10 Jun Safari Guides of Welgevonden | Meet Ellard
Ellard Banda first joined the greater Welgevonden community in 2013 when he was appointed as the ‘maintenance guy’ at Makweti Safari Lodge. Driven by his passion for nature, Ellard signed up for a FGASA level 1 qualification, which he completed with flying colours, and has been guiding at the lodge ever since.
Ellard’s laugh is infectious and there is never a dull moment when he is nearby. We’re sure his big personality will ooze through the pages of this short interview.
Started working at Welgevonden:
I originally come from Lilongwe in Malawi
I started working at Makweti as the ‘maintenance guy’ before being appointed as a field guide.
FGASA Level 1; I am currently studying to obtain my Level 2
I love reading and watching TV, particularly National Geographic, and enjoy the occasional game of basketball
When did you first realise your passion for wildlife?
I realised my passion for wildlife in 2007 when I first moved to South Africa – the diversity of wildlife in this country is astonishing!
Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to wildlife like I am here. I remember going to a zoo in Malawi (well, not really a zoo, it’s more like a small sanctuary) and spending ages walking around trying to find an impala. An impala! And here, you can see this abundant antelope simply by driving down the main road. They’re everywhere.
My uncle was already working at Welgevonden by the time I moved to South Africa, and I remember being so impressed by this abundance of wildlife and thinking that I need to work in the bush.
What is your favourite part about being a field guide?
I love being out in the field everyday on a safari experience, up close with nature. It’s such a privilege for me to work in the bush and to enjoy the prolific wildlife here. When I get into my office (the game viewer) I forget about whatever had been running through my mind and I just enjoy being out with nature. It’s a therapeutic experience.
What do you most like about guiding at Welgevonden?
What I love about Welgevonden is how the landscape transforms at every opportunity. One minute you’re in thick bush and next you’re on top of a mountain overlooking vast grasslands. I love the vistas here in the Waterberg, they’re truly very beautiful. You don’t easily find that anywhere else.
What has been your most exciting sighting at Welgevonden?
I’ve seen a few sightings of leopards making a kill, but there is one particular sighting that I would rate as astounding.
It was about 11 am and I was en route to the Main Gate when I got a frantic call over the radio telling me to turn around. There was some commotion at camp.
I arrived back at the lodge to find a warthog and a leopard wrestling in the watering hole right in front of the open lounge and viewing deck! The leopard had the large bodied female warthog in a stranglehold, but was struggling to suffocate it. Every so often the warthog would nearly break free, squeezing itself out of the hold and attempting to gap out of there, but the leopard would grab it and the fight would begin again.
We watched this interaction for about 30 minutes – like National Geographic in your own garden! – until the leopard finally got the upper hand and took the warthog down. But the struggle wasn’t over yet.
The leopard had to drag her victorious kill to a safe and shady spot before consuming it. While it managed to get the carcass out of the watering hole, the warthog proved exceptionally heavy and the leopard eventually gave up and dashed off into the thicket.
The next morning, the cleaning ladies were on their way to refresh the chalets, when a spotted cat emerged from under the deck! The ladies were besides themselves and sprinted back to the main lodge shouting “there is a cheetah in the camp!”.
We went to inspect the scene, discovering that it was in fact the heroic leopard from the day before! It had managed to move the kill to the safety and shade of the wooden deck and had been devouring it from there.
This was a bit dangerous for our guests though, so we decided to move the carcass to the nearby thicket where the leopard could consume the rest of its meal in the shade, away from guests.
This all happened about three years ago now, but I still picture the scene every time I’m out on the deck.
What animals are on your sightings bucket list?
I would love to see a caracal and a pangolin!
What would you be doing if not guiding?
I’d probably still be doing maintenance if I hadn’t become a field guide
Any advice for up and coming field guides?
Nature is patience. Slow down and take your time.