Breaking The Bias

20th April 2022

History, Wilderness teachings,

Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.

This International Woman’s Day we have been asked to explore the theme ‘breaking the bias’ around gender roles and challenging them. Here at Londolozi, we not only value the role of the women in our community but we celebrate them.

Equality isn’t about being equal in what you do but rather about having an equal opportunity to do something.

Jess Maclarty with lion
Former Ranger, Jess Boon (now MacLarty) viewing a Majingilane male lion.
Jess Shillaw with Elephant herd

For me, it wasn’t until a 12-year-old child asked me what I wanted to be when I was her age, did I actually consider following my dream to become a ranger.

Growing up I always knew I wanted to become a ranger, but back when I was 12 it was a ‘man’s world’ and female rangers were only in my imagination. After school I stuck to the societal norms, I furthered my studies and became a Grade 5 school teacher. While in my third year of teaching, the Grade 7’s (12-year-olds) had to come to school dressed as what they wanted to be when they were older and present their career choice to the class. Early that morning a group of these students came bursting into my class to show me their various outfit choices and aspiring careers.

After some time one student asked, “Miss Joscelyne what did you want to be when you were our age?” My answer was simple “A game ranger” … And there was my true hearts knowing! 6 months later I found myself here at Londolozi on the ranger training selection course.

Kirst Joscelyne
One of the first pictures taken of me after becoming a qualified ranger captured by guest Maruis Coetzee.
Kelsey & Bennett
Current ranger Kelsey and Tracker Bennet

At the start of your training at Londolozi, you first embark on a selection course where you complete various exercises which are aimed to test your mental, physical and emotional capabilities.  This initial selection has been a tradition for decades where you all go through these exercises together. There is no deviation in them based on your gender and through this, it creates an incredible bond with your group as you go through this shared experience together – something that is difficult to put into words.

Talley Smith
James Tyrrell, Talley Smith and Daniel Buys finishing their character week during training. Talley (far right) was to become Londolozi’s Head Ranger just a few years later.
Ranger Training
Current Ranger Jess Shillaw, stands on the far left after completing her first week of training

If you manage to make it through this selection week you begin your guiding training, which is focused on knowledge acquisition and driving techniques. This includes off-roading and how to safely operate a vehicle in this terrain while viewing animals. So, when asked, ‘Can you really handle this vehicle?’ or ‘Are you sure you know how to off-road?’ the answer is a confident ‘yes’ because every ranger has had the same practical training and have been taught the same skills.

Robyn & Elephant
Ranger Robyn Morrison and Tracker Jerry Sibuya are captured here viewing a breeding herd of elephants with their guests.
Jess Shillaw

Along with our practical and theoretical training, we have to complete our Advanced Rifle Handling – a national standard of handling a firearm that has a suitable caliber for a Big 5 game area. To be a guide you have to have obtained this standard through a certified firearm company which ensures that you are capable and efficient when operating a rifle. This rifle is the same caliber for both the male and female guides. Once you are qualified you then practice your shooting by going to the range once every 6 weeks to ensure you are all proficient and accurate.

Jess Maclarty
Ranger Jess MacLarty at a range shoot with a .375 caliber rifle.
Andrea Campbell & Lucky
Former Ranger Andrea Campbell and Tracker Lucky Shagangu

So today on International Woman’s Day, I wanted to pause and reflect on all the female rangers who have worked at Londolozi over the years. Today is the perfect day to appreciate those who went before us to break the bias that to be a guide you have to be a male.  Today we celebrate all of you and share a small part of your story.

When Londolozi transformed into a photographic safari destination there were various new roles and jobs that had to be done and so whoever was most qualified would, of course, be assigned a particular role. It was never a question of gender. Shan Varty went on to get her pilot’s license as it was practical for both Dave and Shan to be able to fly a small aircraft- neither of them ever really considered the rarity of Shan being a female pilot at the time.

Shanny in cockpit

This ethos filtered through from the Varty Family deep into the Londolozi culture. In the 1980s two women applied to the board of the Kruger National Park to become rangers but were rejected. This signaled a time to mount a campaign of change in 1987! Then along came Dee Adams with seven other potential candidates to participate in the Londolozi selection course.

Renius & Dee Adams
Dee Adams with tracker Renias Mhlongo in the driver’s seat as the first Londolozi female ranger

Tony Adams – Dee’s husband- was already a ranger while Dee assisted in the camps. She had a passion for botany and the natural world. One afternoon at lunchtime Dave Varty walked up to Tony and Dee and asked, “How would you feel about having the opportunity to become a ranger?”. Dee at the time had never even considered this as a possibility nor gave it much thought but thought “why not?”.  Dee started the selection course the next day! At the end of the course, three people made it through to the end. One of these three was arguably the first female guide in the industry – Dee Adams.

