“Oooh! There’s a white rhino behind this bush” says Thobeka with quiet confidence. We stare dubiously at the bush until it suddenly seems to grow in size and an enormous white rhino lumbers out from behind it. “Wow she’s good” whispers one guest from the back row of the game viewing vehicle. “Yes, how does she keep doing that?” mutters another.
Thobeka Nkosi has an unruffled quality about her as she drives one thoughtfully and attentively around the beautiful Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve where she works as a nature guide. However she becomes highly animated when she talks about birds, her favourite creatures of the bush. Her voice rises an octave when she mentions her beloved Gorgeous Shrike and she can chant bird calls like poetry. Her thick birdbook flips itself open on the right page with overuse.
A highly qualified guide, she will patiently answer any of our questions. We ask Thobeka about the wildebeest (gnu) crossing the road before us and she tells us a macabre and little-known fact that these poor animals are born with a parasitic worm in their brains which makes them especially vulnerable to going mad. By now I know to ask Thobeka what a mad gnu looks like and she gives an enthusiastic demonstration. We all agree it puts our problems into perspective.
It is a fascinating and calm safari drive and I wish it could go on forever, listening to this knowledgeable young person who is so passionate about her natural world. We round the last corner before heading up the steep hill back to the lodge and Thobeka once again says “Oooh! There’s a giraffe behind that bush.” Despite the unlikely idea of a giraffe appearing from behind a low bush, by this stage we know to take everything this guide says seriously and our cameras are on the ready as the ‘tall horse’ lifts its head graciously to blink at us in surprise from behind its long eyelashes.