Professional Field Guide students, Sarina and Joya, take us on a walkabout through the newly built EcoTraining Karongwe camp.
As one ventures over the bridge straddling the Luvuvhu River into the Makuleke Concession, the landscape transforms into something extraordinary. Ancient Baobab trees fortify the rugged sandveld, groves of Lala Palms bow to the few stems that have shot skyward and stunted mopane thickets line the alluvial plains in orchard-like symmetry. Legions of elephant patrol this expansive kingdom, countless buffalo herds till the soil with marching intent and abundant nyalas glide around in elegant momentum.
This northern-most section of the Kruger National Park holds seventy-five percent of the biodiversity found in the region and is on the bucket-lists of keen birders and naturalists alike. Visitors come in search of a trove of endemic species like Pel’s Fishing Owl, Racket-Tailed Roller and Arnot’s Chat but almost always leave with so much more than just a pencilled check-list. And almost always leave a sliver of their soul behind.
The natural heritage and history of Makuleke is palpable. Once a trading corridor where distant travellers exchanged gold, animal skins and salt, this land continues to tell the tales of the traditional Makuleke people that once inhabited it and who now benefit greatly from its role in conservation.
Iconic Baobab specimens were not just trees to these people. They were cherished as more than just a source of food and medicine but as spiritual guides. Tribal elders shook trusting hands in their fibrous shade, the Makuleke Chief and his wife dwelled in one regal specimen’s hollowed-out cavity and rite-of-passage ceremonies were conducted in their proximity with the belief that this would pass strength and health to the growing young men.
It is against the backdrop of this magical place that the EcoTraining Camp is set. The camp itself resembles a tiny forest village. Each raised thatch and canvas tent claims one of the forest trees as its protector from the harsh heat. The tents are generously spacious with private bathrooms and outside decks overlooking the wilderness beyond. There is a constant concert of birdsong to accompany the tranquillity and many other animal heartbeats share the space of the unfenced camp. The main dining tent brings everyone together over hearty meals made with love and where life-long friends are made.
But not much time is spent in the tents as there is a magnetic pull to explore this area on foot or in open safari vehicles. EcoTraining’s twice-daily activities introduce students to the unforgettable beauty of the area with the additional privilege of facilitating an educational experience.
This special place carries an air of wisdom. It requests the best version of anyone visiting it, cradles one in raw beauty and leaves one with an instinctive desire to protect it. Thankfully, this magnificent places alongside EcoTraining’s vision to “reconnect people to nature” inspires a mighty force of wilderness guardians.
Want to learn more?
Do you want to know more about some of the special birds you could spot in the Makuleke? Try our EcoTraining Lowveld Birds Quiz. Or if you want to know more about the Kruger, we also have a Kruger Quiz. This beautiful paradise as you can feel is a once in a lifetime experience and definitely not to be miss. If this is something you are interested and want to be immersed in the wilds of the Northern Kruger National Park we have a few Easter Special running at the moment.
Shaded by mighty Jackalberry trees, EcoTraining Karongwe Camp waits patiently for its first group of 2020 students. The expectant energy is palatable. The new students will be embarking on a 55-day EcoTraining Field Guide Course which will solidify the bedrock of each participant’s potential career as a field guide.
The unfenced solar-powered camp area lies unobtrusively adjacent to the dry Karongwe riverbed where new students will delight in discovering numerous bird and mammal species. At this time of year, the bush is alive with activity. The summer rains have washed away the dust and replaced it with emerald abundance.
The resident Nyala family feeds below a canopy of Tamboti trees and even they seem anxious to welcome the new students. The lambs bounce around excitedly jostling for front row seats and above them in the eaves, Paradise Flycatchers flit in a boastful aerial display.
The open-air classroom entices all sounds and smells of the wilderness in. A library of textbooks and a collection of skulls, tortoise shells and animal bones are lined tidily for students to explore. Yet the space beyond the formal classroom boundaries will invite students on a much greater journey of enquiry beyond their wildest dreams. Every bird that chirps, every leaf that falls, every flower that blooms and every insect that rattles in song is an opportunity to gain knowledge and connection with the fauna and flora of the Lowveld wilderness.
At the edge of the camp lies the fireplace. As dusk stretches the shadows and awakens the stars, the earth has the power to draw everyone magnetically in. It is around this blazing campfire that learning will transcend facts and figures and where wisdom will be shared through storytelling.
As an African barred owlet hoots somewhere in the distance and his message for the new students is clear… “Protect this wilderness, for you are the guardians of its future.”
It is a privilege to be an EcoTraining student because you hold these wild spaces in your hands and in your heart, and have the collective ability to nurture it for future generations. Karongwe is a classroom sanctuary where custodians of nature are born and inspired.
Good luck to all the students of 2020!
