The extraordinary journey of Samuel Japane from donkey cart to bird specialist
“Thanks to dreams I believed in, and to the people who helped me along the way, I defied all the odds and I became an extraordinarily skilled bird specialist in the Kruger National Park.”
Samuel Japane, a former student of EcoTraining was too determined to be defeated by life’s obstacles and today is the well-known bird man of the Outpost Centre. We interviewed Samuel on his new book ‘The Unlikely Bird Man’ and this is what he has to say
Did you always have a keen interest in birding or was this developed later on in your life? What inspired you to love birding?
“My curiosity for birds sparked from a very young age. It wasn’t the same as other children who merely looked at birds aesthetically… My curiosity was much deeper than that. I wanted to delve more in-depth and often questioned why they flew, where did they come from and even what they ate? These constant questions grew inside my restless young mind and over time I knew they needed to be answered. My fondness for birds made me realise my love for nature but I had no idea at the time that this passion was going to shape my future.”
Tell us a bit about where you come from. What was life like in your community growing up?
“I grew up in a small village called Makahlule under the Makuleke Chief. The story of our land called Makuleke is a very interesting one. The Makuleke Concession belongs to the Makuleke community and was removed in 1969 to settle elsewhere. After 29 years, it was finally returned to my community in 1998 in what was a historical event for South Africa. I was 30 years old at the time. The Makuleke concession forms part of what you know as the Kruger National Park. Going back to my childhood, I grew up in a humble family, rich in community and culture. I am 1 of 4 children and the eldest son. I was a quiet child with a very active mind.”
When you did your guiding course with EcoTraining in 2013, did you ever imagine you would end up working at a world-renowned lodge, The Outpost centre?
I was working for a lodge that permitted hunting in its concession and as a result, this made game drives with guests very difficult since sightings were few and the animals were scared of us. I left this lodge and was without work for some time. I had to revert back to my donkey cart business as I had 7 children to provide for. I knew in my heart that my Father in Heaven would never forsake me and that he was preparing something for my family. He would not bring me this far to just leave me. In 2014, I applied for a position at The Outpost Lodge.”
What was the most memorable lesson you learned on the EcoTraining course?
“I was still a student at EcoTraining and one day we went on a trail walk in the bush with our instructor. During our walk, we come across a herd of elephants who appeared out of the thick bushes. My heart stopped for a moment, too afraid the elephants would hear me utter a breath. The one elephant suddenly became aware of our presence and unfortunately, the bull was startled. They started to charge at us. The echo of the thumping charge vibrated straight up my spine and I could smell the raised dust in the air. The instructor immediately instructed that we seek safety behind the termite mount near us as he loaded his rifle. He spoke to the elephant and shouted that it STOP! To my amazement, the elephant stopped and went away. It showed me that communicating with nature as the instructor did, has such great power and his courage to do so.”
What is your favourite story you tell your guests about your experience in the bush?
“I was still on the EcoTraining course with another student who was holding a snake in his hands. In my culture, I was taught to kill snakes because they are dangerous. This other student educated me on the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes since he had prior knowledge of species of snakes. He changed my understanding and outlook towards snakes forever. Since that day, I love snakes and hold high regard for them. I can’t say my wife shares the same sentiments though.”
You recently published a book. What is your book about?
“The book is about my true-life story where I started out as a labourer, then became a small business owner using a donkey cart, later was a security guard and proceeded to become the unlikely bird man of The Outpost Centre.”
What thoughts do you want people to take from your book?
“I want people to be inspired by my story of resilience and never giving up as long as they are alive. There are too many people in the world who have already lost hope and that negativity can spread a lot easier than hope or the courage to carry on. I want people to understand that the journey of hope is never easy and that you have to constantly remind yourself of your goals and dreams.”
Who should buy your book?
“Anybody who believed in the power of hope, anybody who wants to be inspired by a story of hope and anybody who wants to know what hope can do. If you want to achieve something in this world, you need to work hard at it. Listen to your inner voice and show courage.”
Where can we buy your book?
“You can buy my book on my website”, see link: http://samueljapane.co.za/
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