Eight years ago, I found myself in a transition period, looking for a job that would incorporate travel experience. I was thinking of getting into the yachting industry, but after a few talks with friends in the business, I decided that was not the right path for me. Private aviation was calling my name. I brainstormed if there was anyone I knew in the business. Remembering meeting a mutual friend in the Hamptons who was a jet broker, I picked up the phone to give him a call to ask questions and get answers. He agreed to meet for lunch. When I told him I was thinking of being a corporate flight attendant, he gave me a list of operators in NY, the place I was living at the time. I started there with that list.
I called and met with one company before I took my emergency training course that is required to be able to work as a flight attendant. I felt both nervous and excited. When I thought of seeing the world, I felt like jumping up and down like a little kid. Ever since I was a little girl, my dream was to travel the world. I felt anxious with the big unknown lurking in my unconscious if I would get work.
Would I book trips?
Would I make enough money to pay bills and get by?
Could I do this type of work?
I felt anxious with the big unknown lurking in my unconscious if I would get work.
Despite people telling me I wouldn’t find work, because at the time, business didn’t look so promising during a tough economic time; I decided to move forward, determined to succeed. The day after my initial flight attendant training, I booked a trip that popped up to Washington DC. After that day, I didn’t look back and consistently booked trips as a corporate flight attendant. I flew contract for about 3 and half years and also had 2 full time jobs, one in NY and one in the Bay Area, CA.
One experience in particular has touched me on a deep level. It was my Zebra Chasing experience in Zimbabwe, Africa. We stayed at Camp Kwali. We were on an eighteen-day work trip, mostly in Africa, and Zimbabwe was one of our stops. At first, I felt a bit hesitant about this stay, solely because this camp had communal bathrooms and I was concerned with walking to and from the bathroom in the middle of the night by myself for safety reasons.
My feelings of concern quickly dissolved as we pulled up to the camp and met James, the manager, who was professional and provided us with top-notch service. He assured us these grounds were very secure and I felt very safe, which is always a great feeling to have on the road. On our way to Kwali, we spotted a giraffe just hanging out eating grass on the side of the road. As we pulled up on the dirt paved driveway there was a family of baboons that greeted us hanging out on the gray stone outside of my hut and a buffalo that roamed the grounds at night! I felt as if I was on a movie set. It was back to basics, back to nature and it felt refreshing and very peaceful.
Our first evening there we met Josh Mostert playing pool outside the dining room hut. He and his wife, Jackie, capture wild game for a living for many different causes, some of which include; breeding and relocating animals to different conservation camps. He explained to us that they were on a mission to capture 200 zebras and relocate them to another camp about twelve hours away. The game drives were all booked up, so we offered up our services to give them a hand if they needed it to see wild animals. He took us up on the offer and invited us to come along with them the next day.
Next morning, I was up bright and early at five thirty to meet the gang in the lobby. We had a quick breakfast and then headed out to the helicopter. Jackie’s brother, NJ, was the helicopter pilot. They grew up in this business with their father who used to do this for a living. They were all so warm and inviting. I couldn’t believe they were letting me tag along on their workday! I didn’t know what to expect, only knew that this would be an adventure!
When we got to the helicopter, they told me to get out with NJ and Mark, the helicopter mechanic to go for a ride to find zebras. I asked them if they were sure and they laughed and said they do it all the time and for me to go. I gladly accepted and was so excited to have a helicopter ride in Zimbabwe! We were up in the air for about of hour. I was taking in the view, the brown and green terrain with brown leafless baobab trees. I spotted rhinos running, elephants, impalas, springbucks and giraffes! This vantage point gave me a different perspective of seeing all these animals. NJ saw a couple of zebras, but they were looking for a bigger group of them. I saw all the animals, but the zebras, which was kind of funny! He explained to me that from up here with the lighting, the zebras look grey and are harder to spot.
Kelvin, who was home visiting his parents for a few days, came as a volunteer to be part of this zebra capture experience. He took me to his position at the third gate of the boma (enclosure), which is where he was helping out. NJ would first find the zebras. He would then chase them with the helicopter leading them to the boma. When they all were close, he would put on his siren and the zebras would run into the boma. When they were past the third and first point of entrance, we would run with the green curtain to close it to keep the zebras in the boma. Kelvin explained the process to me.
