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Expert Rangers and Trackers

Royal Malewane has the most experienced and qualified guiding team in Africa. Our team consists of career guides who strive for excellence and are passionate about the African bush.

On most private safaris in Southern Africa, guests are guided on specialised Toyota Land Cruisers by a ranger who drives the vehicle and by a tracker who sits on an especially precarious seat at the front of the bonnet. The tracker’s job is to find elusive wildlife. To notice and interpret nature’s subtle clues through acutely honed senses while the ranger engages with the guests and ensures safe passage.

There is no bond stronger than the indelible and intuitive connection between a ranger and a tracker. Wild adventures, unique encounters and proud achievements punctuate their derring-do filled days. Watch our video below which explains more about this incredible team.

Juan Pinto is the former Head Ranger at Royal Malewane and has now taken up a position as a director at Royal Malewane allowing him to concentrate on the broader wildlife experience as well as critical conservation efforts. He is the most qualified guide in the business and has a unique set of formal guiding qualifications:

  • The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) – Level III professional guide
  • Special Knowledge and Skills (SKS)-Dangerous Game
  • SKS–Birding
  • Master Tracker
  • Juan was the first active guide to be awarded the honorary title of Scout by FGASA in recognition of achieving the highest qualifications as a guide and as a tracker

Juan and erstwhile Head Tracker, Wilson Masiya have created an ethos that permeates through Royal Malewane, sharing their passion for the African bush and ensuring that all the rangers and trackers strive towards the same goal – to be the best guiding team in Africa. Royal Malewane is proud to have three of only seven living Master Trackers in the world and the only three in the entire Greater Kruger National Park.

All the game rangers at Royal Malewane hold the highest FGASA qualifications as well as advanced rifle handling certificates. These qualifications ensure guests enjoy an exceptional wildlife experience – not only while on a game drive, but also on foot.

Our greatest priority is guest safety. All our guides and trackers receive ongoing, on-site wilderness emergency training from experts in the field.

The guiding team has over 410 years of African bush experience between them which means that each safari can be personalised according to our guests knowledge and interests.

Meet the Rangers

Juan Pinto

Juan has worked in the guiding industry since 1993 and has been instrumental in raising the professional standards of the industry. Juan implemented Royal Malewane’s highly sought after Guiding and Tracking apprenticeship programmes.

His endless desire to learn, improve and innovate ensures that the wildlife experience at Royal Malewane goes from strength to strength.

 

Ryan Jack

Ryan is the Head Ranger at Royal Malewane. He was born in Zimbabwe and started working in the guiding industry in 1999 after completing a diploma in game farm management. Ryan joined Royal Malewane in 2004. He is a FGASA Level III Professional Guide with SKS-Dangerous Game and National and SKS-Birding. He is also a Level III Tracker with a Professional Track and Sign qualification.

Ryan holds a diploma in Photography and loves sharing this passion for wildlife photography with our guests.

Riaan Fourie

Riaan entered the industry in 1999 and has worked as an ecologist in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and as a field guide in the Sabi Sand and in the Karoo. He holds a National Diploma in nature conservation and is a FGASA Level III Professional Field Guide with SKS-Dangerous Game and SKS-Birding. He is also a Level III Tracker.

He joined Royal Malewane in 2006 and is the second Royal Malewane guide to win the coveted FGASA Safari Guide of the Year Award. The week-long contest consists of a gruelling schedule of bush walks, game drives, birding assessments, advanced rifle handling contests, tracking and storytelling – under the close scrutiny of a panel of six judges – all experts in their field.

Rudi Hulshof

Rudi Hulshof has been in the industry since 1997. He has been a head guide and has held senior management roles within the industry. He is a passionate photographer and is an ambassador for Sigma.

Rudi started out studying a BSc in Geology. He is a FGASA Level III Professional Guide with SKS-Dangerous Game. He is also a Level III Tracker and an Advanced Trails Guide.

Rudi joined Royal Malewane in 2014.

Nicola Jooste

Nicola holds an honours degree in nature conservation from the Tshwane University of Technology. After studying she gained practical experience working for South African National Parks in their game capture division.

During this period she was especially involved in the large scale re-introduction of herbivores into the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique.

Nicola joined the Royal Malewane apprenticeship programme in 2011. It was under the tutelage and guidance of the highly experienced Royal Malewane guiding team that she showed great drive and commitment and the decision was made to offer her a permanent position on completion of the apprenticeship.

Nicola is a FGASA Level III Field Guide, a full Trails Guide and a Level I Tracker and is one of the most qualified female guides in the industry.