Dee Adams with guests

While guiding Dee Adams drove a family with a young girl who was around 17 years old at the time. She asked Dee how she too could become a ranger. Dee had explained how she went to university and had studied botany and after that applied at Londolozi. Sure enough, five years later, Jackie Evans applied for the course and become our second female ranger. It just goes to show that believing often begins with seeing…

Dee Adams
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Dee went on to guide at Londolozi for 5 years until she and her husband Tony became the head of ranger training at Londolozi. Following this, they went on to become the leaders of the guiding culture of CC Africa (now &beyond).

Fast forward to 2022 … out of a total of 22 rangers, 5 of us are women (with another woman currently on our 2022 training course).

2021 Female rangers
The current female rangers at Londolozi. Kelsey, Robyn, Tayla, Jess, and myself.
Talley Smith with wild dogs
Former head ranger Talley Smith views some wild dog pups up close.
Jess Maclarty
Ranger Jess Boon (now MacLarty) at a male lion sighting

Equality isn’t about being equal in what you do but rather about having an equal opportunity to do something. Here in the guiding team, you are treated equally and are never subjected to gender bias. You are treated as one of the guides. Just a guide – not a female guide. You get teased the same, get asked to perform the same tasks and spend time doing the same activities – one of which is our daily touch-rugby game with the ranging team- certainly something that would seem ‘just for the guys’ but that is regularly attended by the ladies!

Yes, we are innately different but I think together having both women and men in the guiding team has made us a lot more dynamic and more balanced. If you think about the natural world – it is governed by balance. Our mixed team brings out a side of compassion and fosters a deeper connection to each other and the natural environment we get to spend every day in. “To be a ranger you have to be tough, strong, confident, and self-assured – quite honestly,” says Shan Varty. As a female ranger, you need to have a delicate balance of masculinity and femininity and understand both sides as a state of energy or a way of being rather than just a gender.

Amy Attenborough
Former Ranger Amy Attenborough positions the vehicle for James Tyrrell to get a shot of the leopard in the foreground.
Andrea Cambell at GWF
Former Ranger Andrea Campbell teaches children at the Good Work Foundation
Kate Imrie
Kate Emrie, a former Londolozi Head Ranger and Head of Training
Jess Shillaw with wild dog
Ranger Jess Shillaw with a pack of wild dogs as she maneuvered off-road to try and keep up with the pack on their morning hunt

So yes, at times we have to prove ourselves at first and work extra hard to be at our best because any shortfall is often then attributed to us being a female guide. When lining up at the airstrip to welcome new guests, I wait with six other Land Rovers next to me. When the plane flies in and lands and pulls up, we all stand and smile and wave at the new arrivals here for their much-anticipated safari.

Ranger line up in varty camp car park
The buzz of the anticipation for the game drive is hard to put into words. Here the Land Rovers are all lined up in Varty car park ready for the next adventure.

As the guests filter off the plane and we all go to meet them – I always think in the back of my mind ‘I hope they are not disappointed they got the only female ranger‘. While this is my own bias and my own doubt that needs to be questioned, it’s something that we are working hard to change at Londolozi.

What gives me peace of mind with every new arriving guest is that I must play my small part in breaking the bias too. I am eager to give my guests a spectacular drive to prove that I am just as trained, just as willing, and just as passionate as any other ranger, be they male or female. We are just one of the guides in an incredible team. Furthermore, we are a part of a sisterhood of powerful and capable women who we get to call family. We are supported by the men in our guiding team who are like our brothers and that is what it means to be a female guide.

Guests and leopards
Former Ranger Helen Young takes her guests to a leopard sighting
Jess Shillaw under fig tree
Current Ranger, Jess Shillaw, took part in our Nature Reunion Campaign as she told us how she connects with nature – walking barefoot in Londolozi’s Leadwood Forest
Kirst & lucky with a pangolin
Myself and Tracker Lucky at a pangolin sighting

So today, on International Woman’s Day, let’s challenge those biases around us and push the boundaries of stereotypes. We are who we allow ourselves to be. I am grateful to be a part of this incredible community that values you as a person – as you are, no strings attached. To all the women before me that have faced adversity but pushed through it – thank you. To the incredible guiding team at Londolozi – thank you for always looking out for us and supporting us. To all of you who are doing your bit to challenge these gender biases all over the world, in every community – you are doing important work. To all the female guides out there – we got this!

From our sisterhood to yours, Happy International Woman’s Day!

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