Written by: Bennet De Klerk
A guide on a night drive in Kruger National Park spots a pangolin. A guest complains that she did not get a picture. The guide stops. He keeps the spotlight on the animal and kicks it in the face. And again, to loud protest from the guests: “No, it won’t kill him. It’s so you can get the picture”.
They get more than the picture. Someone gets it all on video, and the next day social media is abuzz. Thousands see it, hundreds suggest what should be done to this guide. He is suspended, an inquiry is called. He may be facing some form of disciplinary action, or not. In a few short weeks, like the “Cecil the lion” debacle, all will be forgotten as something else grabs the attention on Facebook. Most of those who commented on what should happen to the guide in question will never even know the outcome.
But maybe, for us as guides, there is a lesson here. A precious lesson, which we should heed. Maybe the indignity, stress and pain inflicted upon that hapless pangolin could have a positive outcome. Maybe it is the ideal wake-up call for all nature guides, field guides and game rangers.
Because every one of us have, at some point, “kicked a pangolin”.
Metaphorically, of course – most guides just dream of even ever seeing one! But I urge us all to think back, and ask in which ways you may have – and maybe still do – kicked pangolins.
No? Never did?
OK, let me quote a few examples, and then, maybe, you will think again. Have you ever on a night drive removed a chameleon from his perch for guests to see it up close? Caught a free living snake to show them? Or maybe stomped on the roof of a hole where warthogs sleep, causing them to come charging out? Or maybe you have done my biggest pet hate – broken off a hyena paste marking grass stalk to pass around. Or you may have picked up that tortoise, flushed that bird, or played a pig squeal recording to make the lions come closer?
I could continue, but you get the picture.
And your natural response is, of course, to immediately rationalise how those, or other things you do, or have done, are “not so bad” or “educational”.
There is an anecdote, attributed to Winston Churchill, about him asking a woman whether she would sleep with him for a million British Pounds. She replied that she would, and he followed up with the question whether she would do it for one Pound. She angrily asked whether he thought she were a whore, upon which he quipped: “We have already established that; we are merely negotiating price now.” The point? Kicking a pangolin is an extremely bad case of unethical guiding, but “lesser” offences are still, to stay with the anecdote, guiding “prostitution”.
So go and think about your little “pangolin kicks”, and be honest with yourself. Ask yourself where education ends and where harassment really begins. Then go forth and sin no more.
In that way, the price our pangolin has paid on that night drive in Kruger will come to a lot of good.