A guide in England, Part II


Well, I’m back from Part I and I do hope you enjoy the continuing story of a guide in England. Little did I know at the time that I was actually about to become exactly that…

Back on track

I’m going off on tangents now and need to get back to the story at hand. I’ll be coming back to the statements above at some stage as they are as integral a part of my life as my kids and Polly are. I know more about the damage being done to people and this planet than I ever care to.

I will pause just long enough to give you one more piece of information, as I believe it to be relevant to the whole story I am busy writing, still as you read this. In fact, as you are reading, I am standing over my computer, trying to write in the dimmed light of the lounge, fending off a young otter with my slippered foot as she tries merrily to chew on my toes. I will get to her in later stories but I couldn’t help but mention her now, along with a photo below.

Lily, a Cape Clawless Otter. She came into a rehabilitation centre and we are busy raising her for release within the next year or so.

Lily, a Cape Clawless Otter. She came into a rehabilitation centre and we are busy raising her for release within the next year or so. Photo copyright: Mark Jones

 A little video clip that we made of Lily. It was a great privilege to have worked with this animal.

A positive change

That first year in the UK was a roller coaster ride for me; moving to the UK, my first real winter in life, a divorce, meeting Polly, making exceptional friends, a new and difficult job, and just learning the English way about things.

I was coming to the end of my time at that first zoo in the UK. I was frustrated there, not progressing, and needed to move on. I was looking around but not finding anything suitable for me.

Ironically my ex wife came to my aid. She found an advert for a vacancy as a ranger working at Europe’s first overnight safari lodge. This sounded like something that was just ideal for me.

I applied online, got granted an interview; and got the job! I was on my way to a new adventure…at Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks’ Livingstone Lodge in Kent.

Moving down to this area turned out to be a really good move and it was here that I got to see the really positive side of zoos as well as going on to thoroughly enjoy keepering as a job, working alongside some marvelous keepers.

Wildebeests with a view
Wildebeest herd on Coombe Farm, Port Lympne, with a view of Romney Marsh and the English Channel.

Wildebeest herd on Coombe Farm, Port Lympne, with a view of Romney Marsh and the English Channel. Photo copyright: Mark Jones

The lodge

 Livingstone lodge

Initially, as said above, I started as a ranger for a beautiful tented camp. Firstly, ranger isn’t quite the right terminology for the job I did. A ranger is a person who works in and manages the bush and has little to no dealings with public; nor do they want to deal with public. The position was in fact for a guide; which is someone that works with people, in and around the wildlife and bush environment. This is what I did at the lodge; taking people on a guided tour of part of the park and then slipping into the area that wasn’t accessible to everyone and ending up at the lodge itself. There they were treated to a 5 star dinner and conversation with ‘genuine African rangers’. There was myself and the head guide Warren, originally from Zimbabwe, and we did regale our guests as we were, genuinely, the real McCoy.

Essentially, we regaled too well I think. Warren had been a part of things like Operation Black Rhino in the 80’s, he had done professional hunting, culling of buffalo & elephant, had been a ranger in Hwange National Park; he had been a genuine ranger in his time whereas I had just been a guide. Not too many people understood old Warren over there at Port Lympne and he got a few peoples backs up as a result.

As I explained to Polly one day (she had as yet never been to Africa); “you cannot understand anything about what I have done and seen, and I can barely understand what Warren has done and seen; what can any of you comprehend about his world?”

He was great to work with though and the two of us got along very well. He may have been the ranger I would have liked to be but I had done a lot of things he didn’t know anything about, and so we complimented each other quite well when taking our guests out for drives as well as talking to them around the lodge and over dinner.

Working at the lodge was good fun, and a little of what comes so naturally for me, teaching and being a guide. The difficulty was the accommodation; we lived on site 5 nights out of 7, just hitting 2 ½ days off. This was how they managed to compensate for our hours worked, since the days would begin at 5am and generally go on to about 11pm or so, sometimes later. I was used to the hours from working in the bush and it was worth it. What we got to see out there on drives and walks, what we would see and hear at night, the people from all over the world that you got to meet; it is always worth it.