Another day begins in the African bush, in the beautiful Makuleke. The Pafuri section of the Kruger National Park is by far the wildest, most remote and biologically diverse region in the Greater Kruger. The EcoTraining Makuleke Concession (Pafuri section) is 25,000 Hectares in extent, which makes up only 1% of the entire Kruger National Park, however, contains 75% of the park’s biodiversity. Imagine spending part of your EcoTraining Course immersed in this wilderness.
On each course, students are split up in groups of twos that make up the “duty teams”. Each team is responsible for the daily set up of meals, teas, coffees and wake up calls. This is a great way for them to learn the various hosting duties that they may be required to take on when working at a Safari lodge.
Hundreds of these magnificent and iconic Baobab trees can be found throughout the Makuleke region. Baobab’s trunks have been known to grow to a diameter over 40 feet, some are thought to be well over 1000-years in age. If you want to learn more about this incredible tree take our EcoTraining Quiz and test your knowledge.
Students are usually accommodated two per tent. The Makuleke Camp tents are very comfortable, they are elevated on wooden platforms and each has its own bathroom facility. The tents are set in a semi-circle, facing outwards to give each room the best view possible. There are also pathways in between the tents that are used by a variety of animals, including a couple of resident bull elephants.
The beds are comfortable and are supplied with a pillow and duvet. Students are encouraged to bring pillows and a sleeping bag for when the weather becomes cooler and trust us it does get cooler.
Much like all the other camps, the heart of this camp is the kitchen. Judging by the comments on the above board, many have attested to the delicious food that is produced by the ladies working here, the notice board has clearly turned into a thank you board! A hot breakfast is served once the students return from morning activity. Although the students do not cook or prepare any of the meals everyone works as a team and helps one another and the camp staff to bring the food, condiments, cutlery, and plates to the dining area. Most of the EcoTraining camps use a kudu horn to call the students to meals, here it is the sound of the cowhide drum that informs all in the camp when meals are ready.
On all the EcoTraining courses there is a mix of theoretical book work and exams as well as practical training and assessments. Between meals, the beautiful open-aired dining area turns into a bush-classroom where the instructors give lectures on a variety of very interesting course work. Although all the instructors have different skills and teaching styles, they all have one thing in common…passion! For both the natural environment as well as passing their expertise on to those who have come to learn.
Usually, after a long day filled with activities in the bush, students get to either walk back or drive back to camp as the sunsets. It is at this time where they get the opportunity to wind down, grab a well-served shower and a cool drink.
After dinner, everyone can enjoy the company of a crackling fire and reflect on a wonderful day had in the remarkable wilderness that is Makuleke.
If you would like to find out more about what each camp offers, please email [email protected]
Karongwe Camp is situated in the southern parts of the 21,000-acre Karongwe Private Game Reserve. This Reserve not only boasts the Big Five, and other various species of mammals but also a massive diversity of habitat and a bird species list to rival any other reserve in the region. So, what can students expect from Karongwe Camp?
If you have not yet experienced being immersed in a wilderness area this is a brilliant way to start. EcoTraining’s Karongwe Camp is unfenced, students are accommodated in tents, hearty meals are prepared over the open fire and lectures are conducted under a large thatched open-aired classroom.
Each of these buildings have multiple functionalities. The bottom left-hand thatch building is a drinks area and above it a library. There are ablution facilities under the office in the centre and there are sky beds above both the kitchen and the lecture room (building on the right). This is where you will start your journey, arriving here filled with excitement and exhilaration at the adventure that lies ahead.
Faith is the camp coordinator of Karongwe Camp. Listen to what she has to say about her role, an average day at Karongwe and a little bit about herself.
Students get to share accommodation while in training. The tents become home very quickly with small touches making the space more personal. The tents in Karongwe are spacious enough to accommodate two beds as well as shelves where the students can unpack items that are used regularly. They are also able to hang items inside as well as outside.
This is where the magic happens! Students are amazed at the variety and quality of the food that can be produced on a small stove and two gas hobs. Although the students do not have to make the food, the groups are broken in duty teams whose job it is to collect the food from the kitchen and place it on the tables (buffet style) in the dining area.
These rotating ‘duty teams’ consist of two students who will present the meals as well as choose the order in which the remaining students collect food at mealtimes. This can be as simple as those –wearing-open-toed-shoes to using bird calls or frog sounds to decide who gets to the buffet first.
The instructors offer lectures on a variety of required topics. Each instructor has a unique style of transferring knowledge, but all of them incorporate the information in an educational and entertaining way. The courses are not all intense learning but are interspersed with fun and interesting activities.
A requirement for several of the EcoTraining courses is a walking component. Before each activity, a briefing is held to prepare the new students for what might lie ahead. The two most important rules? “Stay behind the rifle at all times’ and “don’t EVER run”!
