I am quite sure all of us have a bunch of ideas related to this, mainly developed by reading manuals, watching YouTube videos or by shocking stories of survivors.
I’ve had interesting talks about this topic with a bunch of colleagues from Conservation Rangers Operation Worldwide, a Non-Profit organization registered 501(c)(3) in the US, I volunteer for as Certified Ranger. C.R.O.W. fights against the plague of poaching by providing free training to Local Rangers and increasing global awareness about illegal animal trafficking. We mostly operate in Africa and Asia covering way different kind of environments, from barren bush to thick jungle.
Andy Martin, our Executive Director, Simone Panetta and Phil Boucher have all been deployed in South Africa as well as Congo DRC.
Moreover Phil had received the jungle training in French Guyana during his service in the Legion Etrangere (French Legion), back in the day.
Every scenario has its own “rules of engagement”, which means a distinctive level of awareness.
In fact, a lack of knowledge of the area – in terms of climate, terrain, flora and fauna – can only mean catastrophic results and fatal mishaps for operations as well as for each indivual.
At the very beginning of our conversation, both my colleagues used the same word to describe the two distinct envitronments: hostility. This happened to be the very first feeling they perceived at the moment of their arrival. It didn’t take them too much to understand what it was mandatory to have in those specific areas, although so much antithetic: respect. Those extreme spaces and their wildlife hardly tolerate the human presence.
In this article we will see the most important topics related to surviving in both the Bush vs Jungle environments.
Written Kyt Lyn Walken, Instructor at Hull’s Tracking School and Certified Conservation Ranger for the NGO Conservation Rangers Operations Worldwide.
The Geographical Context
Biodiversity in the bush versus biodiversity in the jungle: two opposite worlds
Talking about the bush, Simone, Andy and Phil mentioned me of an environment rich in wild animals, large predators, snakes among the most poisonous in the world, disease-carrying insects, parasites and finally, armed and unscrupulous poachers. It is therefore imperative to change one’s mental setting and remain constantly 100% focused. This is clearly difficult, especially when you have to handle patrols of the entire territory that often can last more than 24 hours.
In the bush, where communications are difficult, not to mention the hostile climate and the multiple dangers, it is therefore clear that every member of the patrol, generally composed of four operators, must have a thorough knowledge of survival and first aid techniques. Being isolated and without supplies is a far from remote possibility and being found unprepared can easily lead to a tragic end.
During an ordinary sortie which can last about 30 hours, even if planned in details, it is still necessary to put into practice some survival techniques you gained in the past.
According to Andy and Phil, the jungle can be defined as a real “green hell”: the wildlife presence is absolutely lush and unpredictable. The French Guyana, where Phil received the Legion Etrangere training, includes thousands of different species, from fearsome and silent jaguars to sloths, giant river otters, giant anteaters, not to mention caimans. Being aware of what lives above your head as well as under your feet is more than mandatory: it can make the difference between life and death. Tracking, and specifically observation skills, must play a huge role in this country as in Congo DRC.
The biodiversity takes no shortcuts: rainforests, grasslands till seasonal flooded wooden areas. The most iconic animal of this region is for sure Mountain Gorilla, but other species populated the entire perimeter: bonobo, elephants, white rhinos, pangolins. Cobra snakes and boomslangs hide themselves in narrowed places, making them quite impossible to detect at first sight. The impenetrable forests are also home to some of the most lethal spiders in the whole planet, such as the Green Lynx Spiders.
The Survival Gear Requirements: EDC In Bush vs Jungle
Equipment is always a very delicate issue and must be assembled according to personal needs and specific use. The assemblement of it may vary due to the patrolling, weather conditions and the nature of each task.
Gear In The Bush
During operations, Rangers always wear combat belt, with a minimal survival kit, consisting of a small folding knife, some paracord lengths, an emergency thermal blanket, a lighter, a lighter, matches, a warning mirror , needle, and thread, a plastic bag, a whistle, two tablets for drinking water, a painkiller, a compass and a metal mess tin. On the belt there is also a fixed blade knife, a first aid kit, a Combat Application Tourniquet, a water bottle and a torch. In the backpack, suited for longer patrols, you can pack ponchos, sleeping bags, food, spare clothing, GPS, cartographic material, binoculars and anything else necessary for the specific use.
