THE RANGERS & TRACKERS
The most notable trait of the staff at Arathusa Safari lodge is that they love what they do. The rangers and trackers proudly shepherd visitors into another world where the language is in the sound and rhythm of the bush. They are full of entertaining anecdotes, interesting bits of information and an infectious enthusiasm. They are experts out in the field, and are the finishing touch which bestows the finest quality to the Arathusa safari.
Armand “Mabonzo” Minnaar (ranger) & Roy Mkansi (tracker)
Armand is affectionately known as "Mabonzo" (bones), because of his skinny physique. He studied law after school, but soon realised that it wasn't his passion. Armand then set his sights on the tourism industry, and obtained his National Diploma in 1999.
Armand got his first taste of the bushveld in 1981, when he visited the Kruger National Park for the first time with his family. After that the well known reserve became the family's annual December holiday destination. It was through these yearly trips that Armand's love for nature grew stemmed. After spending some time in Florida, USA, he returned to South Africa in 2001 to begin his guiding career in earnest. Over the past 10 years he has worked in various reserves across the country, although the majority of his time was spent in the Kruger National Park and surrounds. Armand thoroughly enjoys interacting with guests from all over the world, and cites conducting guided bush walks as one of the things he loves most about his job.
Roy was born in Sabi Sand and grew up in the bush. From a young age Roy displayed a keen interest in his surroundings. Through reading books and being closely guided by his older brother, his knowledge grew steadily. Roy also has a gift for imitating bird calls.
Following in his brother's footsteps, he began working in the bush to gain experience. The bush is both his love and his life, and this is evident in the enthusiasm and respect he displays for all wildlife.
Says Roy, "I know how to survive in the bush, wherever you leave me – I will survive!"
Phillip Wessels (ranger) & Rifos Mnisi (tracker)
Phillip grew up on a farm in South Africa. He spent many hours outdoors and on hunting safaris with his father, who is a professional hunter.
When Phillip finished school it was obvious that he was not cut out for the city life, so he embarked on a career as a ranger on a private game reserve north of Pretoria. Phillip went on to work at a variety of private game reserves, including the Kruger National Park, where he fell in love with the Lowveld area.
Phillip initially considered following in his father's footsteps and becoming a professional hunter, but eventually opted to share his love of nature with people through specialist walking safaris tracking black rhino and elephant. Birding and fishing safaris were next to be added to his growing list of outdoor pursuits.
Phillip says walking in the bush is what he enjoys most, as one sees so much more when on foot. It has always been a dream of his to work in Sabi Sand, so he is thrilled to be at Arathusa.
Says Phillip, "What a dream it has been, and I am still living the dream!"
Rifos was born in the southern Sabi Sand Game Reserve, where his mother and father both worked. His Chef father's love of food and cooking did not rub off on him, instead he was given another gift.
Rifos attended school in Utah, and during the week he boarded with his grandparents, where he would help - like so many other boys his age - to tend the goats and cattle. This is where his gift first surfaced. He realised that he could recognize the spoor (footprints) of the individual cattle. On weekends and during school holidays Rifos would return to his parents. There he spent his time playing outside, swimming and fishing.
During his formative years his stepfather helped and guided him to develop his natural talent. Starting with the smallest and simplest of animals, Rifos worked hard to learn everything his stepfather had to teach him. Today he is one of our most experienced and fervent trackers.
After completing his schooling at Utah, Rifos landed a position in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, where he worked for the next 9 years. He has been at Arathusa Safari Lodge since 2006. Rifos is absolutely passionate about the bush, animals, spoor and tracking, and over the years he has completed many courses to aid him in his profession.
Ryan Johnston (ranger) & "De Beer" (tracker)
Ryan grew up in the city of Johannesburg but always knew he wanted to get into the bush and be a Game Ranger. So after he finished school, he completed his studies, and made a permanent move to the bush.
Ryan has an extensive and growing knowledge of birds and has a keen interest in photography. Ryan is also a master fisherman!
De Beer was born North West of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve. He grew up as many of his peers did, as a child herder - looking after his family’s cattle. After finishing all of his schooling, his interest grew in the field of the bush, game ranging & tracking. To put his interest to the test, De Beer went to neighbouring farms where he began learning the art of tracking, starting at the bottom with whatever the bush had to offer & slowly began mastering the art of scouting for tracks & learning spoor. This gave him the confirmation that he wanted to pursue tracking further & De Beer completed various forms of formal training successfully. Since 1996 he has worked formally in game ranging & tracking & De Beer still loves the bush & sharing his Art form with those who cross his path.
Chris Khoza (tracker)
Chris was born in a town about 1 hour from the Sabi Sands Game Reserve and grew up looking after goats & cattle while going to school. After finishing school, Chris realised he was more interested in animals and wanted to move away from the town he was in and into the bush.
He took an opportunity to work in a lodge as a waiter & used the opportunity of being in the bush and around other trackers & rangers to gain knowledge of the bush, animals & spoor. Chris took opportunities of formal tracking courses where he could and any opportunity to practice his tracking skills was grabbed with both hands by him!
Added to his determination to grow, with a wonderful sense of humour & also a quick ear for different languages, Chris is a true example of someone who knows what he wants, being willing to put in the time, hard work & patience to attain it!
Brandon Birch (ranger)
Born and bred in sunny South Africa, albeit in Johannesburg rather than in the bush, Brandon was fortunate that his love affair with the bush - which began at an early age - was strongly encouraged by his parents.
His family had the good fortune of having access to a private Big Five private game reserve that was open to the Kruger National Park, which they frequently visited. As a child he considered the 1,000 hectares that he had access to, his personal playground. A photo of him as a two-year old shows a crying child wrapped around a wildebeest skull that he had found, and refused to let go of. It was then his mother predicted that he would have a career in the bush.
As with all guides, Brandon is interested in everything around him that walks, flies, crawls or grows, but he has a particular affinity for leopards. That passion eventually led him away from a year-and-a-half stint at a reserve in the Limpopo province, and into Sabi Sands where he worked for another property in the south of the reserve for five-and-a-half years, before settling here at Arathusa. He feels that his love of leopards has found its true home!
Other activities Brandon enjoys are tracking and walking, and the multi-coloured menagerie of butterfly species here keeps him enthralled. He enjoys wildlife photography, and is inspired to capture that 'great shot' for his guests. He has an outgoing personality, and loves to entertain.
Brandon is a qualified FGASA Level 2 trails guide, and is currently studying for Level 3.