Although not all the students might have been on a walk before joining a course, many might have been on a game drive of some description. On the courses, it is not exclusively about big five sightings. Instructors will take time to describe trees, grasses, and tracks as they see fit. Can’t hear the bush sounds around you? Cup your hands behind your ears and you will be amazed at the amplification.
What a great way to end off a day, in true bush style. Swapping stories and experiences around the campfire before and after dinner. It is here that friendships are formed that will last longer than the flames will. The guiding industry is almost insular and even though the students will be ending up at separate lodges, there is every chance that they will meet up again somewhere down the line.
Are you ready for a new challenge? Consider joining one of the variety of courses that EcoTraining have to offer.
Still not convinced? Watch this EcoTraining TV video as past student Aagje describes her experience on the Professional Field Guides course.
Night game drive is offered to students as an exciting and different experience when it comes to wildlife encounters.
When you are driving in the bush and you come to a river crossing, do you
- A) Trundle through irrespective?
- B) Stop, look, wonder and THEN trundle through?
- C) Send a student to walk across and back?
Izaan, one of the EcoTraininings’ interns was only too keen to get her feet wet. As it turned out, it was a lot shallower than was first suspected.
The roads in the northern area of Karongwe can be somewhat confusing, so finding this small herd of elephants took longer than expected. The search was not wasted, as assistant instructor Michael Anderson was able to use it as part of the EcoQuest curriculum.
This particular individual was rather disdainful of our presence and although she might look aggressive, she actually turned her back on us and continued eating!
A breathtakingly beautiful African sunset ends another perfect day in the African bush. Vanishing as it did, first behind the tree line and then dipping below the horizon to awaken the Northern hemisphere. The participants were most impressed.
As the sun vanished, the moon rose. Not yet a full moon, but offering enough light to make out more than just shapes in the impending darkness.
An exciting sighting. We had actually heard this large lion vocalizing when we stopped for our evening drinks break. He sounded closer than he was but it was decided to cut the stop short to go and find him.
Lying on the warm sand of the dry river bed, he was in command of all that he surveyed. He astounded the group with an extended vocalization that reverberated off the walls of the river bank.
Nature has an innate manner of throwing a curve ball when you least expect it. The EcoQuest group was heading back to camp when they surprised this White-tailed Mongoose crossing a road.
The largest of the mongoose family, it stopped momentarily before vanishing into the thick grass on the side of the road.
Field guides have a ‘trick’ for entertaining guests by finding chameleons at night. Although not a single one was spotted in the beam of the spotlight, their place was usurped by a plethora of Lesser Bushbabies. These tiny creatures were everywhere and if not sitting quietly staring straight at us, they were leaping from tree to tree with amazing agility.
The excitement was not over yet. The EcoQuest participants were treated to this awesome sight just a short way from the campsite. A young female leopard in hunting mode.
While sitting at dinner, this male moth decided that he would pose in the torchlight at the dinner table.
A superb ending to an entertaining, informative and most educational night game drive.
Karongwe Camp is on the banks of the Karongwe River (mostly a dry river bed) in the 9,000ha (22 239-acre) Karongwe Game Reserve, which is to the south-west of the Kruger National Park. Three rivers flow through the reserve, all tributaries of the Olifants River, carving their way through the bedrock and dividing the reserve. So what can you expect from EcoTraining Karongwe Camp.
Like all of the EcoTraining camps, the one at Karongwe is unfenced, giving course participants an immersive bush experience. This is the first view that new arrivals get to experience. New students arrive at around mid-day and are welcomed by the friendly EcoTraining staff contingent. After a short walk around the camp to orientate the participants, they are given time to settle into their accommodation before lunch is served.
The thick foliage hides the tents from each other, allowing total privacy for the occupants. The spacious shared Meru tents fit two people comfortably and are equipped with two single beds and mattresses. There is also space to hang and store their belongings.
There are separate communal ablution facilities throughout the camp. And what can be more exciting than an outdoor shower? With the open sky above and the river in front of you, it is a wonderful way to connect with Africa while washing off the dust from a game drive or an on-foot activity.
If you sit quietly, you might be privileged to indulge in a moment like this with the resident Nyala. They are not fed in the camp but use it as a refuge from predators while feeding and when their offspring are young. Many an unsuspecting and preoccupied student has stumbled into these on one of the paths. They are normally only encountered during daylight hours.
The EcoTraining method of calling all in camp is to blow a Kudu horn. This alerts students to the start of meal times or lectures. It does take some practice to master, but the resulting sound is eco-friendlier than the raucous noise made by the ubiquitous Vuvuzela.
