He pushed through fear and doubt to find his passion


On the banks of the Olifants River in Limpopo, Tebalelo Nodia Mametja grew up surrounded by undeveloped and unspoilt beauty. Every day after school, he rushed into the bush to check up on the cattle, taking his dogs along for protection. As he got older, he looked for any opportunity to work with the environment, and started teaching eco-lessons to primary school kids. But despite Mametja’s love for nature and fascination with wildlife, his fear of wild animals threatened to hold him back. Tackling his doubts head on, the 21-year-old now interacts with wild and domestic animals on a daily basis. He couldn’t be happier.

Mametja is the Camp and Animal Manager at Daktari Bush School and Wildlife Orphanage. He feeds and cares for over 80 rescued animals, ranging from dassies and pigs to birds and crocodiles. It’s stressful when he has to handle an animal that’s severely injured, but he carries out every action with the utmost tenderness and care. “We have to treat the animals the same way we want to be treated,” he says. Despite his initial fears, Mametja has learnt how to handle both his own and the animals’ responses. “They are only dangerous when they feel endangered,” he says.

Interacting with international volunteers at Daktari has been an eye-opening experience for the Hoedspruit local. “By working here, I had to learn to adapt to different cultures and customs,” Mametja says. He’s passing on his knowledge to local children in the hopes that it will encourage them to respect and care for their natural heritage. “Working with the youth and the environment at the same time, it’s a privilege,” he says. Having realised his dream, Mametja now wants to study wildlife and game lodge management in order to spend the rest of his life doing what he is passionate about. “Animals to me, they are the same as humans,” Mametja says. “I’m always there for them.” His approach is a lesson for all that even in the midst of fear and misunderstanding, love can grow.