly learning.
After spending two years working at Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape, I moved to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve. I had visited Sanbona earlier in 2011 and fell in love with the landscape, the wide-open spaces and the ethos of the reserve. By the end of 2011 I was proud to be part of the Sanbona Team. I had never seen so many female guides on one reserve before. Here I found an environment that not only promotes conservation but encouraged woman to grow in a male dominated industry.
Through my 8 years as a guide, I have seen the guiding industry change. I’ve seen tourists become more accepting of having a woman as a guide, not thinking it unusual that a woman can drive a large 4-wheel drive vehicle whilst spotting animals, explaining the natural wonders seen along the way, handling a rifle and hosting guests. Being able to pass on my passion for wildlife and conservation to people, especially children was the highlight of my guiding career.
In 2016 I started my MSc study on elephants on Sanbona whilst guiding. For the next two years I collected my field data when not guiding, spending hours on my own with the elephants on Sanbona, either on foot or in a vehicle. During this time, I learned a lot, not only about elephants but also my strengths, both physical and mental.
In December 2017 I hung up my guiding boots and started working in the Wildlife team as Wildlife Coordinator. Although the new job takes me out of the field for the larger part of my time, it has allowed me to grow in other areas. 2018 was a year which made me realise the strength and determination needed to achieve even more dreams whilst juggling the completion of my MSc, work and starting a family. It has made me realise once more that being a strong woman means being willing to work hard for your dreams and for what you deserve, but doing so with respect and empathy towards others, that through uplifting others around you, you too are uplifted.
This year’s International Woman’s Day theme is “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change”. Growing up, following my dream, I learned to ignore those that said that my dreams were odd or impossible due to my gender. I learned that we have to believe that we are equal before others will. Through innovation the conservation community has become smaller allowing people to reach across the globe to support, encourage and uplift one another.
This year I would like to thank all the woman who have helped me become an equal in my field, that have helped me further my knowledge and that have inspired me to always follow my dreams.