If you have visited Tshwene Lodge before, you may have met April Theledi, one of our incredible guides. As a young boy, April was a shepherd for his family and it was then that he fell in love with nature. His passion for the bush led him to become a key member of our team, bringing magic to every guest's visit. We chatted to him about what makes Tshwene so special, a typical day in Welgevonden and his top tip for first time safari goers.
1. What makes Tshwene Lodge so special?
Definitely the Welgevonden Private Game Reserve - the landscape and the valley where Tshwene Lodge is built is magnificent. Also the friendly staff, the quality of the food and the overall bush experience. Our visiting guests play a very special role in making Tshwene Lodge special for us, too.
2. Tell us how you became a field guide at Tshwene
I was born in the heart of nature, raised by a single parent and grew up as a herder for my maternal grandfather's livestock, which is where I fell in love with nature. In 2013 I started field guide training and was placed at one of the lodges in the Welgevonden Game Reserve as part of my work placement and for my practical assessment. I graduated in 2014 and then embarked on a specialist bird course with BirdLife South Africa. After that I got involved in golf as a voluntary trainer and a leader for small community projects. However, I missed being in the bushveld, so when I came across a job posting for Tshwene Lodge, I applied and started freelancing for a few months. Later, I succeeded in becoming a permanent member of this wonderful Tshwene family.
3. Describe a typical day...
Well, every day is unique! At Tshwene we work together as a team to create amazing memories and experiences for our guests. Mornings start at around 05h30 when I prepare coffee, tea and snacks for the guests before we embark on the morning drive by 06h00 (season dependent). We return at around 09h00 for breakfast. Some days we have guests departing and some days guests arrive. I prepare the arrival drinks and head out to the Main Gate, which is where we meet and do the introductions with our guests. After lunch we head out for another three hour afternoon/evening drive. I cannot say that mornings or evenings are a favourite as both are amazing, from watching the world wake up in the morning and following the tracks of the nocturnal animals, to the spectacular African sunsets and sharing stories and jokes with my guests. I love ending a good week, dancing and singing with our guests after dinner.
4. What's the animal you never get tired of spotting in the wild?
I never get tired of spotting any animal in the wild, because in the wild the animals are roaming free. This is their home and you are always humbled by the fact that they allow you to engage and watch them. This means that you can see an animal ten times in one day but the habitat and behaviour of the animal won't always be the same. That is what makes this job so special and fascinating. That is also why I never get tired of doing what I do. Each day a different story unfolds in front of you.
5. When would you say is the best time of year to visit Tshwene?
We are open and active throughout the year. It is the individual's preference. Some people would prefer visiting the area during the dry season for easier game spotting, while others prefer the rainy season and the abundance of new life. Every season is special, some bring birth, some bring renewal and some bring stillness and endings. There are so many areas of the reserve to explore as well. There are rocky and flat areas, dry and denser areas, and wonderful natural springs to be seen. The animals are active in different areas throughout the year depending on the season, so there is always something new to see.
6. Tell us about the Welgevonden Game Reserve
It stretches over 38.2 thousand hectares and its name means "well found". It is winter now and we have had very good rainfall this year. Our rivers and valleys are still flowing with water. We have a wide range of wildlife - from taller antelopes to eland, duiker, jackal, elephant, cheetah, lion and leopard. There are also numerous rare and unusual sightings of animals such as brown hyena, aardwolf, pangolins and aardvark - most of these are best seen at night. As for the birdlife, Welgevonden has over 300 bird species and it is great following the migration of the different birds within the different areas in Welgevonden.
7. Top safari moment to date?
My best sighting was seeing a leopard stalking an impala ram, killing it, eating a little bit and then dragging it into a tree. All within clear view. I was at the right place at the right time and that was awesome!
8. What is your top tip for someone going on their first safari?
To enjoy the little things, animals and insects, as well as the more well known Big 5. Too often you see guests focus on the next sighting and they miss the little magical moments like the dung beetles rolling around on the ground unbalanced, and the owls and bush babies on the way back at night. Take in the scenery and ask a lot of questions. There are no silly questions and no matter how many times you have been on safari, you will learn something new based on what the animals are allowing you to share with them.
Keen to learn more about Tshwene Lodge? Watch our video, which celebrates this magical place we are lucky to call home and please get in touch with any questions. We are here to help.