Squeezing a little ash out of an eye-dropper to get the subtle direction of the wind, a national park ranger chose his route. Approximately a hundred yards away a group of 4 elephant bulls were drinking water from a sand river having dug holes for sand-filtered water. Behind him 5 other rangers walked in single file together with a trainer.
Choosing his path carefully and using the river bank as cover, the ranger led his group toward the elephants. He eyed a spot approximately 25 yards from the elephants, downwind from them and with a good view, and he motioned with his hands to hunker down and follow his lead. After rechecking the wind, he relaxed and the group stood and watched, some of them kneeling as the elephants drank their fill. As they finished and silently began to move away, the ranger also rose and led his group away.
Meanwhile, a few kilometers away, another ranger was deciding where the safest place was to enjoy views of another small group of bulls that were moving toward another section of river. Finding a termite mound next to a big baobab tree with a good view, he stopped his group to watch the elephants walking by.
|Simon Peterson and rangers discussing the approach.|
These are two examples of over a hundred and twenty elephant approaches led by a group of 20 rangers in Tanzania’s remote Ruaha National Park as part of a training program I coordinated. During a Wilderness Advanced First Aid course led by Hewett Brown (A Wilderness Medical Associates instructor with Savanna Medics), the rangers learned Tanzania appropriate first aid skills not only to deal with emergencies and respond accordingly, but to recognize risky situations and prevent potential problems.
|Getting ready for practice.|
Armed with their new found first aid skills, the rangers next participated in a firearms course. Familiar with automatic anti-personnel weapons used in anti-poaching patrols, the safe use of heavy caliber rifles used in walking safaris needed separate training as well as practice simulating charging animals. Under the guidance of Mark Radloff, a seasoned instructor, the rangers were put through drills to build muscle memory and improve their shooting.
|Recovered bullets from the respective ammo.|
|Dry fire- practicing trigger control and sight picture.|
|Some ballistics theory.|
With the knowledge that the rangers could deal with the medical aspects of an accident, and the knowledge that they could handle heavy caliber rifles safely and shoot accurately, we set off to try to ensure that they’d never have to actually use the first aid skills or ever have to shoot an animal. We covered all aspects of walking from necessary equipment, client briefings, walking formations, accidental encounters, and potentially dangerous animal behavior. We also practiced leading walks, being back-up ranger, and recognizing opportunities to provide unforgettable experiences all the while remaining safe.