Gear In The Jungle
Any task in the jungle requires a lightweight gear, with med and survival kit at very easy reach. Crossing wadis means staying soak and wet for the most of the time, thereforce the most common enemy in this kind of environment is Trench Foot: any Ranger should carry at least a dry pair of soaks to change while camping for the night. The thick vegetation makes any infiltration a tough one: normally covering a distance of about 380 feet requires one hour. Making your way into the jungle requires the use of a good Parang or a machete, the blades of choice for Rangers.
The Water: Absence vs Abundance
The bush is renowned for its quite total absence of water, except for few wadis which are home to crocodiles, hippos and all the other creatures who need it as well as humans do: for this specific reason is likely to make a stockpile of water directly from the headquarters.
Infact, transporting the necessary amount of water for such a long patrol is clearly complicated and significantly increases the weight of the equipment in the bush as in the jungle, where the abundance of it does stand for “drinkable” water an, obviously, any river represents real threats. Plus, it can significantly increase the possibility of getting leeches: this happens principally in the jungle.
In both environments, waterways always attract every type of animals, from the crocodile, which has made it its hunting environment, to the unpredictable baboon, responsible every year for dozens of deadly attacks on humans. To avoid being surprised while you are busy filling the water bottles, it is imperative to rely on your companions who will perform the sentry function during all the time. In the bush no one goes anywhere alone, ever. So in the jungle. Contrary to what one might think, in Africa the level of environmental pollution is very high, therefore running into a water course in which dangerous substances have been spilled represents a real risk. Therefore, great attention must be paid to indicators such as suspicious odors and the presence of foams or oily reflections on the surface of the water. It is equally important to inquire in advance about this, by asking specific questions to the local staff with whom you work. Once the water is collected, it must be filtered and purified. The quickest method is certainly to use special filters and pumps equipped with micro-filters. In the absence of these devices, it will be necessary to proceed with more traditional methods such as pre-filter the collected water with the aid of a piece of fabric, for example a clean shirt, and then boil it for a few minutes, in order to eliminate any trace of viruses and bacteria, such as Giardia.
The Shelter: Do The Best You Can Using What You Have
Generally, Rangers move in patrol taking advantage of darkness: in fact, this is the moment when unscrupulous criminals are most active, but if there is the need to stop for a bunch of hours to get some rest or place an observation point, it is imperative to create the shelter so that it is not very visible and extremely quick to dismantle in case of hostile presence. If the bush, with its sparse acacia trees offer a quite inexistent coverage, the jungle is, instead, the perfect place for concealment.
For this distinctive purpose observation points and shelters in the bush should be as much as low as possible, offering just a proper perspective on the surroundings in order to detect any illegal activity. In the jungle of Congo DRC, making a shelter by simply using natural debris could be a good way to go, but Rangers rarely do that: breaking vegetations, in fact, means to give away quickly your position to poachers. Using just a tarp or, even more likely, a hammock is more advisable. A poncho laid on the ground offers indeed an acceptable insulation.
In each scenario operators take turns sleeping, in the same manner to avoid the possibility of being caught by surprise by poachers or dangerous animals. Lighting a fire is not always possible, but it is a valuable aid for warming up during the cold nights of the African winter or to fight against the cruel humidity of the jungle, without neglecting the always pleasant psychological comfort that only fire can give in certain situations. In addition to the aspect of visibility, great attention must be paid to flame control. Rangers must never forget that in the bush an out of control fire can cause considerable damage and the loss of many lives.
Simone, Phil and Andy agree on this: hardships can be overcome by applying a mentality based on respect towards the area and her fauna and flora, as well as a proper training united to commitment to the cause of survival.
“Learning to survive in the bush or in the jungle requires a lot of preparation and dedication. Surviving in those environments requires a purpose.” they sentenced.