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EcoTraining: A Worldwide Community

EcoTraining’s Worldwide Community brings both personal and global benefits

By Zach Savage

There are so many reasons to choose EcoTraining as a place of learning, whether you want to have a career as a safari guide or take a wildlife course and become a custodian of nature. One of these is being exposed to the most beautiful wilderness areas in the different camps. But another – perhaps unexpected – reason that EcoTraining camps are such a great place to learn is that you will meet people from all over the world and from all reaches of life. Actually, for me, this is one of the best parts about spending time in an EcoTraining camp. Far from only being confined to a particular geographical area, your world is expanded so much, and you learn more about life and people than most ever will.

The first night at camp

On your first night in camp, there’s a fireside gathering where everyone says where they are from in the world: Germany, South Africa, Netherlands, Mexico, USA, Britain, Switzerland, Zambia, Australia, Bulgaria, Italy, Denmark – the list goes on. It’s an opportunity to hear about each individual, learn what their outlook on life is, how they were raised, what they believe in and many other insights into a life completely different from your own. There are many lessons to be learned from this: you can draw differences between their life and yours, but it is the similarities between you and someone from halfway across the planet that really connects you to a feeling of unity that we all experience when we are in the bush.

Building a worldwide community around a camp fire

Sitting around the fire get to know one another (c) Zach Savage

You will find that you build relationships in the bush much quicker than you would under normal circumstances. In camp you are interacting with a small group of people, day in and day out, for weeks – or even for months -at a time. You can become very close to people very quickly. And, for the most part, the intimate nature of camp life is only beneficial as you are spending time with like-minded people who are there because they love nature and want to learn more. You get to know people so well that often bonds and friendships are formed that can last long after the course has finished.

EcoTraining’s Ethos

The ethos of EcoTraining is to create Guides and Guardians – people who care about nature and its conservation and then to have these people guide and teach others to also respect nature and protect it in every way possible. When someone leaves EcoTraining, 99% of the time they are leaving as a guardian, spreading that awareness and passion for nature all over the world, and so helping create a worldwide community of Guides and Guardians.

In this way, doing an EcoTraining course is not just about gaining a qualification or having a holiday during which you significantly add to your knowledge. It is about creating much greater respect for nature on a global level so that we can preserve it for generations to come – and play a role in one of the most important issues of our time.

EcoTraining PFG Course

Life Lessons | In the African Bush

Life lessons from leaving my comfort zone and jumping into the bush 

By Julia Korn

“I could do this for a year,” I told my parents when they took me on safari in 2017. The next thing I knew, our guide was telling us about the course he had done to get his FGASA qualification with EcoTraining. I looked at my parents and the only thing they said was that they were jealous of me as they immediately knew that I would definitely want to do the course.  

EcoTraining students

Creating life long friendships

While scrolling through the EcoTraining website and Instagram, I got more excited with every photo. I just could not believe that I would be able to live in the bush for a year and meet people from all over the world, while learning everything about my direct surroundings. At this point I just wanted to finish my high school and start the year-long course as soon as possible.  

Don’t get me wrong: it was not an easy decision. I would be away from my home in the Netherlands, and all my family and friends, for a full year. Also, not being familiar with sleeping in an unfenced tent, far away from civilisation, having no cell service, and encountering bugs, spiders, snakes and other creatures scared me a lot. I knew it would be a totally different life to the one that I’ve had for the past 18 years. This actually ended up being the main reason for my decision to sign up for EcoTraining’s year course. And I could not be happier that I did. All the worries that I had ended up being unfounded or at least turned into a lesson.  

“One of my favourite moments”

In no time I got used to, and appreciated, the basic way of living. One of my favourite moments must have been when an elephant got into camp and broke our water source which made all the water stream out of the borehole. We all knew what it meant: no water for a couple of days. But instead of getting annoyed and thinking of the inconvenience, we embraced the experience and jumped under the stream instead. 

