The essential services of the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve – part 2

Optimistic, organized and outstanding operations team of the Timbavati.

“It’s a crisp early morning, I hear the soft vibrations of a male lion calling in the distance. This is my home away from home. I wear my uniform with pride, my steel-capped boots are polished and fitted snug against my toes, I feel I am ready to take the challenges on of the day. We wait patiently for our instructions for the day, what may they be? Checking the fence line? Dragging tires along the dusty gravel roads? All these thoughts and ideas run through my head, this is my job, my work, my passion. I have a purpose to be here.”

Part 2 of our Essential Services Series highlights the optimistic, organised and outstanding operational services of the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve (TPNR). They are the brute force behind the physical running of the reserve. They are lead and mentored by people who have a great deal of knowledge and experience. You could say that our operations team is multi-skilled, jack of all trades and that there is no task too great or too small that they will not be able to assist with.

You may ask, so what makes them an essential service? The answer is simple, no operational support means no physical support to the reserve. If we did not have such an optimistic, organized and outstanding team, our reserve’s fence line would be severely overgrown, not maintained and dilapidated. Our reserve roads would be inaccessible and heavily eroded, our buildings, our vehicle fleet and our other physical assets would undergo zero repairs, zero maintenance, and zero overall care.

Here is why we would give these specific adjectives to our operational services:

Optimistic –

They look for a positive outcome in every situation. No matter the challenge at hand, our operations team will try and give it their best shot.

Organised –

They are a systematic team that ensures every action involves a considered method, is precise, is neat, and is accounted for.

Outstanding –

This advective speaks for itself… our team has outstanding work performance, an outstanding work ethic and an outstanding outcome in all that is completed.

EXPERIENCES OF BEN MATHEBULA… 25 years of dedicated service.

What is your current role at the TPNR?

Maintenance supervisor


How old were you when you started your journey here at the TPNR?

I started working in the Timbavati in 1995, meaning I was 20 years old. I am now a young age of 45 years.


What was your starting job here at the TPNR?

My first job was as a bush clearer on a contractual basis to work on Birmingham farm.


How did your career develop over the years?

As a bush clearer, I worked from Monday to Saturday, returning to Chimanimani only to wash our dirty overalls from the week. Our work being contractual meant that you had to work hard when given the opportunity. My supervisor at the time saw that even when he left the team to continue their work without him, I never stopped like some of the others. He then one day asked for me to manage the team, the other team members respected me as I worked just as hard as they did.

Our warden at the time, Mr. Ronaldson, also started to notice my hard work. He asked whether I would be interested in stepping up to assist Mr. Mnisi with the stores, however, that was not my passion. My passion was out in the field. Mr. Ronaldson understood, so he promoted me to supervisor over the permanent team, and my supervisor, Julias was to remain supervisor of the contractual teams. Julias mentored me with all his great knowledge and skill.

Today I continue to supervise a great team and mentor those who inspire to move up in their careers.


Ben at the storerooms
A young TPNR team, way back when.
Learners visiting the old bush school which was situated in the Timbavati.

How has the TPNR changed over the years?

Since the time from when I began working at the Timbavati, every warden to step in and take the lead has changed something for the greater good. An example would be when Mr. Harris took over from Mr. Lombard, he assisted in adjusting our salaries to give us an increase to R400.00, which at the time we were only earning R198.00 per month (back in 1997). He saw the worth of his staff. He then brought about pension funds, performance bonuses and other incentives to drive his staff. Mr. Harris also took the hands of our neighbouring communities, by involving them with reserve activities, assisting our staff to obtain ID books and even had the Department of Home Affairs come out to Chimanimani to do the applications.

Mr. Harris had a passion to educate not only his staff but the community members too and this is when the bush school was started on Birmingham farm. We know that since the start of the small bush school, it has now become a much bigger programme and facility which our communities benefit from.

Otherwise, the Timbavati has not changed that much, it is still as beautiful as they said when I arrived. That is what makes it so special.


What does the TPNR mean to you?

The Timbavati is a very important place, it not only provides protection for wildlife but it also provides jobs. It makes you have an understanding of if we protect wildlife, they will protect our jobs. I love this place. It is my second home. A place that I love to bring my children to during their school holidays.

Do your children love wildlife?

Yes they do, even just coming to visit they get excited.


What is the best part of your job?

The learning. Every day there is something new to learn or experience. If I don’t learn something then I teach.


Do you have a favourite wildlife animal?

It has to be a leopard, I love all those belonging to the cat family but this one is my favorite. My second best would be an Elephant, they are so big but yet so calm. I love to be in their presence.

What has been your most memorable experience?

Having the opportunity to go and learn at the Southern African Wildlife College. To be able to learn about the animals we work with. If we protect our wildlife, we protect our children’s futures.


Any last comments?

My job is not just a job to me, I work hard to ensure that we can ensure a future for our generations to come. There is a purpose.

Ben is just one of many members within this operations team who have dedicated over 25 years of their working careers to the TPNR. Their work ethic, dedication and love for the TPNR is commendable.

Next time you enter the reserve, be sure to take note of the finer details which often get unnoticed. This is the workmanship of an optimistic, organised and outstanding operations department.

“A dream does not become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.”