My kids on safari in the UK

Cameron (my son) looking out the back window as a rhino comes past us, lodge on the right.

Cameron (my son) looking out the back window as a rhino comes past us, lodge on the right. Photo copyright: Mark Jones

Tyra (my daughter) checking out an Asian water buffalo walking past the Land Rover.

Tyra (my daughter) checking out an Asian water buffalo walking past the Land Rover. Photo copyright: Mark Jones

As said though, it was the accommodation that was difficult; you see, it was a tented camp, and although the guests stayed only one night, we stayed there for five nights every week. The camp was open from late April to early October. It was not a bad summer the year I spent there, but the beginning and final weeks were truly cold, after all, this was Kent not Africa.

Still, the place was situated on a hill and overlooked an area known as Romney Marsh; some of the most fertile soils in England I’m told. Standing on the deck of the lodge you see in the distance the English Channel, this beautiful expanse of what is Romney Marsh and, a bit closer in, a black rhino, or a giraffe, a wildebeest or zebra; very surreal. It was always filled with beautiful views, regardless of the weather. That, along with the animals around us, certainly made it a marvelous experience.

Animals around the lodge

A black rhino bathing in the dam in front of the lodge, with Romney Marsh in the distance.

A black rhino bathing in the dam in front of the lodge, with Romney Marsh in the distance. Photo copyright: Mark Jones

The giraffes showing that they too prefer the greener grass on the other side.

The giraffes showing that they too prefer the greener grass on the other side. Photo copyright: Mark Jones

The realities

I must confess that I found it incredibly difficult teaching the English about African wildlife and conservation, with an undeniably English backdrop. Regardless, we were still in a zoo. Warren and I would happily discuss controversial subjects like professional hunting and culling when talking about black rhino and elephant.

It was a whole new challenge for me to explain and describe the troubles that elephant’s cause to people and their livelihoods; and indeed I mostly failed, especially when you have three semi-tame elephants with names and known personalities wandering around an enclosure behind you.

There are still a huge amount of people in Africa that pretty much live off of the land. Their backyards contain enough planted food to sustain the village for a year. The village might only consist of about 30 people and together they farm that land, hunt, and live as a community. For some they may even have a small piece of land with enough food growing to feed one family only. These people have limited contact with the so-called real world; the world that you and I know exists. TV, internet, electricity, telephones, flush toilets, running water, restaurants; hell, none of these things that we take so for granted on a daily basis exist in these peoples’ world. Are they primitive? No, of course not; their lot in life is just different to yours and mine.

The fact remains that one night an elephant could and does walk into their land and in less than 20 minutes it will destroy their crops, entirely. Bearing in mind that this is their only source of food, how can you possibly expect them to have sympathy for that animal? Why should they want to keep it alive?

One night you’re asleep next to your family on the floor of your hut, the next minute you are being dragged into the bushes in the jaws of a lion or leopard. Your family can do nothing but stand in the darkness and hear you being eaten. How can they possibly comprehend that you, as a tourist, will spend more money in one holiday to see these lions than most of these people will see in their lifetimes?

Going down to the river to fetch water or wash clothes is potentially life-threatening with hippos and crocodiles around. These two animals are forever vying for the position of killing more humans than other animals. Of course, there is one genuine winner of that award and that is the mosquito.

I’m not trying to be macabre or depressing here but it is important to try and understand the other side of things.

Conclusion

It was a tough year, one that I shall never forget, and I am truly glad to have met Warren along the way. I was not sure I could handle another year of that kind of teaching though and, while out of season, I found myself quite interested in a position that was being advertised; large carnivore keeper. It was also at Port Lympne so it would just be an internal transfer and also meant I had a fairly good chance of getting the position.

I did, and thus began the last remaining days for me in the UK….

End of part II. The next installment of my life’s account will revolve mostly around the carnivore keepering days. I will go back in time slightly and just explain where Polly went and was in all of this.

After that the two of us are off for an African adventure of our own, one we are still paving out at present. I hope you enjoyed this installment and I look forward to publishing part III, something I am working on already.

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