A keen interest to learn about the complex micro-ecosystems that exist on Tswalu attracted accomplished field guide Lucy Stofberg to Tswalu and the southern Kalahari.
Lucy Stofberg grew up on a farm near Worcester in the Western Cape, but family holidays were all about camping and game drives in Southern Africa’s national parks. These childhood trips inspired Lucy to become a guide. “It really instilled a love for the continent,” she says. “It is a privilege to grow up among so many different landscapes, animals, cultures and people.”
Before arriving in the southern Kalahari, Lucy guided at Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape and in Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo. “It’s been incredible to get to know these different ecosystems, and to slowly piece together and gain an understanding of the greater ecological systems spanning across and connecting the continent.”
Lucy has FGASA NQF4 Field Guide (previously known as Level 2) and Apprentice Trails Guide qualifications and is currently completing an Environmental Management degree through UNISA.
The opportunity to get to grips with an unfamiliar ecosystem drew Lucy to the Kalahari. “I’m very interested in the enormously complex and advanced micro-ecosystems found on Tswalu. Guiding here entails needing to understand the landscape and the adaptations of the animals. Using that knowledge and working closely with an experienced tracker is the best way to unearth the real treasures of the Kalahari.” She is also keen to learn more about the brilliant night skies.
Lucy believes that to thrive and succeed as a guide requires a genuine interest and curiosity in the natural world. “You need to appreciate the small things and the big things, the very weird and the more ‘ordinary’ things. This genuine interest, alongside a passion to share it with people, is what continually pushes me to become a better guide.”
Her most memorable sighting so far at Tswalu? It happened within Lucy’s first week at Tswalu.
“I was driving around, orientating myself, when I came to the top of a dune. It was just before sunset and the pastel skies were breathtaking. I stopped to take in the vastness and beauty of the landscape. After a few minutes, I noticed a Fork-tailed Drongo dipping in and out of the long, dry grasses. I thought I saw the outline of one of the most elusive animals in the Kalahari! I walked into the veld to where the grasses were moving and slowly parting as the animal was walking. When I edged closer, I saw that it was a pangolin! I was so excited; I hardly knew what to do with myself.”
While slowing down and taking the time to appreciate the beauty of the Kalahari, Lucy had happened across one of Tswalu’s notoriously shy and well-hidden inhabitants.
“Although this was an extremely fortunate sighting, it made me realise how truly wild this area still is – and how importance its protection is. A research team from the Tswalu Foundation was able to tag the pangolin for a project that is looking at their ecological role in the Kalahari ecosystem.”
Tracking plays a vital role at Tswalu, and Lucy is enjoying working alongside the trackers and learning daily. “The Kalahari and the art of tracking are synonymous. The landscape comes alive as the stories left in the sand are unravelled by skills that take years of experience. Vast areas and tough substrates require the very best trackers, and it’s an honour to be working with these trackers.”
Main image taken by Mark Winckler. Image of the Tswalu Foundation team at work taken by Lucy Stofberg.