Volunteer "Runex" takes on a new challenge

Ranetsi and 9-year-old Josh Djoin, who is on holiday from Lesotho, interacting with a Taiwanese ratsnake (Orthriophis taeniurus friesei)


 

Studying for matric, competing in the para-cycling championships and swimming was apparently not enough for fiercely independent young Ranetsi Manyoni.

When uShaka Sea World sent out an appeal for new volunteers at the beginning of last month, Ranetsi (or "Runex" as he is called by his colleagues) wasted no time in responding. However, unlike most applicants, Ranetsi did not send his application in via email but presented it in person.

Initially, he thought he would like to volunteer in the dolphinarium or aquarium but quickly changed his mind when the opportunity to volunteer in Dangerous Creatures was presented as an option.

Although he had never been exposed to either reptiles or amphibians, he was eager to overcome his initial fear and get up close and personal with the slippery inhabitants of the Dangerous Creatures exhibit.

Ranetsi shows off the snake to 11-year-old George Bauer from Bloemfontein

Herpetologist, Lesley Labuschagne encouraged Ranetsi to spend a few hours observing in Dangerous Creatures in order to get a better idea of what being a volunteer caring for reptiles would entail. Apparently it did not take long and, by midmorning, he had signed up as a volunteer and was ready to begin training.

“As soon as I touched a snake and realised it would not harm me, my fear disappeared and I was very surprised at how soft they felt. It felt wonderful and empowering to overcome my fear and I was fascinated by this new world.”

Ranetsi's enthusiasm and commitment to learning saw him progress rapidly through the volunteer programme. After spending just two weeks learning the ropes and taking home self-study material, he is now assisting the herpetologists with cleaning exhibits, preparing food, feeding some of the non-venomous snakes and guiding guests through the exhibits.

“The best part of my day is when I get to interact with Freddie, the green iguana, and the worst part of my day is when I have to clean poop out of the exhibits," he says.

Ranetsi with Stan Aramohodi from Lesotho and George Bauer from Bloemfontein

His exuberant personality boosts the confidence of both young and old, most of whom are unaccustomed to being in the presence of a snake without feeling terrified. When guests are comfortable enough, he encourages them to slowly and gently touch whichever reptile he is interacting with. Ranetsi has a special gift for making people feel brave and confident.

“When I go home and tell people I work with snakes, lizards and frogs, many of my family and friends do not believe that I am not afraid and that the animals will not harm me. I know that there is a lot of work to be done to convince people to conserve nature, but I know that if anyone can do it, I can,” says the beaming volunteer as he encourages visitors to learn about his new slithery friends.

Ranetsi, who lost both his legs in a train incident when he was 10 years old, is a student at Durban’s Open Air school and catches four taxis from Umlazi to uShaka and back home – for the privilege of volunteering.

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