Who says that pizza cannot be made in the bush? Certainly NOT the chef at Karongwe camp! This delicious example is a testament to her skills. All those in the camp were suitably impressed as it was not what was expected.
When the EcoQuest group heads out on a game drive and this is where they decided to stop for an afternoon drinks sundowner. This stunning dam was home to more than one crocodile, but both the humans and the reptiles kept their distance and allowed the international participants on the EcoQuest course to fully enjoy their surroundings while sipping a beverage of their choice.
If you are very lucky, you might get to spot a leopard when out on a drive. These elusive predators can hide in plain sight and are often only spotted in the rear view mirror! This young female was seen on an evening drive and as she was rather skittish when caught in our spotlight. As a result, a red filter was used instead of open white light. In this manner, the animal is not startled by the light but conversely, it makes colour photography difficult.
Dinners, especially after an exciting leopard encounter are the ideal time for participants and instructors to share thoughts and experiences around the glowing embers of the fire.
All meals, unless the weather is inclement, are enjoyed outdoors. Delicious food, like-minded company and the excitement of upcoming activities can be shared around a table.
The expression “Early to bed, early to rise” best describes the attitude of both staff and students alike and as a result, the camp settles down to where the only sounds are those that nature provides. Be it the snort of an Impala or the vocalizing of lions in the distance.
Mornings in camp, especially for those who are not used to being woken early can be a ‘struggle’. But the aroma of fresh coffee and the promise of an exciting day can have the most reticent student ready and raring to go in a short space of time.
The pre-breakfast activity can be a game drive or an on-foot experience. Once these have been completed, it is back to camp for a full, hot breakfast.
Students are given some time off before a mid-morning lecture takes place.
As part of the EcoQuest course, participants are treated to a series of lectures on a variety of topics. This one, on tracks and signs, was given by assistant instructor Michael Anderson before the group set off on a bush walk where they could put their newly found skills to the test.
Lead by Assistant Instructor Michael Anderson and back up Trails Guide, Aagie van der Plaetse, this group on the EcoQuest course set off on an afternoon walk. The walks give the course participants a totally different perspective on their time spent in the bush. They focus on the biodiversity of the bush that game drives bypass.
This stunning flower is part of the Pea family. Although these are visible on game drives, it is only when one gets up close on a walk that their innate beauty can be appreciated to the full.
The Aardvark that left this sign is predominantly a nocturnal animal. Getting to see one during the day is an experience that not many to get to enjoy. That being said, this tentative digging was an indication that there was one in the vicinity and that with perseverance it might get seen at some point.
It is not only the large webs of the ubiquitous Golden Orb spiders that can turn one into a dancer almost immediately.
This tiny Kite spider, which is part of the Orb web family, almost turned some of the EcoQuest participants into ballroom specialists when they walked into the edge of its web!
An EcoQuest course is the ideal way to sharpen your bush skills, improve your mental well being as well as being the ideal break from the hustle and bustle of regular urban lives.
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 [email protected]
The camp kitchen is a hive of activity as the sun slowly starts to filter through the trees. A warm beverage (or two) before setting off on an early morning game drive is always a must.
After the quick morning coffee and a chat about the game drive plan, you are then off on a new adventure. You never know what the day has in store for you. It’s very exciting.
Selati camp being situated on the banks of the Selati River makes the mornings even more beautiful, with breathtaking sunrises and interesting animals coming to investigate around the water’s edge the possibilities are endless.
It is always a pleasure to be out on a drive, even if the vehicle seems to be at an impossible angle. In this instance an instructor was driving, but the students each get a turn behind the wheel. They get to know the capabilities of the vehicle and they get to understand how to interact with guests in situations that might arise while on a drive.
Vultures perched on trees can give away the presence of a carcass, which in turn often signifies the fact that there are predators in the area. These two White backed vultures looked like they had a disagreement.
A look can say it all. Often when you get close to a lion, even if you are in a vehicle, a low growl will warn you of their mood.
Could this be a Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticose)?
Every drive is a learning opportunity for the students. Be it an animal, bird, insect or plant species. Questions are asked by the instructors to make certain that every safari drive it utilized to the fullest.
This is one of the Kingfisher species that does not eat fish. Instead it preys on insects like grasshoppers and locusts. They have been known to catch and eat lizards.
There is also a recorded case of one seen eating a bat! Of the 10 Kingfisher species found in South Africa, only 4 have a fish based diet.
The students make time for a sundowner break on the viewing deck perched high above the vast bushveld that stretched out towards the horizon.
There is no better way to end a day in Africa. Our sunsets are spectacular and will creep into the hearts and souls of students, both local and International.
Many of our potential students wonder what it will be like to spend a year in the bush and how they will manage this if they come from an urban background. Not all the EcoTraining courses run for a full year and there are shorter courses on offer at Selati.