The Women of Kruger Shalati: Ella West-Njajula

Ella West-Njajula
Reservations Manager

Originally from the UK, Ella and her family moved to South Africa when she was younger. Although they returned to the UK, her heart never left SA – so after completing her BSc Hons in Animal Management, she returned to work at a game reserve in the Eastern Cape. Here’s where she met Bonga, her husband (and our Head Guide). She’s no stranger to hospitality – she previously also worked at another concession within Kruger National Park, as an assistant manager.

We caught up with Ella to find out a bit more about her journey.

“I often say to guests, ‘Number 1 rule in the bush – DON’T RUN; you will automatically become the prey’. After dinner with guests one evening I was walking up a pathway that leads from the dining room to the kitchen and past the reception. As I strolled up the dark pathway not concentrating on the bush around me (not a wise thing to do when there is no fence around the lodge!) I suddenly heard a rough cough and when I looked up my eyes met a very big leopard who was also using the pathway to come and have a drink at the reception bird bath. Professionalism went out the window and I started screaming for Bonga while running backward down the pathway. Luckily I didn’t become prey and the leopard also did a quick 180-degree spin and shot off the way he had come. Bonga was still entertaining guests at the bar and heard my screams as I ran towards them. After shakily retelling the story one of the guests then pointed out ‘I thought you told us that the number 1 rule in the bush is don’t run!?’ – well i found out it is a lot easier to say than do when faced with one of the Big Five!”

How did you end up at Kruger Shalati?

​Bonga and I have been following the journey of Kruger Shalati since it began as we were working very close by. We heard that there may be positions available and could not pass up the opportunity to be a part of the start-up and opening of a one-of-a-kind lodge. We were invited to walk around the site and step on to the Selati bridge (going to have to get used to those heights!) – it was one of the highlights of my journey. Another was learning about the history of the railway and how it contributed to the KNP. It also feels like we are now part of the history of KNP. 

Which aspect are you looking forward to the most about Kruger Shalati?

I am looking forward to the guests reaction as they watch the sunrise and set from the Selati bridge. I also can’t wait to experience the 360-degree theatre!

What animal in the Kruger park do you most relate to and why?

​Don’t judge – probably a hippo as I would like to spend my days in the water and sunbathing.

What hidden talent do you have?

I do not really have any talents… although my party trick is to make a tortoise out of the wire top from a Champagne bottle – quite nice to save from special occasions.

What causes are close to your heart?

​I think like most people in this industry a cause close my heart is the fight against rhino poaching. Living in Kruger is a constant reminder as to the dramatic effect rhino poaching is having on the rhino numbers in South Africa. 

Do you have any hobbies?

​Luckily Bonga and I share the same hobby – birding. We often go camping in the north of Kruger to check birds off our list. The summer months in Kruger are especially amazing for birding!

​Bonga and Ella got married in January 2016, with two weddings, as they wanted to celebrate both their cultures. Bonga is from the Xhosa tribe so they had a traditional Xhosa wedding, with handmade beaded outfits, traditional beer, praise poets, traditional food and dancing as well as a ceremony guided by the elders of the Njajula family. Their second wedding was at the game reserve where they met.  Bonga has a 13-year-old son called Ima and we have a son,  Luca Robert Njajula, who was was born in October 2019.

Ella completed her Level 1 in Field Guiding and this definitely helps her when talking to guests and identifying some of the common animals and birds around the camps. We’re looking forward to seeing her in action when we open in December.