Nikolas Vounnou

Nik completed his Royal Malewane apprenticeship in 2009 and won FGASA’s Safari Guide of the Year in 2012.

Nik is a FGASA Level III Professional Field Guide with National and SKS-Birding, an advanced trails guide and a Level III Tracker with a Professional Track and Sign qualification. He also has a Southern Africa SKS-Birding qualification and a diploma in nature conservation.

Jonathan Wightman

Jonathan has been working in the guiding industry since 1995 and joined Royal Malewane in 2005. He is a FGASA Level III Professional Field Guide with a SKS-Dangerous Game qualification.

Jonathan also holds a diploma in wildlife management.

Darrel Camden-Smith

Darrel started his guiding career in 1999. He established himself as a trails guide for Zululand walking safaris in Kwazulu-Natal before making the move north to Royal Malewane.

Darrel is a keen and accomplished photographer and once owned a photographic company.

He is a FGASA Level III Professional Field Guide, a Level II Tracker and has a diploma in game farm management.

Andre Fourie

Andre has been a part of The Royal Portfolio since 2016, when he was selected for the two-year apprenticeship programme at Royal Malewane. He showed incredible drive and commitment and became only the third field guide to be offered permanent employment at Royal Malewane upon completion of his apprenticeship.

Andre has a deep passion for Africa’s remote wilderness areas and also has a degree in film making.

Andre is a FGASA Level III Professional Field Guide, Lead Trails Guide and a Level III Tracker. Andre also holds a Professional Trailing qualification.

Wayne Myburgh

Wayne was born in Cape Town, and grew up in Johannesburg. He completed a national diploma in game ranging and lodge management in 2008, before entering the industry more than a decade ago.

Wayne worked on the Thornybush reserve for seven years before joining Royal Malewane.

He is a FGASA Level III Professional Field Guide.

HJ Esterhuizen

HJ grew up in Royal Malewane’s local town, Hoedspruit. Anyone who spends time with him will quickly realise that the bush runs deep in his veins.

For the past decade, HJ honed his guiding skills in the Greater Kruger National Park.

HJ is a true ‘outdoorsman’ and when he is not at work, he is often found leading the famous Olifants backpack trail in the Kruger National Park.

He is a FGASA Level III Professional Guide, Level III Tracker with a Professional Track and Sign qualification, and also a registered Range Officer – a qualification that sees him very involved in guides’ rifle handling assessments.

Elias Msaya

Elias was born in Zimbabwe before moving to South Africa in 2007 where he started training as a safari guide.

He started his career at Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape, before moving to Amakhala Game reserve and Welgevonden in the Limpopo province.

Elias is a highly schooled individual and holds an Advanced Diploma in Nature Conservation and a BSc Honours Degree in Environmental Management. He is also a FGASA Level II Field Guide.

Meet the Trackers

Jonas Mhula

Jonas grew up in the bush with his best friend – former Master Tracker Wilson Masiya. Jonas was inspired to achieve his own Master Tracker qualification at the end of 2016 and with over 40 years’ experience is considered to be one of the top trackers in the country.

The Master Tracker qualification is an honorary recognition of unparalleled knowledge of animal tracking and behavior.

This CyberTracker Certification ensures that trackers play significant roles in education, ecotourism, search and rescue, anti-poaching, scientific research, and the monitoring of rare and endangered species.

There are only seven Master Trackers living today. Three of which, including Jonas, are at Royal Malewane.

Lucas Mathonsi

Lucas Mathonsi’s story as a tracker begun as a five-year-old boy. He would accompany his father who was a ranger in the Timbavati reserve.

Over the next 47 years, Lucas honed his tracking skills, before coming under the tutelage and mentorship of Juan Pinto and Wilson Masiya.

He received his Master Tracker qualification while working at Lion Sands before returning to work with fellow Master Trackers Juan Pinto and Jonas Mhula at Royal Malewane.

His deep-routed passion for wildlife and conservation and commitment to education and safety ensures that all guests at Royal Malewane enjoy an unrivalled experience in the bush.

Robert Ndlovu

Born just 15km away from Royal Malewane, Robert was immersed in the African bush from the start, quickly developing a passion for wildlife and conservation.

Robert has established himself as a Level III Tracker through his qualifications and 25 years of bush experience. He also has a Field Ranger Qualification from the South African Wildlife College.

He has 9 years’ experience in the bush at Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, where he was involved in anti-poaching, wildlife conservation, patrols and game counts.

