Sleeping out under the vast African sky

As part of the EcoTraining Trails Guide Course the students get the opportunity of sleeping out under the vast African sky.

Log smoking

David Batzofin (cc)

With a sleeping bag and a cooler box of food, they get to experience what it is like to be outside in the wild from sunset to sunrise.

While there is the possibility of animals wandering past, the silence of the bush and the vastness of the African sky is what created an immersive experience that was unforgettable.

Camp site

David Batzofin (cc)

Finding a campsite proved to be harder to agree on than actually setting up camp for the night.

After much discussion, a suitable spot was eventually decided on and the task of unpacking the vehicle was dealt with in quick time.

Teapot

David Batzofin (cc)

The first task was the collection of firewood to heat water for coffee and tea.

David Batzofin (cc)

But not just any wood. No, it had to come from places around the site where the use of the wood would not have any impact on the ecosystem.

Sleeping bag

David Batzofin (cc)

Sleeping bags were then laid out and tasks were assigned.

Aagia and guitar

David Batzofin (cc)

The backup guide, Aagia, had brought her guitar along and in the silence of the bush, her chords were clean and sweet, not loud and intrusive, but calming and quieting (Aagia playing guitar). It was now time to start a fire.

starting the fire

David Batzofin (cc)

With the fire roaring in a purposely dug hole, it was time for toasting marshmallows and sharing stories.

dinner time

David Batzofin (cc)

The pasta that the camp kitchen staff had prepared for us was enjoyed with gusto. And the container of biscuits was most welcomed by those on duty in the early hours of the morning.

bush toilet

David Batzofin (cc)

Ever used a bush loo? It’ very simple, find a nice bush with a good view, dig a hole and there you go!

Bush TV

David Batzofin (cc)

The ever-changing flames of the ‘bush TV’ were hypnotic and despite the early hour, we were all ready to creep into our sleeping bags and settle down for the night.

But before the final good nights were exchanged a duty roster was worked out as there had to be someone awake at all times to keep an eye open for animals that might take an interest in our sleeping forms.

There were enough people for us to have to only do an hour each between 21h00 to 05h00.

middle of the night

David Batzofin (cc)

It was soon discovered that all that was required during this on duty time was to keep the fire going and the water in the kettle boiling!

The bush does not sleep and although you might believe it is quiet there is a constant stream of noises that are sometimes difficult to identify.

The lions that walked past our sleeping forms were the easiest to identify. Their guttural vocalizations left no doubt as to whom they were and what they were capable of doing.

The crashing of branches close by signaled the fact that there was at least one feeding elephant in the vicinity.

Warm in our thermal sleeping bags we lay in silence, allowing all these sounds to envelop us without the need for discussion (That would take place over coffee in the morning).

Although the ground was hard and unforgiving, sleep did eventually come. And with it a deep, contented almost childlike sleep.

Morning

David Batzofin (cc)

As the dawn broke and faces began to appear out of bedding it was time to share our impressions about our night and to repack the vehicle before heading off back to camp.

putting out the fire

David Batzofin (cc)

Just as we had set up camp the night before, we had to return it to as pristine a condition as we could before we headed off.

The campfire had to be doused and the ashes scattered.

cleaning the site

David Batzofin (cc)

The wood had to be replaced back into the tree line.

leave no footprints

David Batzofin (cc)

And the area swept with branches to eradicate as much of the traces of our stay as possible.

Personally, I believe that no one who spends a night under the vast African sky can return without a change of some sort.

It might not be a huge ‘Eureka’ moment, but deep in the psyche of each of those present, a change had occurred.

In contrast to our silence during our stay, we drove away in high spirits. Chatting loudly about our experience…and enquiring as to when we could do it again!

Home on the range | Advanced Rifle Handling

Students participating in the Trails Guide Course are working towards attaining their FGASA Apprentice Trails Guide status and have already completed their FGASA Apprentice Field Guide/NQF2 qualification. One of the elements of the course is to pass their ARH (Advanced Rifle Handling).

