Book Now

Meet Mandla, a Tracker making a difference.

9 Feb 2024 | By Author Thornybush | Community Projects & Experiences & News & Team

If you’ve had Mandla as your Tracker, we know he would have left a lasting impression. His profession and knowledge knows no boundaries which spreads his passion and engaging personality to everyone he meets. We sat down with him, and asked him a few questions about his life, what his goals are and what he loves most about being a tracker.  

Getting to know Mandla

Nature is in his blood, and for a brief moment he decided on a different direction until it called him back. 

Mandla, Can you tell us about where you’re from? 

I was born and bred in a small village called Clare in the Manyaleti circuit by Bushbuckridge. Manyaleti means “Place of the stars” in the local xiTsonga language. I grew up in a traditional African village, where basic services were not easily accessible, people were left to use traditional ways to survive and as children, we were taught to live harmoniously with nature and wildlife.

Our village is led by traditional leaders (chiefs) “’Hosi”, who are the respected authority in the village that assist with land provision, cattle crisis management, social disputes, and other issues. We all had our roles, even as young kids, mine was herding my family’s cattle being immersed in nature for hours on end; which I believe now is why I feel most happiest surrounded by the bush. 

Did you know you wanted to be a tracker?

At first, no, but life has a funny way of pulling you back to your roots. 

I started out studying Mechanical Engineering at a local college, but soon realised that, that was not the career path for me. I then looked into becoming a Field Ranger or going to the South African Army – I was looking for a career that would give me my nature fix. 

At the end of high school I got involved in the Timbavati Foundation programme which immersed me in nature and introduced him to the concept of Conservation and Wildlife Ecotourism – it drew me back and re-opened my passion for wildlife and the environment. It was then that I got sponsored to study Tracking at a college in the Eastern Cape, which is really far from my home but I saw it as an adventure, I guess. I completed the course, returning home to the Greater Kruger where I started working towards my dream career as a professional Tracker and giving the ultimate guest experience to safari-goers.

What inspired you to become a tracker?

It was the opportunity that was given to me by the Timbavati Foundation that inspired my shift in career direction. I saw potential in myself and for once I was where I was supposed to be. This opportunity showed me that I can make a difference in my community, and where the big cities called, I know I needed to be here in the bush, making an impact.

Growing up we were never afforded the opportunities to learn about wildlife and conservation even though we lived close to a gated nature reserve and the Kruger National Park. Some people in my community have not even experienced the Big 5 and yet they grew up next to KNP – being able to bring this dream home and share my stories is an opportunity to inspire others in my community to work in tourism and conservation.

I look at children like me growing up, who have never been on a game drive, and do not understand the importance of wildlife conservation and protecting the environment. It’s this knowledge that inspires me to get involved with nature conservation and to be a mentor for others to follow in my footsteps and help them choose a career that makes a difference.

What’s your favourite part about being a tracker?

Being able to use your natural senses to track animals is a super power, and brings the ultimate adrenaline rush when you get it right. There’s always a level of doubt because the animals are not tame. As a Tracker you’re not just tracking animals, guests are trusting you with their safety. Every game drive is exciting, the thought of discovering and learning more about wildlife, experiencing exciting sightings and sharing that with guests is what keeps me motivated. 

Sometimes being able to sit and just watch animal interactions and discover newer behaviours is where the real bush school happens. I am always fascinated by sightings and this makes Tracking an adventure. It’s such a wonderful thing when something you call a job comes so naturally to your life. I love learning, but I also love the unknown and in the bush, you will never be able to master animal behaviour but you can constantly learn from it. My favourite tracker activity is being on foot. It’s such a different experience to being on the vehicle. Not only does it test your skills, but your senses react so differently. 

What are your dreams for the future? 

The big dream is to experience a Jaguar sighting. I would love to track and follow them in their natural habitat, study them and learn more about their behaviours in nature. But a little closer to home I want to continue inspiring more youth to choose careers in conservation and wildlife ecotourism. Being able to conserve the traditional knowledge and skills passed down about nature and protect the lands of my forefathers.

And lastly, we hear you’re quite the sportsman? 

I am an athletic person that enjoys activities related to fitness, but especially soccer. I started a soccer club at Thornybush called the “Ingwe’s” which plays once a month against local teams. It’s a great community experience and keeps us fit! I am also involved in Runs/Walks related to social development in my surrounding communities organised by local NPO’s and NGO’s which benefit the community. There are many ways to make a difference. I just do it Mandla style.

Check out Mandla in Action here: Tracking Lions