It was show time! It was amazing to see a the first group of 6 black and white striped zebras run by so fast as I was tucked away, hiding myself from their view behind the green curtain. Talk about being in nature! It doesn’t get any closer than this! I felt like pinching myself to see if this all was actually really happening! After the zebras go through 3 gates, Jackie and Josh lead them to the part where the zebras get sedated before going on a truck for their drive to the other camp. Jackie is a veterinarian and she has to be present while they are administering any medications to the animals. Her and Josh would climb up this latter and take these long huge needles that they would give the zebras the sedation. Once the zebras calm down, they are led to the big truck, which is their ride to the next conservation camp.
We all hung out around Jackie and Josh’s maroon pick up truck, in the “bush” which is what they call it. We waited for NJ and Josh to find more zebras and then this whole process would start again. I was surprised at how organized it all was. This was clearly not an easy operation. Once they found the zebras, we got the word through the walkie-talkies to get into our positions. Kelvin asked me if I wanted to run with the curtain this time around. I told him I couldn’t believe they were trusting me with this operation! I accepted and got ready to be a part of this experience!
I was a little nervous, hoping I wouldn’t screw anything up. Once we heard the second siren finished, I watched as this group of zebras ran fast into the second gate. After they were all past the gate, I ran as fast as I could, pulling the curtain with me to close the gate! A rush of adrenaline bolted through me. I couldn’t believe I was playing a role in this zebra capture! Before coming to Zimbabwe, I had never heard of a capture and today I was actively part of this whole process. I couldn’t help but feel lucky that I had the opportunity to experience this and be a part of it.
In between other captures, I was with Corban and Shiyloh in the pick up truck. Corban took a liking to my giraffe and helicopter videos and Shiyloh loved going through all my videos on my I phone. I was keeping the kids entertained. It was great! They were both so sweet. At one point, we heard a stampeding sound and looked up to see a group of zebras running on the side over the curtain they had trampled down. Corban and I watched as the group ran following their stallion back into the wild. Corban pointed to them and said, “zebra” which I replied, “Yes, zebra!” I grew attached to the kids in the few days I spent with them in Zimbabwe.
My third experience with the capture I was with Drew, who helps Jackie and Josh out with their captures. I went with him to his post at the 2nd gate. He described what he does and told me to hide in the corner as the zebras come though. I did just that, but I was seeing the zebras weren’t going into the first gate once they were in our gate. I felt a little scared wondering if they were going to come back and try to get out and if I would get trampled in the process. I started wondering what my move would be if that happened. Can I turn around fast enough to crawl under the gate? The opening was on the other side where Drew had run with the curtain to close it. It took what felt like forever, as Drew threw twigs in their direction to keep them looking forward. Then Jackie came in and led them to the first gate yelling, “Hiyah!!!!” This gate was a lot more action packed! I felt relieved as I watched them go into the first gate.
It was close to 12pm after we finished and their work day was coming to an end, as it was getting really hot and the captures are not as successful in extreme temperatures, because then the zebra get more temperamental and are harder to keep from hurting each other as Jackie explained. After they repaired the part of the boma that had been broken down by the one group of zebras that escaped, we headed back to Kwali. It was tough when it came time to say good-bye, especially to the kids. They both had so much character and for their ages were so self-sufficient. I guess that’s what happens when kids grow up in the bush. It was awesome to see the way they live and spend time together as a family. NJ is a very intuitive helicopter pilot. He knows the animals well and can really sense and feel their whereabouts and how to handle them. Jackie and I chatted in between captures. We shared our love stories about meeting our husbands and talked about jobs, family and life. I love this family! It was so great meeting and spending time with them in their world.
I knew I just had a once in a lifetime experience and it felt overwhelmingly amazing.
My days in Zimbabwe were truly magical on so many different levels. We spotted zebras, giraffes, impalas, baboons, springbucks, rhinos and hyenas just driving to the airport. As we were leaving Zimbabwe, I was filled with so many feelings of excitement, joy, love, peace, gratitude and sadness to leave this place. I will never forget my zebra capture experience and my time with this beautiful family in “Zim” as the locals call it. I knew I just had a once in a lifetime experience and it felt overwhelmingly amazing.
About the Author
To date Stefany Di Manno Ceccato has been to 47 countries and 28 islands. She is passionate about travel and all of the benefits it has given her such as; feeling rejuvenated, being inspired, gaining a new perspective, growing, learning other cultures, meeting new friends along the way and deepened bonds between family and friends. In love with travel, she and her husband, Daniele, started DMC Travel Tailor – a travel company. They call themselves bucket list fillers and are excited to create once in a lifetime experiences for their clients.