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

One of the students are pointing out where the bullet should go. On this particular day, each student was required to fire a total of 10 rounds. These 10 rounds are broken down into 3 exercises. The first exercise was a grouping of three rounds followed by an exercise that required 4 rounds. Finally they were allowed to choose their final exercise that involved 3 rounds.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

When you are staring into the eyes of a dangerous animal that is intent on doing you or your guests harm, this is how you want to place the rounds. That being said, firing the rifle and taking the life of an animal is an absolute final resort when all other avenues have been unsuccessful.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

Safety is paramount at the range. Seeing that live rounds are being used, expert instructors take the time to explain what is expected clearly and concisely. Each exercise is fully explained to the student at the firing line. Neither a rifle nor the rounds are issued without all the relevant safety measures being in place and that includes ear protection as well.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

The rules are simple during an Advanced Rifle Handling course. Keep the rifles pointing down range at all times. Do not turn around with a loaded rifle and if in doubt make the weapon safe and ask for help.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

For the uninitiated, the sound of the first shot and the recoil of the rifle butt against a shoulder can be rather daunting. Not all of the students on this particular Trails Guide course had previous experience with a .375 calibre rifle. This can take some adjusting to make certain that the rifle is held firmly and that the trigger is squeezed and not jerked. By the end of the day, the instructors had made certain that all the students were competent to complete the exercises.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

Watch for the brass. Look carefully at this image and you can see the cartridge being ejected from the breach. The rifles are single action, which means that each round has to be placed into the breach using the bolt action. There is a standard way of this being done and the students competency relies on all aspects of rifle handling being completed correctly.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

For those who transgress the range rules, this was the consequence. Push-ups!

In the beginning, it was 40 repetitions, but by the end of the day, the final transgressor ended up doing 60! Although there was a lot of banter around the punishment, all of the students completed their allotted number without exception.

Have you ever heard a .375 rifle go off? During this Advanced Rifle Handling course there were many. Here’s an audio clip of the sound of the rifle cocking and shots being fired.

EcoTraining is launching the accredited FGASA Field Guide course in the Masai Mara, Kenya

EcoTraining, South Africa’s largest and oldest safari guide and wildlife training organisation will be offering the well-known FGASA level 1 (NQF 2) accredited Field Guide qualification in Kenya from the 14th September this year. A recognised accreditation in Kenya, the launch of this course also means lower rates for participants who want to acquire this qualification at a rate of USD 7,970.00.

Over the duration of fifty five days, participants on this course will traverse not one, not two but three different conservancies encompassing over 16,000 hectares, providing students access to a diverse range of biomes and elements that make this a truly sought after course in the industry.

Students will stay in unfenced tented and banda accommodation over the duration of the course. This truly immersive ‘live-in’ experience will allow participants to connect with the natural environment and develop their situational awareness which is an important part of becoming a field guide professional.

This course provides a solid foundation for many environmental careers in the wildlife, lodge and conservation sector. What makes this course so unique is its relevance to the natural environment of Kenya. Covering a broad spectrum of subjects, students also learn about the cohabitation and conflict between the community herdsmen with their livestock, crops and wildlife.

The course contains a combination of formal lectures and practical field experience, affording students the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills whether it be on game drives or on-foot guided walks. Participants will have the opportunity to be assessed for their EcoTraining and FGASA Field Guide (NQF2) qualification which is conducted by EcoTraining instructors who are accredited FGASA assessors.

EcoTraining is of the firm belief that conservation is about people effecting positive change in the world. This is a milestone for EcoTraining in the plight for providing more access to environmental education in Kenya.

For more information about this upcoming course contact enquiries@ecotraining.co.za

FGASA | Frequently asked questions and answers

Starting out in a new job or career can be a daunting prospect. We at EcoTraining have found that these are some of the most frequently asked questions when students consider joining our 1 year ‘Professional Field Guide course’ or our 55 day FGASA level 1 (NQF2) course.

A year is a major commitment to a future in any industry and getting a guiding qualification is no exception. Proper research and due diligence is an important process when deciding what course is best for you. Before we share answers to frequently asked questions, let us give you a brief background of what FGASA is and what they do.

FGASA, the acronym stands for ‘The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa’. A Section 21 company, it was formally established in 1990 by a group of professional guides aiming to set a standard for nature guiding practice. FGASA represents individual tourist guides; nature, culture and adventure guides; trackers; and organisations involved in offering professional guiding services to members of the public. FGASA is an accredited provider with CATHSSETA. It has set the guiding standards for many years and continues to maintain the highest standards within the guiding industry. In conjunction with CATHSSETA within the National Qualifications Framework, FGASA promotes the standards for guiding throughout southern Africa.

Great! Now take a look at the answers to some of the most pertinent questions that we get asked…

Is the FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2) the same course as FGASA Apprentice Field Guide?

The ‘FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2)’ name according to FGASA has changed its name and is now known as the ‘Apprentice Field Guide’. EcoTraining’s programme, FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2) is the exact same course as FGASA’s Apprentice Field Guide and upon successful completion will achieve an NQF2.

What NQF level is FGASA level 1?

