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The best life ever

Maryke fell in love with the Kruger National Park when she was still at school. Her father was an honorary game ranger and the family spent most of their holidays in the park, where they had the most wonderful experiences in the company of the game rangers.

Back in the 80s, girls were advised to either become a nurse, teacher or secretary, and Maryke decided on teaching. She hated every second of it, and when she was in her 30s, she decided that she would love to be trained as a veterinary nurse.

That opened a whole new world to her, and she still is extremely grateful for her decision.

“It became quite an adventure as I also obtained my microlight pilot’s licence. When I heard about a position on a game farm close to Nelspruit, I applied for the job, brought my microlight here and started doing flights with their guests.

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“There were two elephants on the farm that were used to interact with the visitors, and I soon found that I enjoyed the elephant interaction much more than the flying.

“I fell in love with these wonderful animals and grabbed the opportunity to be trained as an elephant stable master, becoming the first qualified female elephant stable master in South Africa.

“After that I obtained a qualification at the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa, and did a few other courses like tracking,” Maryke says.

There were more challenges to face when Maryke became extremely ill with cancer.

She had to rest for a while, but after an operation and successful treatment, she sent out her CV to a few places. One of them was Rhino Post, and to her absolute joy, she was appointed as a field guide.

Rhino Post is a luxury safari camp on a 12 000-hectare private concession inside the Kruger National Park, and Maryke’s job is to take the guests out on a safari vehicle, introducing them to South Africa’s wonderful wildlife. She also acts as a guide on the sleep-outs that the lodge offers, accommodating guests sleeping on raised platforms under the stars.

“The greatest challenge is to keep them in the trees whenever lions or other predators are walking somewhere close by,” she smiles.

Maryke used to work full-time at Rhino Post, but nowadays she does it on a freelance basis. She lives on a game farm in Mara close to Kaapmuiden where she has 15 horses, which takes up a lot of her time as she offers horse riding on the farm.

She also does rehabilitation of wild animals such as mongooses, duikers and warthogs.

She believes it is important to give people a true bush experience during a game drive. “It is quite a challenge to change the way people think. I don’t like the Big 5 mentality that you often get.

“Some people don’t even know why these animals are called the Big 5. I try my best to change a tourist into a nature lover who not only wants to see lions, elephants, rhinos, buffaloes and leopards.

“We have a lot of fun on the safari vehicles and sometimes we have a quiz, or I will jokingly tell them if they don’t see something special, excluding one of the Big 5, they won’t get any coffee at the next stop. I often get emails from gratified guests who thank me for a life-changing adventure.”

Maryke definitely has a special gift while interacting with wild animals, and of course, her horses. She tells a beautiful story of an elephant becoming unruly during the time that she was fighting cancer. She then asked someone to take her to the ellie.

She explained to the elephant, which came charging at her, that she was ill and that was the reason why she hadn’t visited for quite a while. The animal started sniffing at her wound, and then became quite tranquil as if she fully understood the whole situation.

Recently one of the duikers, that she had rehabilitated, came back to her house, proudly showing Maryke her small baby. To experience the trust of an animal is a wonderful privilege, she says.

“Being in the Kruger with guests, and having the opportunity to see something really special, makes me extremely happy. Hearing the guests say, ‘Wow! Wow!’ at the sighting of a honey badger or pangolin, or a dancing baby rhino, gives me so much joy,” says Maryke.

“When you reach the age of 53, and you can live your dream, you have everything, whether it is watching the guests at the safari lodge enjoying the stars high above them in the dark sky, or seeing the lions underneath the trees in which we are sleeping. I can’t ask for anything more.”

Maryke at [email protected]

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