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One Month With African Game Rangers, Part 1: Meet the Rangers

This series tells the story of a one month odyssey assisting the Game Rangers in Zambia and Botswana. You won’t believe what happens.

I recently had the unique privilege of accompanying the Game Control Officers in Zambia, Africa to learn about their job, their lives and the game animals they work for.

The two officers, Johannes Mkuza and Klasse Kogle, also own a company that contracts with the Problem Animal Control Office in Botswana. They are civil servants in Zambia, but civilian contractors doing the same type of work when they cross the border into Botswana.

Johannes is a native Zambian and was one of the first black professional hunters. He worked as a PH in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia. He speaks English, Afrikkaan and six other native languages. Klaase was born and raised in Zimbabwe, but his family fled when the government took their land. He worked in Tanzania and South Africa as a PH, and doesn’t speak English.

My invitation to join these two was a result of contacts in the sporting industry as well as in the government. The leadership invited me and then told Johannes and Klasse that they were to have me tag along. We e-mailed back and forth before I arrived, and I got the feeling these guys didn’t want me there. I was permitted to bring a rifle and I brought a 45-70 and a 45-90. I told these guys I wanted to test some bullets and learn the capabilities of these rifles. They said I was lucky I could bring a gun at all and they didn’t have time to mess around playing with bullets.

Joe Riekers
Joe Riekers

 

Upon arrival in Lusaka, the Embassy made the arrangements to get me to the office of the Game Ministry. After being introduced to Johannes he immediately told me I could bring no cameras, couldn’t shoot until told and if I got in the way, he would leave me. Nice greeting, I thought. Johannes got into his Toyota 4-door pickup and started pulling away from the curb as soon as I threw my gear in, but before I got in the truck. I ran a ways and jumped in. He said nothing.

Out of nowhere, a Jeep/Jalopy contraption that reminded me of the old US Mail Jeeps with the top cut off sped by. The maniac driving was Klaase. We veered off into different directions. Johannes and I went to a few calls, meeting several locals and inquiring about their animal issues.

People would obviously ask about me in their own language and Johannes would tell them “Mal Ammy Profesioneel Jagter” or some version of that. I recognized from Afrikaans that he was saying something about me being a Professional Hunter. I later learned he was essentially calling me a Crazy American PH! On several occasions he said something like “hierdie ou is moere,” which I later found out equals “This guy is nuts.” His favorite phrase for me was “pyn in die donkie” which basically means pain in the butt. Johannes knew I could understand a little Afrikaan, which is not the native language of Zambia, so I think he said it that way on purpose.

klaase

 

The first call we went to was a large metal storage building. Moments after we arrived, I heard a weird roaring noise from the road to the side of us. Out of nowhere, the old Jeep comes flying out of the brush with Klaase at the wheel. We had not seen nor heard him all day since that first encounter, so how did he even know where to find us?

Johannes said “Stay here,” and tells Klaase “Light rifle.” The light rifle is a 7X64 Brenekke bolt action. Klaase would never let me see or touch his gun. They wander into the metal building and close the door. I hear Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom – pause – boom, boom, boom.

They both come back out, and Johannes throws his rifle in the backseat before we speed off.

“What was that?” I asked.

His only reply is “Baboons.”

“How many?” I asked.

He starts singing to himself.

We went to another call, and he got out a container of something and sprayed the house’s window sills, entryway and some other spots. Again, I asked “What is that?”

All I get in return is “Never mind.”

Needless to say, I was going to need to do some critical thinking and investigating of my own if I was going to learn from these two.

Don’t miss Part 2, where these crazy Game Rangers go on problem animal calls.

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One Month With African Game Rangers, Part 1: Meet the Rangers