Living amongst wildlife in South Africa
Updated: Sep 28
Part of becoming a field guide is living amongst wildlife, respecting their space as they respect yours. Have you ever seen a leopard at night? Shannon Scullion experienced this first hand recently – and it’s an experience few people will ever have!
Read time: 4 min
In the second week of being at Bushwise, I was allocated the task of being camp manager. I enjoyed this week particularly because I like taking care of people, which I’m realizing quickly is a big part of being a great field guide.
Taking on responsibility
I was responsible for making sure that all of the duties on campus were being done, such as taking out the bio bin, washing dishes after meals, and making sure that my fellow students knew what was for dinner and that I was available to help them with any problems that may come up.
I was also in charge of keeping a radio on me. That way I would be able to contact Rose the chef, or Vaughan our head trainer after hours. This reassurance of having this instant contact on me made me feel especially comforted one night on campus before I went to sleep.
When you’re living amongst wildlife
When we arrived at Bushwise, I was fully aware that we would be sharing our space for sleep and study with some wild critters.
Wayne, one of our trainers, showed us a presentation in this first week to help us understand what we could expect to see when living amongst wildlife over the next six months. This included spiders, snakes, scorpions, centipedes, ticks, porcupines, honey badgers, spotted hyenas, vervet monkeys, baboons and last but certainly not least, leopards.
Now I would be lying if I told you that this didn’t make me nervous, but coming from Australia where I would regularly encounter wildlife in my bedroom, I wasn’t too worried. I was excited to see all these things!
What will we see next?
One night during my week as camp manager, after some hours of after-dinner studying and a shower, I got into bed to watch a movie. I was just about to drift off to sleep when I heard a loud, short noise that almost sounded like a car door closing.
I looked over at Sandra, my roommate. She was on the phone to her boyfriend and didn’t seem too fussed about the noise outside our bedroom. So, I settled and tried to go back to sleep.
What’s that sound?
A few seconds later, there it was again. I looked over to Sandra again and this time she was looking back at me. “What was that?!” she said. We waited in silence for the noise to reappear. It did.
As we were trying to figure out what it was, maybe a door having been left open and banging against a wall, the noise changed to a distinct and continuous rumble. We knew instantly then. It was a leopard just outside our bedroom door marking her territory!
Instantly my mind started to race, I was freaking out. My mind even got me thinking, could this leopard open my door and come in here?! I knew this wasn’t logical, this is just one of the amazing things about living amongst wildlife. Still, hearing a leopard a few feet away from your bedroom door makes your mind start to run away with itself.
I was just about to reach for the radio, just in case, when Sandra said excitedly, “Turn the lights off! Where is your torch?” We turned off the lights and I gave Sandra my best torch. We pushed ourselves up against the window and there she was, Mrs. Whiskers, her yellow eyes reflecting back at us.
Expect anything when living amongst wildlife
She was the beautiful young female leopard that had been caught on Josh and Kerry’s camera trap that was set up by the waterhole at the other end of the campus a few nights before. We’d all named her Mrs. Whiskers.
I couldn’t believe it. It was incredible! I didn’t feel scared anymore. I was just in awe of this beautiful creature, and the fact that she was sitting a few feet away from us. I didn’t even need to use the radio, but it was still nice to have it.
Bushwise students learn about the importance of respecting wild animals while living amongst wildlife and creating safe places for people and animals to coexist. Wouldn’t you love to learn about wildlife, in a wild place like this? Apply for a Bushwise course today and start your career journey.
Words by Shannon Scullion, photos by Louise Pavid