Life after EcoTraining

Our task is not to get back to nature, but to give back to nature. How about half of our hearts, half of our language and our thoughts? – Ian McCallum

EcoTraining’s foundation was built on our specialist naturalist instructors and our passionate course participants. Below are some epic fireside stories about people making a difference to wildlife and conservation after attending an EcoTraining course.

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Alex van den Heever

Did your EcoTraining course change your life in any way? We would love to hear from you. Email connect@ecotraining.co.za and join the EcoTraining alumni.

ALEX VAN DEN HEEVER – CO-FOUNDER OF TRACKER ACADEMY

Alex van den Heever, co-founder of the Tracker Academy, is just one example of how EcoTraining has been part of job creation and education in the tourism industry.

Alex attended one of the first EcoTraining game ranger courses, in 1994 in the Sabi Sand Reserve. Since then, he has since spent almost 20 years at the world-renowned Londolozi Game Reserve, where he became fascinated with tracking.

Alex soon realised the traditional art of, and indigenous knowledge about, tracking animals in the wild was fast disappearing.

Tracker Academy is a training division of the SA College for Tourism, which operates under the auspices of the Peace Parks Foundation. It is a non-profit organisation that trains disadvantaged rural people in the traditional skills of tracking. More than 90% of Tracker Academy graduates are permanently employed in the conservation industry in South Africa. To sponsor a student, one may contact the SA College for Tourism directly.

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Alex works closely with his best friend and mentor of 20 years, Renias Mhlongo, who is the principal trainer of the Tracker Academy at Londolozi. Alex and Renias have travelled the world teaching tracking and presenting their motivational talk, called The Power of Relationships.

NATASHA DE WORONIN BRITZ

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Natasha de Woronin Britz now lives and works in Namibia

Natasha de Woronin Britz criss-crossed the globe before finally landing the perfect job. Natasha now researches leopards for the Global Leopard Project in Namibia. She credits her EcoTraining course with having given her the best chance to follow her dream of working with wildlife, and inspiring her to help save the natural world.

Natasha shares her journey:

“I managed to secure a place on the guiding course that EcoTraining was conducting in co-operation with the Allenby Campus (1996). With the theory done and dusted on campus, our class headed to Elephant Plains Game Lodge in the Sabi Sands where we were met by Lex Hes, Anton Lategan and Kimbian Mnisi, our practical trainers.

“Their passion and knowledge was infectious and the course was unbelievable, to say the least. Lex was so willing to share everything with us, as well as how to take photographs in the bush, and he never missed a detail on leopard behaviour. From Kimbian, his tracker, we learnt that tracking was indeed a very important part of guiding, especially when it comes to the elusive spotted cats. Anton’s passion and knowledge and his way of sharing this made us never want to leave.

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Today, Natasha de Woronin Britz is an expert on leopards

“I wasn’t the easiest of students and gave the trainers quiet a hard time. I remember the following incident that illustrates this well. On a training drive one evening a leopard sighting was called in. Having no bush driving experience, Anton asked me politely to move over so he could drive and we could go into the sighting, upon which I rudely replied something to the effect of, ‘How will I learn anything if you drive?’

“I think he was shocked at my over-ambitious attitude, but he let me drive and he was brilliant in that he guided me to get it right! After finishing the course, I was very lucky to get a job as a guide at Elephant Plains. It was heaven!

“Londolozi was still my dream and I applied to CC Africa (now &Beyond) for a job every week. They turned me away and eventually Lex helped set up an interview for me. I did the stringent company guide training at Phinda and Londolozi, and at first was told that I didn’t make it. But a lot of tears and challenges later, I eventually made it and worked at Londolozi and a couple of other CC Africa lodges on and off for 10 years.

“During 2006/2007, while at Londolozi, I took mainly leopard specialist trips and what an amazing experience it was, following only leopards day after day, night after night. I documented everything the leopards did and discovered that the information I had gathered was a gold mine.

“I also realised that this data was worth nothing if I kept it to myself and so I did a National Diploma in Nature Conservation with the future aim of a PHD, to ensure that all the information becomes usable to leopard researchers working with disappearing leopard populations around the world.

“Dr Douw Grobler, a wildlife veterinarian, saw promise in the leopard work and he helped set up the Global Leopard Project (www.globalleopard.com), which now runs from Erindi Private Game Reserve in Namibia.

“Although I research leopards now, I still use guiding skills daily to help train guides and take guests to see the leopards of the research project. We capture, collar, habituate and monitor the Erindi leopards, and share their stories as much as possible to help create awareness of the species.

“EcoTraining, Lex, Anton and Kimbian gave me everything that has made me who I am today, made all my dreams a reality and ultimately ensured that my passion be used for the good of not only my life but hopefully all leopards worldwide. From my own fantastic training I have helped set up guide training in Namibia at Erindi, which is breaking ground as nothing like this exists in the country yet.

