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An Interview with Ranger Tom Imrie of Londolozi Reserve

Londolozi ranger, Tom Imrie, speaks to us about life on the reserve, his most surprising wildlife encounters and the profound effect that nature has on all of us.

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It purely was by accident that Tom Imrie became a ranger, after he and his wife, who is the head ranger at Londolozi, changed their careers for an outdoors life and trained to become guides, before they were subsequently, somewhat dauntingly, posted to Londolozi. Now, the challenge of working at this esteemed reserve seems to have paid off, as Imrie says:  “We’ve guided for almost 10 years now, but where that time has gone, I can’t tell you.”

Imrie explains that the land and people are what make Londolozi so unique, in addition to the close encounters with wildlife. “It is a great kindness that allows us to live here with our two children, creating a space with values where we can all excel, ” he says, “Inevitably the staff have fun, and that enjoyment manifests itself in the guests’ experience. The land is exquisite, carrying an abundance and diversity of wildlife that makes every game drive breath-taking.”

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Aside from game drives and bushwalks, Imrie sees his role as ranger as that of a host and ambassador for South Africa, helping guests better understand the country and its people, while also earning a greater appreciation for nature. “A good ranger should have guests leaving Londolozi feeling as though they have been part of a family,” he says, “as well as carrying with them a greater concern for nature.”

“Conservation is something we teach and inspire to our guests, new rangers, trackers and rural learners who are touched by the Good Work Foundation,” Imrie continues,  “Although, the actual care of the land at Londolozi is run by a habitat team who Iook after this enormous wilderness.”

“The summer months are full of wildflowers, brilliantly coloured insects and migratory birds, while winter is a photographer’s dream with endless sunshine.”

Wildlife is abundant all year round at Londolozi, but late November and early December are particularly notable for the birthing of impala lambs, wildebeest calves and warthog piglets. “The summer months, from October to March, are full of wildflowers, brilliantly coloured insects, migratory birds from far and wide, and a myriad of little things eking out a fascinating existence,” he enthuses, “while winter, from May to September,  is a photographer’s dream with little vegetation and endless sunshine. It’s also the time that we see the most elephants here, and if you love them like I do, there’s a great surprise around every corner.”

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Life at Londolozi does encompass some surprise wildlife encounters too. “My most memorable moments are the battles that I wage at home with monkeys, baboons, and several years ago with an incorrigible elephant. Growing tomatoes, beans and lettuce has made my home a high priority visit for them – they constantly test your vigilance.”

Naturally, most encounters with the animals are more welcome though. “A few years ago a wildfire swept through an area in which three lionesses were denning cubs,” Imrie tells us, “We didn’t see them for about a fortnight, but on an afternoon game drive we unexpectedly came across all eight cubs playing on a small rocky outcropping. The shout of delight I gave sent them and their mothers running for cover.”

“I want guests to leave in awe of nature.”

While teaching visitors to Londolozi about the land and its people, as well as the wild animals that most people are there to see, Imrie wants the guests take a more profound message away with them. “I want guests to leave in awe of nature,” he says, “helping them make better choices regarding the welfare of the planet and reminding them that the pursuits we engage in are secondary to the simple things, like sitting next to a loved one and watching a sunrise.”

“I would simply love the experience of wildlife to re-awaken a sense of soul in my guests,” he continues, “so that the choices they make in life are driven by happiness and not materialism or convenience. Somehow nature has that effect on people, and as a guide it’s important to try to facilitate that process.”

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To get the most out of a safari, Imrie’s advice is to simply take a few moments to put your camera down, to just look with your eyes. “Don’t waste too much time snapping away,” he says, “Take a few photos, then take the time to experience the animal without technology getting in the way.”

“Have a few drinks, laugh a lot, and eat as much as you can.”

“Don’t try to rush around seeing everything, as the more you hurry, the more you miss,” he adds, before giving one final piece of advice, “Have a few drinks, laugh a lot, and eat as much as you can – it’s a time to forget city troubles and let your hair, and guard, down.”