Shadrack Mnisi

Shadrack was Wilson’s first protégé at Royal Malewane, having honed his game tracking skills under Wilson’s guidance from the time he started as a swimming pool cleaner at Royal Malewane in 2001.

Shadrack is a Level IV Tracker with over 20 years experience.

Patrick Moyeni

Patrick is a local tracker who was raised on the borders of the Greater Kruger National Park. ‘Pat’ is a vastly experienced and skilled Level III tracker who worked in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve for a decade, before joining Royal Malewane in 2008.

Mumps Mathonsi

Mumps Mathonsi was born in southern Mozambique and grew up in the Greater Kruger National Park. He has been a tracker for over 25 years having worked at Simbambili and Mala Mala in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve. He joined Royal Malewane in 2016 and is a FGASA Level IV Tracker.

Mumps has incredible knowledge of the flora and fauna from small insects to medicinal and cultural uses of many tree and plant species.

Bennett Nyathi

Bennett came to South Africa from Mozambique in 1981 and started working as a tracker on the Thornybush Reserve in 1987. He is well-known as a highly skilled tracker, having been on the reserve for more than 30 years.

He joined Royal Malewane in 2013, and holds a FGASA Level IV Tracker qualification.

Selby Mgwena

Selby grew up on the border of the Greater Kruger National Park and honed his skills as a tracker in the Timbavati Game Reserve for 11 years. He holds a FGASA Level IV Tracker qualification.

He is one of the next generation of trackers who will perpetuate this ancient art.

Lawrence Makhubele

Lawrence is another individual that was well-known to the Royal Malewane guides long before he joined the team. He has been working as a tracker in the Thornybush Reserve for over 15 years and is a Level III Tracker.

Lodrick Mkansi

Lodrick has spent the bulk of his 14 years of experience on the Thornybush Nature Reserve and holds a Level III Tracker qualification.

Herman Ndlovu

Herman grew up in the small village of Sigagule, a stone’s throw away from Royal Malewane. He became a tracker in 2006 and spent the last 13 years plying his trade all over the Low-Veld.

His work experience took him to the Timbavati and Balule reserves, followed by seven years working on the Thornybush Nature Reserve. Herman currently holds a Level III Tacker qualification.

Bush Walks

The advantage of having the most experienced and qualified guiding team in Africa is that guests can get closer to the Big 5 and enjoy Africa’s wildlife from a different perspective while learning about the finer details of nature. Guests can experience an even more intimate wildlife encounter by walking among the Big 5 and learning about the vegetation, eco-systems, insect and bird life on a thrilling and fascinating bush walk.

Apprenticeships

Juan Pinto and Wilson Masiya have been instrumental in creating one of the most sought after guiding apprenticeships in South Africa. Royal Malewane takes on two apprentice rangers with aptitude and potential on a rolling two year cycle before sending them out into the industry in order to raise the quality of guiding in Southern Africa. This challenging apprenticeship includes spending two years in a small canvas tent in the wild, gaining first hand experience in the bush while at the same time completing essential FGASA qualifications.

In 2019 we received an application from a young man from the local village outside the reserve applying for a Tracker Apprenticeship. We had to explain that unfortunately we do not run an Apprenticeship programme for Trackers and that even if we did he had no experience. A few days later this young man, Kevin, arrived unannounced at Royal Malewane and knocked on the door of the Ranger’s Office. Our Head Ranger, Ryan Jack, went to meet with him and explained once again that unfortunately we do not offer an apprenticeship for tracking. But Kevin had other ideas…

He explained in fluent English how, for a while, he had been watching the Royal Malewane staff bus come and go through his village with the impressive Royal Malewane logo emblazoned on the side of the bus. From that moment he was determined to work for the prestigious Royal Portfolio. Kevin had ventured into the nearest town and managed to get online to research The Royal Portfolio, learning eagerly about the great legacy of the Master Trackers – of Wilson Masiya and Juan Pinto and of Jonas Mhula and Lucas Mathonsi. These men were legends. And he would become the next Master Tracker.

There was something about this young man – he was bright, smart, internet savvy, spoke English and could drive. He also had an understanding of hospitality from his uncle who worked at nearby Singita. So Ryan went away and spoke to Juan Pinto…

Kevin is now our first Apprentice Tracker. He is excelling under the mentorship of Jonas, Lucas and the rest of the incredible guiding team. He achieved 95% in his first major assessment, he refuses to go on leave and is the first tracker to be able to help out by driving guests and staff around the lodge.

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