“Today, EcoTraining students come to Erindi for their practical and many have stayed on as permanent guides. Thanks to EcoTraining’s standards and fantastic courses over so many years, Namibia is now developing a higher guiding standard. EcoTraining will give you the very best chance you can wish for to follow any dream in wildlife, not only for guiding.

“It is the people of EcoTraining who are saving the world of wildlife, by training and inspiring their students.”

MARKUS EICHELBERG

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Markus Eichelburg

“My name is Markus Eichelberg, I am a 49-year-old guy from Germany.”

Markus Eichelberg completed an EcoTraining Kenya Safari Guide course in August this year … and now he is a nature guide in Germany!

“Back in 2009 I had a little side job as a photographer, and became more and more interested in nature and landscape photography. I wanted to treat myself – a photographic safari in Africa. A once-in-a–lifetime-experience, as I thought then,” he says.

“After some research I found that a tour like that would stretch far beyond my financial capacity at that moment. Through an article in our daily newspaper I found the contact details of EcoTraining, and called them up regarding a wildlife photography course. Sadly, this course was only five days long – way too short for a flight around the world. The staff at the EcoTraining office offered me another course – a two-week EcoQuest course at a very reasonable price. I was convinced, and went ahead and booked a course with EcoTraining.

“Back home after the course and reflecting on the two weeks, my interest in nature conservation was awakened. I started doing some research to see what options there are in Germany to educate myself and to do some kind of nature guiding here. I found a program for a nature guide certification run over several weekend workshops.

“As there are no big and dangerous animals in Germany and most of the ‘nature’ in fact is cultured land, the education is very different from the EcoTraining courses. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about Germany, “the Forest Land”, the interaction between humans and nature’ and the threats for habitats, plants and animals in this highly industrialised country.

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The fire of conservation burns in German guide, Markus Eichelberg

“I wanted to share my nature experience and my growing knowledge about nature, ecology and conservation, as well as my skills in nature photography. Thus, I created a multi-vision show about the EcoQuest Course and offered a wide range of walks, bicycle tours, field trips and photo workshops.

“The desire for Africa returned. I wanted to do an EcoTraining course again. As my interests changed over the years and my English skills improved a little, I decided to give it a go and to do a Safari Guide course. South Africa is beautiful and I will go back there someday, but this time I was looking for something different.

“I chose Kenya, the Lewa Wilderness Conservancy with the four-week Safari Guide course in August 2014. It was a perfect choice. The countryside, the dense and variability of wildlife, the engaging staff of LEWA, the other likeable students and our memorable instructor Andreas Fox – I will never forget these amazing four weeks.

“We learned so much during two weeks of game driving, two weeks of bush walking and 18 lectures. It was challenging and hard work to pass, but at least I made it. Now I have the KPSGA Bronze Level and the EcoTraining Field Guide Certificate.

“Now the fire of conservation is burning in me. I am preparing the multi-vision show LEWA Milele – A Spark of Hope, to share my experiences and to inform the people here in Germany about the beauty of Africa, the threat of poaching rhinos and elephants, and our responsibility to protect the habitats and animals. Further on, I plan to do some nature guiding with German groups in southern and eastern Africa.

“Hopefully we meet in Africa someday.”

RAYMOND KHOSA

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If you ever were to meet a person oozing with a love for life, an engaging manner and ease with meeting people, it would be Raymond Khosa, seasoned field and trails guide in the Kruger National Park. Within minutes of talking to him, you will realise his razor-sharp memory for facts, people’s journeys and his career, which started with an EcoTraining Course 14 years ago.

This young African man, along with 10 other individuals, had fortune come his way when they were selected to attend a sponsored four-week EcoTraining Tracking course. An international guest was on safari at the renowned luxury safari lodge, Londolozi, in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve of South Africa.

Moved by the role and function of trackers in the safari tourism industry, the Londolozi guest hosted a fashion show in Europe to raise funds and the successful event resulted in enough funds that they could bequeath to an NGO, the Africa Foundation. The Africa Foundation was charged with managing the noble cause of putting the 10 selected candidates through the EcoTraining Tracking course.

Under the guidance of instructors Johan Lombard, Anton Lategan, Khimbile Mnisi and the late Lucky Mavanga, Raymond and his fellow course participants started honing their skills and learning more about nature and its inhabitants.

Starting a career

Upon completion and graduation of the course, the doors of Raymond’s future were flung wide open. Remaining connected to the Africa Foundation, Raymond entered his safari guide career in 2004 with the Kruger National Park, based at the Berg en Dal camp as a guide, conducting walks and game drives for safari guests.