EcoTraining’s FGASA Field Guide Level 1 course (FGASA’s Apprentice Field Guide equivalent) is a NQF level 2 which consists of 41 credits. The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) currently collates credits assigned to various formal courses at a specific level. The EcoTraining FGASA Level 1 (NQF2) course is recognised nationally in South Africa. The FGASA Field Guide (NQF2) must be registered with the National Department of Tourism in order to legally operate as a Nature Guide.

How much does it cost to register for FGASA level 1?

Currently the registration fee for South African membership is R1,760.00. This is done by EcoTraining and is included in the course fees for EcoTraining courses.

Can I do the FGASA training if I don’t have a matric?

Matric is not a requirement for any EcoTraining courses. However, as both the course material and instructions are in English, participants on the course are expected to have a fair command of the English language and must be able to speak, read and write English. If you are unsure if your English is good enough, contact EcoTraining to find out.

What is the pass mark?

Students are required to obtain a pass mark of 75%. There are two elements to the qualification. Theory (which has to be passed first) and a practical. A student is only considered to be competently qualified once both elements have been completed and passed.

Am I allowed to drive guests at South African based lodges?

If you are younger than 21, then the answer is unfortunately not. South African law requires that the necessary license, a Public Driving Permit, can only be obtained at age 21. But do not despair or let that detail derail your guiding ambitions. Consider becoming a Trails Guide and conduct on-foot guiding.

If you want to be a nature guide, get involved in conservation or just want to learn more about nature and the environment, then FGASA is definitely something that should interest you.

We hope these answers help some of the questions you may have. Should you wish to know answers to any other question not listed above, contact enquiries@ecotraining.co.za and we will be happy to assist you with your research.
To find out more about what we offer, please visit our website.

Top 5 reasons why you should do a birding course in the Kruger National Park

All of EcoTraining’s birding courses dates are carefully selected for an optimal experience. With the coming of each season, along with it brings different experiences. Here are the top 5 reasons why you should do the 7-day ‘Birding in the Bush Course in February:

Game drive during Chinese EQ at Makuleke

Why it is a good time to become a Nature Guide

As the South African tourism industry continues to thrive and the re-establishment of game reserves and natural wildlife areas continues, the opportunities for ecotourism-related careers are on the increase. One such career is field guiding or more internationally known as safari guiding.

About the Professional Field Guide course

The most comprehensive course is EcoTraining’s yearlong Professional Field Guide Course that not only prepares students for all of their official field guide accreditation tests, but also offers advanced bushcraft skills, wilderness medicine, and high-level tracking. Students also receive further instruction on navigation and orientation, handling of firearms, and much more.

Matthew Bouwkamp, the lovable Backwoods, Bayou Boy from Miami, Florida, has been fascinated by and has felt protective over wildlife ever since he was a kid. “Ever since I was a little kid, I was always the kid bringing the snakes home, “Mom can I keep it?!” Matt finished his studies in Wildlife Rehabilitation. In September 2017, Matt joined EcoTraining’s yearlong Professional Field Guide course along with his friend, James, who suggested the course. Now traversing through the koppies of Mashatu in Botswana, Matt is gaining practical hours of experience and encounters towards acquiring his lead trails qualification by working as a back-up field guide for EcoTraining. “It’s definitely given my life a new inspiration to push on.” says Matt. Like many people, Matt found himself caught up in a well-paying job and felt himself getting further and further away from his life’s passion: conservation. Coming to Africa was a life’s dream for Matt. What we naturally do as children often sets the tone for what we are destined to do as adults. Some know right away and spend their teenage years honing the skills they need for a career in their passion. Some never realise their purpose and suffer a lifetime of mediocracy and discontentment. Worst of all, there are many human beings of this world know what they’re destined to do but create too many excuses around why they can’t. It’s the truly brave ones who find themselves far along a path, only to admit and accept that they’ve pushed aside their passion and are living an inauthentic life. Matt is one of the brave ones; he left his stable career in order to return to his roots, back to his passion. Matt is now free and easy; he is living out his passion. After his year at EcoTraining, he hopes to go into conservation and anti-poaching. Just like when he was a kid, he wants to spend his life saving and protecting animals. Cheers to passion. Cheers to an authentic life. And cheers to the brave ones.

“The Brave Ones” – Matthew Bouwkamp

Matt finished his studies in Wildlife Rehabilitation, but never had the opportunity to do what he loves, until now. It took him six years, working in construction, to realise what he has been missing. Here he is now, living his dream in wild Africa as a Professional Field Guide.