Safari & Habitat Manager
“Growing” people and nurturing a love of the African wilderness in them is very much part of Djuma’s DNA. Investing in people as well as planet and bridging the gap between humanity and nature goes to the very core of what makes Djuma so incredibly special. It’s an ethos that extends far beyond the borders of the game reserve and its team of staff, out into the communities that exist on its periphery. It’s this ethos that continues to inspire all those who come across Djuma. It also changes lives…
For Rexon Ntimane, Djuma’s Safari and Habitat Manager, life began in the bush almost 50 years ago on the land that would eventually become Djuma’s first accommodation offering – “Bush Lodge”. “Although no longer a part of Djuma, it was a fitting start when you look at where I am now,” laughs Rexon.
He spent his childhood up until his teens in the bush, exploring the area which is now one of the leading wildlife hotspots in South Africa. “I used to walk around the bush here and say to myself that I whatever I did in life would have to have something to do with wildlife, because I just love this,” he says, opening his arms as if to embrace the wilderness around us.
His utopian childhood came to an abrupt end in 1982 when, as part of South Africa’s apartheid policy of forced removals, his family were moved to the nearby village of Dixie. “It was hard for me to adjust. I had never been to school because I had been busy taking care of my family’s goats and cattle. Many children experienced this in those times because their parents were away working, leaving them to take care of young families and livestock with no chance of finding time for school,” Rexon explains.
“And so I went to school in our neighbouring village of Utah, and thank goodness I proved to be a quick learner so I caught up quite fast. When I left school I continued to help tend to my family’s livestock but also continued to explore the bush. Looking back, this was the foundation of the bushcraft I have acquired today, and the reason why, in 1993, I decided to become a tracker.”
Tracker positions were hard to come by but an interview with Londolozi gave him the break he needed and he began working there as a security guard until 1995, when the opportunity came to train for his guide’s qualification. He then began the task of applying for guide’s jobs and was eventually introduced to well-known wildlife film-maker John Varty, one of Londolozi’s owners.
“He was looking for a tracker-cum-guide for his latest film project and I got the job,” smiles Rexon. “And so I began working for Londolozi Productions and was introduced to the world of wildlife film-making. Mr Varty taught me so much – I learned how to become a sound man and a cameraman and enjoyed a lot of success, visiting amazing places across Africa as part of his crew. Sadly, Londolozi Productions eventually closed down and I returned to my home and my roots here in Dixie and began to think about what to do next,” Rexon reminisces.
“I eventually heard that Djuma was starting up a virtual safari experience with a company called Africam and I got in touch with Pippa and Jurie Moolman (Djuma’s owners) and was offered a job. And so began my journey with Djuma,” he smiles.
“Jurie and Pippa taught me how to interact with clients and computer skills (at that time I had never so much as turned a computer on!) and I was also helping out in the office and doing some marketing. I interacted with Africam’s viewers and went out on game drives every day, helping to create our virtual game drive experience,” he says proudly.
When Africam closed a few years later, Rexon became a full-time guide at Djuma and in 2007 was offered the chance to become part of a new project called “Safari Live”.
“I chatted to the team at Wild Earth (producers of “Safari Live”) and joined the team as a presenter. It was a wonderful time in my life and I loved being a part of this amazing project,” he says. “I left in 2011 to pursue my guiding career, moving to a neighbouring reserve as a senior guide but I was unhappy and eventually moved back to Djuma in 2015. It was like coming home and I asked myself why I ever left.”
What is it about Djuma that called him “home”? Rexon doesn’t hesitate in his answer… “Djuma is a very special place, and Pippa and Jurie are also very special. They have a unique way of working with all of their staff by being “open” and helping us to grow. We have an enormous level of support from them both professionally and personally. So it’s like being part of an extended family,” he says.
“Now I am part of the management team here at Djuma, which is wonderful. It hasn’t been easy to get here but I have worked hard for it. I am the head of the safari department, overseeing all the guides and trackers, managing vehicles and communicating with our team. I am also the habitat manager, taking care of Djuma’s habitat and making sure our impact is kept to a minimum, rehabilitating areas that need assistance,” Rexon explains.
“I am constantly assessing how our safari business is impacting our environment and helping to come up with ways to ensure we touch the earth as lightly as possible and minimise the stress on our wildlife. I love my job. And I am exceptionally happy here. I will stay here as long as Djuma will have me and I want to continue educating people, sharing information and knowledge I have gathered over my years in the bush. I am even planning to write a book about the unknown impact that humans have on the wilderness,” says Rexon.
A father of nine children between his first and second wives, Rexon turns 50 in January. Home is still Dixie, and Djuma – a place he credits with having enormous impact on his life.
“Without Pippa and Jurie in my life it would not have been as good,” he says earnestly.
“Jurie and Pippa have helped so many people in our communities – building pre-schools, building schools, sending their children to these schools and changing the lives of so many people. Without them our children would not be in the position they are today, with a good education and so many opportunities open to them. They have changed my life in incredible ways, through their work in the communities and their belief in me and what I am capable of doing and achieving. So I want to say ‘thank you’ to them for helping me to be the best man I can be.”