In 2010, Raymond was promoted to senior field guide of another Kruger National Park camp, Lower Sabie, in preparation for Soccer World Cup visitors. Only three months later, Raymond was promoted to head guide of Berg en Dal camp. The promotions kept coming and in May 2013, Raymond was promoted to the status of a wilderness trails ranger. He was relocated to Wolhuter Trails camp, one of the oldest camps in the park, dating back to 1978. From there he was moved to Napi Trails in the Pretoriuskop area, as a trails ranger.

By this time, Raymond gained substantive experience and knowledge, and was well equipped to obtain his Tourism Guiding Level 2 qualification. It was a 14-day course and qualification, and Raymond was generously sponsored by an organisation called Tourism World.

Growing his career, reaching for the stars

Raymond continued to grow and develop himself and his career. He went on to obtain the FGASA Field Guide Level 2 and Trails Guide qualifications and is now accredited as a THETA NQF Level 4 Guide.

Still reaching for the stars, and driven by only his passion for the wildlife of Africa, Raymond was nominated as a candidate for the annual Safari Guide of the Year competition, arranged by an organisation, Africa Direct. This competition aimed to seek the best guides in South Africa in various categories of guiding. Raymond was selected as the winner for the Walking Trails category.

What drives and motivates Raymond

Raymond feels strongly that our wildlife must be presented and interpreted to his guests in the best way possible.

“What is special about the wilderness trails,” says Raymond, “is that it may not make him the richest man, but he is and will always be rich with great memories, surrounded by people of all ages wanting to know more about conservation and the stories of the wilderness.

“Money cannot buy joy,” says Raymond, who understands the importance of his job in spreading the conservation message to the rest of the world.

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Arran Sivarajah with some of his guests

ARRAN SIVARAJAH

“From training with EcoTraining on their one-year Field Guide course, to guiding in southern Africa and now guiding for Leopard Trails in Sri Lanka … This is my story of how I began my professional career in wildlife tourism and conservation, based outside of South Africa.

“Born to a British mother and Sri Lankan father, I found myself stationed in both Sri Lanka, the UK and Australia during my school days. During my years in Sri Lanka I used to work as a field assistant for various wildlife-related projects, and spent a lot of my time visiting various national parks in the country.

“It was through this that I soon learnt that I wanted to be in the field of wildlife conservation and nature tourism. While friends and colleagues all went off into the world of business, banking and other fields, I remained with my head in wildlife books and continuously went on field trips to expand my knowledge and experience.

“After spending some time learning about spiders in Sydney, I found out about the EcoTraining year-long course on offer in South Africa and immediately signed up for it. This turned out to be the beginning of an adventurous career as a field guide in Sri Lanka’s national parks. Since then I have also developed a keen interest in photography and lodge management.

“Despite the fact that EcoTraining is based in southern Africa, I strongly feel it is applicable to anybody looking into a career in wildlife tourism and/or conservation, whether your area of operation is in southern Africa or anywhere else in the world.

“Just as in any field of work, working in wildlife tourism needs a solid foundation and there is no better place in the world to receive this exposure than in southern Africa, given the high concentration of game and the expertise that has developed there (including the FGASA Level 1 qualification) due to the size of the wildlife tourism industry.

“My training with EcoTraining began at Selati Camp, where I covered the first few months preparing for my Level 1 FGASA examinations. This preparation and training consisted of discipline, strict ethics and hands-on experience on every walk and drive (done twice a day), as well as afternoon lectures covering all aspects of the natural environment from rocks and soils to animal behaviour and biology.

“From Selati I was sent to Karongwe, where 16 of us continued our training with some of the best in the industry in animal tracks and sign, wilderness survival, and of course the continued experience of walks, drives, and practical assessments and feedback.

“Karongwe was also where we started preparing ourselves for our next camp, where experiences really rose to the next level in the ‘trails’ course at Makuleke. Before we began our training in Makuleke, we had to be up to date with ethics, safety, guiding skills and, of course, situational awareness.

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Arran and friends relax at the fire after a long day in the field

“I successfully qualified in my Trails Guide course and EcoTraining positioned me to work at Vuyani Lodge at Moditlo, near Hoedspruit, where I continued to guide as well as get a taste of lodge management. I also voluntarily took part in assisting the anti-poaching team and recording rhino numbers with the reserve management team.

“EcoTraining provided me with the foundation to run a safari tourism operation, as well as a foundation to continue studying wildlife, as I do today at Leopard Trails in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a biodiversity hotspot and an up-and-coming safari destination. In recent years Sri Lanka has become known for having the highest concentration of leopards anywhere in the world (in both Yala and Wilpattu National Parks)!

“At present I continue to work full time for Leopard Trails, and continue to work on leopard research and leopard identification projects in both Yala and Wilpattu National Parks.

“I strongly encourage any of the current students reading this to come and experience an ‘out of the ordinary’ six-month placement with us here at Leopard Trails in Sri Lanka.