“Four months into the course”

My plan had always been to study after high school but something inside me just wanted to do something totally different for a while. I wanted to get out and learn about nature, ecosystems and the beautiful wildlife that I had fallen in love with while going on safaris. I had a strong feeling that I had to learn how life used to be, and what big influence people have had on nature, before I went off to study anything else. Little did I know how important it actually is to have an understanding of the formation of the earth and nature, and how everything around us has been influenced by that – and how important it is for all of us to do the best we can, to preserve as much as we are able to. I also never expected to learn so much about the importance of hospitality in the guiding industry. Although I am not planning to pursue a career in guiding, I’ve learned so many life skillsfor example, how to be professional, make a good first impression, deal with guests and work with other people. I love how this is a big aspect of EcoTraining, since I now have these skills which I can use for anything I decide to do with my life. Another aspect of the EcoTraining course that I appreciate is how to deal with changes. Currently I am four months into my year-long course and I have already stayed at four different camps. Not only did each one have a totally different environment and animals, but also different instructors who all have their own way of guiding and have taught me different things.  

Elephant

Photographing an Elephant (c) Julia Korn

The way of studying is different to anything I had previously experienced. Firstly, while there are lectures, homework and exams, it doesn’t stop there. During game drives you can actually see what you’ve been studying. For example, you might have been revising the nutrient cycle in preparation for a test. Then, a few days later, you come across three cheetahs killing and eating an impala and, afterwards, see all kinds of decomposers like beetles doing their job of decomposing the carcass. You then start to really see and appreciate what you have learned. Secondly, you are surrounded by people who are all very passionate about wildlife and conservation – not only the instructors, but the rest of the students too. This is very motivating and makes everything we do much more interesting – especially for people like me whose first language isn’t English. All the students have always helped me wherever they could. As a group having these similar interest results in us bonding very quickly. I still can’t believe the amazing group of friends that I’ve made at Ecotraining. At one point we had 10 different nationalities which made for a great diversity of friendships and I have even taken on some Italian lessons with a friend. 

Cheetah on a kill

Cheetah on a kill (c) Julia Korn

“Placement at a Safari Lodge”

In February I will begin my placement at a Safari Lodge and I can’t wait to put to use all the knowledge my EcoTraining course has given me. Later, I would love to combine my passion for filmmaking and my knowledge of the bush to make documentaries. I can truly say that this year has already helped me figure out what I want to accomplish in my life. By challenging myself and jumping out of my comfort zone and into the bush I have learned a lot – not only about the role of every little aspect of nature but also about myself and what I want from life. 

 

 

Chacma baboon

Baboons and their behavior | All you need to know

Certainly not one of the Big 5 and not on many viewing bucket lists, baboons are often seen as a pest. Yet their social structures hold a mirror up to modern human society. Our quirks, traits and behaviours’ are often seen to be similar within their social structures.

Chacma baboon

Chacma baboon (c) David Batzofin

They are social creatures that live in large troops, which have a definite hierarchy. Family orientated, they participate in mutual grooming sessions and food sharing. Much like humans, they have a set daily routine, which involves waking up at a set time, going about their daily business and then settling down again at night.

Baboons are omnivores, eating a wide array of meats and plants. Typical foods in a baboon’s diet include grasses, fruits, seeds, roots, bark, rodents, birds and small or young mammals when the opportunity arises.

Chacma baboon

Chacma baboon (c) David Batzofin

If you are a regular visitor to the bush, you will be familiar with the loud barking sound that they make. What people don’t know is that they are capable of making around 30 different vocalizations. These include some most un-baboon like grunts and screams. They also have a series of non-vocal communication gestures.

The Chacma baboon is the largest of the species. In 2010, the fossil skull of a two million years old individual was discovered near Johannesburg in South Africa.

Similar to hamsters, baboons have cheek pouches in which they can store food. This helps while they are foraging as it can be brought back to a safe area to be eaten.

Mothers and babies have a special bond and the baby will remain close to its mother for at least the first four months before it is allowed to interact with other youngsters. After birth they are carried under the belly of the mother, graduating to riding on her back when they are older.

Chacma baboon

Chacma baboon (c) David Batzofin

Chacma baboon

Chacma baboon (c) David Batzofin

The dominant males will often interact with the youngsters and will be seen to be grooming as well as disciplining them should the need arise.

Chacma baboon

Chacma baboon (c) David Batzofin

Despite what local farmers think of this primate, it was revered in Ancient Egypt for its intelligence. It is still seen as the guardian of the dead in the Underworld.

Perhaps we do not give them enough credit for their contribution to the wildlife tapestry of Africa. Or perhaps it is just the fact that they are seen as too representative of us, but baboons are here to stay and should be embraced rather than reviled and rejected.

Chacma baboon

Chacma baboon (c) David Batzofin

Want to know more about baboons, watch our video on EcoTraining TV on YouTube to find out more.

