Cecile Burger

Cecile Burger has been a Field Guide at HESC for the past three and a half years. We tracked her down to find out what makes her tick.

What is the maxim that you live your life by?

I believe that everything happens for a reason, and that any barrier you face is within your mind only. If you want to change your life, think of what you have and not what you don’t have. And finally, if you believe in something, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

What is a typical day at HESC? Is there such a thing?

There is never a dull moment at HESC. Even the thought of being bored is far-fetched. As a Field Guide, touring and educating guests is only part of my day to day duties at the Centre.

My day begins as the sun creeps over the majestic Drakensberg mountains. First I unlock the gates, and straight after that I dive into my green overalls and gum boots. It’s time to offload the meat truck.

It’s not a lot though, only about seven tons worth of meat!

Next I trade my gloves for a brush and some water, and set about scrubbing the fungus off the aloes around the Centre.

Before long the familiar “tink tink” of the gates opening heralds the arrival of the first visitors. It’s time to hop into my safari vehicle and to show my guests all the wonderful work we’re doing HESC.

When I’m in-between tours I don my travel agent’s cap and book guests into our Safari Park tented camp or guesthouse.

But my favorite part is assisting our curator with feeding and watering the many animals residing at the Centre.

At 4 o’clock I get my spotlight ready and turn my radio to Channel 2, the I set off with guests in search of the sought after Big Five!

What moves you?

I love being active and engaging in different activities. In my job I meet different people every day, people with different personalities and different outlooks on life. This has taught me how to interact with people as individuals. My passion to make people aware of environmental issues, and show them how everything in nature is connected. I try my best to show people that how they live on a day to day basis influences our natural environment. We have to protect our natural resources – water, soil, plants and animals. I want to help people realise that extinction is final. While breeding and research facilities serve to protect endangered species, people don’t change their mindsets and attitudes it will all be in vain.

What does the future hold for you?

I’m a qualified researcher, so moving between reserves and focusing on different research projects is definitely one avenue I’d like to pursue. I’d also like to write my own manuscripts and have them published in journals. And my long-term goal is to tour through Africa gathering interesting facts, capturing them on camera, and then compiling a coffee table book of my adventures.

What are some of your best experiences at HESC?

Conducting my own research project at the Centre was definitely a highlight for me. When I started at HESC I had to have my own project in order to complete my B-tech degree in Nature Conservation.

One day we were moving the teenage cheetahs from one camp to the other. There were three of them, but one got out and jumped the fence into the area where the antelopes roamed. It took the vet, students and some of the staff members three and a half hours to dart this Houdini.

To tour big number of guests at one time is very exciting! I love that feeling of coming together as a team with my colleagues.

In March 2010, we released two male cheetahs on the Kapama Game Reserve. Both of them were fitted with radio collars, and I had the exciting task of tracking them every morning. Keeping tabs on the animals wass important, as it enabled us to see how they were coping in the wild, which area they inhabited, their favored prey, as well as how often they make a kill.

When I first started at HESC all the guides were given the opportunity to feed the cheetahs. We were each assigned a certain number of them, and I was privileged enough to get all the males! We fed the cheetahs during the tours, so the guests were able to more fully experience the work we do at the Centre.

Your most embarrassing moment?

While doing a tour I was explaining Lovers Lane to my guests, when our manager and some of her VIP guests were busy inside one of the enclosures. With my story finished, I started the vehicle and was busy driving away when my guests shouted at me to stop. Totally confused, I stopped the vehicle and turned around to see what all the fuss was about. That’s when I noticed a dignified, elderly lady squatting down and relieving herself. She’d been doing so behind the safety of my vehicle, until I pulled off and left her sans her ‘curtain’. This was embarrassing enough for both of us, but having the manager and her VIP guests watching made the whole episode that much worse!