Hard work with soul – Johan Gerber shares his story

By: Dr Judy Mann

Last week over 50 people gathered in the SAAMBR Conference Room at uShaka Marine World for a very special presentation. Mr Johan Gerber, one of the SAAMBR Conservation Legends, shared with us some of the highlights, and tough times, experienced during his 42 years as a game ranger in Zululand.

 Johan’s presentation showed his depth of love for the Zululand bush – its plants and animals, its people and challenges. Starting with his early days as a relief ranger, which he spent moving between reserves, learning the ropes and roles of a game ranger; he shared with us experiences during his time in Northern Zululand. While in Itala he told us the story of how he and his fellow rangers saved a rhino who had fallen into an old mining pit – by filling the hole with one load of gravel at a time, until she could walk out of the deep pit. Seeing the need to address the poaching issues arising in protected areas, Johan established the first Anti-Poaching Unit in KZN.

 Johan shared with us stories of the floods of Demoina, which washed away months of hard work at the Mdindini Trails Camp and using the ferry to cross the Umfolozi for the children’s schooling, and stories about living in the bush, with infrequent contact with outsiders, and collecting salaries – in cash – on the side of the road. His love for his wife and children came through in all the stories and reminded us that every game ranger needs the solid support, and often many sacrifices, of a family at home.

 So much of what we take for granted today, from the names of camps to the need for anti-poaching units, from animals that we are privileged to experience in the bush to practices in conservation, are here because of people like Johan. Johan ended his presentation with a very special song – a song that he composed about Zululand. There were very few dry eyes as we all felt the last words as we heard them ‘Wherever we roam, we will always keep calling Zululand home’.

 We have some very special places in KZN, places where nature exists as it has for thousands of years and which we have the incredible privilege to experience. We have the sacrifices, hard work, dedication and tenacity of rangers to thank for this wildlife, these places and experiences. Were it not for their passion for nature, we would not have these places to share with next generation. What a legacy you and those like you have left us Johan, may we draw strength from your efforts as we strive to care for nature, as you have always done.