13 Jun Safari Guides of Welgevonden | Meet Annouchka
Annouchka is the head guide at Nungubane Game Lodge. The only permanent female field guide at Welgevonden Game Reserve, Annouchka brings her own flair of fierce femininity to the male dominated space. When she’s not guiding, Nouch loves to learn more about nature, drink beer, and sing along to the likes of Johnny Cash.
Annouchka Kiera Maraschin.
I like the name Annouchka, it’s strong. Kiera is more feminine. I think I identify more with the former.
Started working at Welgevonden:
I started working at Welgevonden on the 14th of February 2019, Valentine’s Day. It works well because I consider Nungubane my crush.
I’m originally from Johannesburg, but we moved around a lot when I was younger. We spent some time in England and Norway as well. I practically skipped two years of school, so it’s a miracle that I’m literate!
After studying, I au paired for six months before training to be a guide. I guided at Marataba for a while after that.
I studied Biology and Conservation at the University of Witwatersrand, with focus on evolution, palaeontology, ecology, botany and zoology.
I initially wanted to pursue my honours, but I graduated when the student protests were at their peak and so there was no guarantee that I’d even be able to write exams. I decided to au pair for six months while waiting for the intake at the training college. Here I obtained a FGASA Level 1 and my Backup Trails.
I’ve organised to do my Lead Trail in November and am in the process of completing my Level 2. The nice thing about guiding is that it is a career where you always have the opportunity to learn and I definitely don’t want to stagnate.
Minus beer? (Laughing). It depends on where I am. When I am here, I try my best to refresh my knowledge. When we don’t have guests, I head out and identify plant and bird species. I’d also like to put up an insect display in the lodge. The guests will love it, but it’s also a way to learn about the environment around you.
When I’m at home, I love to catch up with my friends. I love reading and dancing and singing to myself a lot. If you’re here in the morning, you’ll probably hear me jamming some Johnny Cash or Billy Joel. One time, I was halfway through a passionate solo when I realised a guest had been recording me! I’m still waiting for my royalties!
When did you first realise your passion for wildlife?
I loved nature as a child. My Nono (grandfather) always thought that I’d grow up to be a vet. And I did want to be a vet for a long time, until I realised that it it’s actually an office job based in the city, so I pursued guiding instead.
We moved to the Magaliesburg when I was about 11 years old which was amazing because we lived on this massive plot and there were loads of frogs in the ponds and bird nests in the trees. There were only about 40 kids that went to my school, which was situated in the bush in and amongst the trees and stuff.
You don’t really socialise when you live in a rural area like that, so I spent a lot of my time alone outside and I just really enjoyed that. The nice thing about nature is that when you immerse yourself in it and start observing things, rationality leads you to the answer that you are looking for. And that’s really satisfying.
What is your favourite part about being a field guide?
Not to sound cheesy, but I love how there is always, always, always the opportunity to learn and grow. Not only from nature related books, but from the people as well. It’s so interesting from guest to guest how people’s opinions vary. For example, you get all these groups of Americans that will either convince you that Trump is amazing or that he is a complete idiot
I also love how every day is an adventure if you want it to be. That’s what’s so great about Welgevonden. You head out with a vague idea of where you want to go, but the point is that you’re never going to know what’s going to happen while out on drive. Something new always happens. And if you sit and watch an animal for long enough, even an impala, you’ll discover something interesting.
That’s your gift as a guide, to give people a better appreciation for nature. I think that’s pretty cool.
What do you most like about guiding at Welgevonden?
Welgevonden is a magical place. When I first arrived here, I couldn’t believe my eyes. My first impression when traversing the reserve, seeing the habitat diversity, was just like, wow. I remember my first time reaching the top of Jan Stammetjie, driving down Tanzanian Highway and Camel Road.
Your heart aches because this place is so stunning.
The afternoon light is also so beautiful, and as the sun goes down over the horizon it gives you this feeling of peace everywhere. There is just something about Welgevonden, its so big and diverse and, okay I’m going to sound like a hippie now, but Safari means journey right? And that’s what you experience here.
I think guides often forget that. It shouldn’t just be about hitting the sweet spots with the animals or just doing a loop that will be three hours on the dot. Yes, it’s about showing your guests what they want to see, but you need to take it a step further than that.
You need to make people understand why the bush is so special. And that’s why I always take my guests up to the top of Jan Stammetjie. I literally cried the first time I saw that view. It is one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen in my life.
What has been your most exciting sighting at Welgevonden?
When I fist started here, everything was so exciting. There is just so much going on. I think the best was probably when I was driving down next to the Western Airstrip one afternoon and spotted the Western Pride male, ‘Tembe’, on the far end of the plains.
He was on a wildebeest kill and pretty far away, but my guests had a decent view, so we sat there with him for a while, taking photographs and talking about the pride. At one point, a lone zebra walked right passed our car and I jokingly said to my guests, “wouldn’t it be funny if this zebra got eaten right now?”
Anyway, this zebra walked passed us, saw Tembe, and you could almost see the zebra think “nah, it’s fine, he’s got lunch. I’ll be fine,” so he stopped to graze about 100m away from the male lion.
At this point, Tembe kind of pricked up his ears and checked out this zebra, got up and started walking towards it. You could tell that he wasn’t too serious about it, expecting the zebra to look up at any moment and spot him, but the zebra still had its head down and wasn’t paying attention.
So Tembe started to run.
The zebra only noticed the lion when he was about ten metres away and must have got a serious fright because he got this like, heart attack, and fell right over onto the ground! As he tried to get up, Tembe jumped on him and I swear, from the lion being on the animal and it being dead was about ten seconds.
Victorious Tembe brought the dead zebra right up to where we were parked, made himself comfortable, and just started roaring. And you know that roar – it resonates. We stayed there for about an hour after that, enjoying the sighting and listening to him roar.
What animals are on your sightings bucket list?
I’d love to have a proper leopard sighting. I’ve seen the butt ends of leopards, but I’ve never had a relaxed, close sighting of one before. I’d also like to see an aardvark and, I don’t know if this counts, but I’d love to see a zebra giving birth. I mean, they’re always pregnant!
What would you be doing if not guiding?
I’d definitely be in conservation. I think it is important to be out in the field to get a better understanding of the subject you are studying, which is why I like guiding, but I’d probably get my honours in animal behaviour and get into conservation. I’d like to find a good project to work on and contribute towards the knowledge pool of conservation science.
Any advice for up and coming field guides?
Don’t let yourself become demotivated and lazy. You will have good and bad days no matter where you go, but a bad day in the bush is way better than a bad day in the office.
Learn how to communicate and interact with the people around you, and never forget why you chose to live in the bush. It’s about you and the people whose lives you could potentially change.