Impala

Underrated | by Emma Summers

When you come to the beautiful continent of Africa what animals are on on the top of your list to see? Elegant Cheetahs, gigantic Elephants, magnificent Lions, prehistoric Rhinos and maybe the curious Giraffe and stripy Zebra, they probably all made the list. There is one species of animal that is commonly overlooked on a game drive, an animal that is probably one of the most numerous animals that you will see in the African bush, an animal that when the initial excitement of seeing it has worn off, it tends to get ignored.

I’m talking about an antelope, specifically the beautiful and elegant reddish-brown Impala. I can understand why people take them for granted after all it’s pretty rare to go on a game drive and not see them, which means that it’s all too easy for people to take them for granted, brushing them off as ‘’oh its just another herd of Impala’’, rather than marvelling in the magnitude of these animals. The Impala is one of the most successful, perfectly adapted species in Africa, in fact, they are so perfectly designed that as a species their form has barely changed in the last 5 million years.

So, what is the difference between an antelope and a deer that you might find at home? A male deer will shed and regrow his horns every year, while an antelope’s horns are permanent. Many a time I have been on game drives and seen antelope with broken horns, more than likely lost in battle with another male. Deer also have branched horns and antelope don’t.

Impala Ram

Let’s address one popular misunderstanding about Impalas. Its has long been a rumour that female Impalas can delay the birth of their young by up to a month if the conditions aren’t right. This rumour may prove to be more myth than fact. Impalas are synchronised breeders, the rutting season normally starts in May resulting in lots of baby Impalas being born in November and December, when the first rains start to replenish the African bush, resulting in plenty of food for the lactating mother. But what happens when the rains are late, and conditions aren’t right for the baby Impalas to survive?  The birth canal of an Impala is only so big, so in order to delay the birth of a foetus, she would also need to be able to stop it from growing, which is highly unlikely.  What is more likely that any babies born early are the ones that were conceived first when the rutting season started, if the rains are late and there is no food about then these calves will simply die before we even know that they exist and the ones that are born a week or two later are the ones that survive. It is also possible for a female, early in the pregnancy to reabsorb the foetus or later to abort the foetus if the conditions aren’t favourable.

Impala calf

Due to environmental conditions and the fact that baby Impalas are a tasty snack for any predator, it is thought that only half the newborn Impalas will survive. This might sound harsh, but the rule of nature is one of survival of the fittest and because there are so many born in such a short space of time half of them survive. To Impalas safety in numbers and a high birth rate is an important survival strategy that has served them well for thousands of years.

Impalas have beautiful glossy coats. This is the result of them spending large amounts of time attending to their personal grooming. They have modified teeth, their lower incisors are slightly loose and can splay open, turning their teeth into a comb that can effectively get rid of parasites and dirt. They are also allo-groomers which means that Impala will help each other clean those harder to reach places.

Impala allo grooming

Just like us, Impalas feel the cold and when they get cold, the hair on their bodies stands up. This helps them trap a layer of air close to their skin, which helps insulate them against the cold.  It’s not unusual on a winter’s morning to see the Impalas gleaming coats take on a darker, fluffier and duller appearance. Do you know what the erection of hair is called? Drop us a comment below and let us know.

When you are a prey species it is important that you can blend into the background and that stand a chance of outrunning any animal that will try to make you its dinner. The colouring of an Impala helps make them appear two dimensional to predators. When you look at an impala, you will notice that their stomachs are white, their flanks are light brown and their backs are a darker shade brown. This is called countershading and it helps to break up their form enabling them to blend into the background.  They are also incredibly agile, when they need to, they can jump 3m high and up to 12m long and they can run up to 80kmp.

Impala Herd

These are just some of the amazing facts about these elegant animals. Next time you see them please don’t just drive by them, rather stop and spend some time marvelling and observing these magnificent animals. After all the African bush comprises of more than the Big 5 and in our ecosystem, every animal is important.

If you want to know any more fact about Impala, have a look at EcoTraining TV on YouTube or read more on the blog about Impala.

YouTube Video

EcoTraining TV | Learn the facts: All you need to know about Impala

 

Night game drive from Karongwe Camp

Night game drive is offered to students as an exciting and different experience when it comes to wildlife encounters.

David Batzofin (cc)

When you are driving in the bush and you come to a river crossing, do you

  1. A) Trundle through irrespective?
  2. B) Stop, look, wonder and THEN trundle through?

or

  1. 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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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!

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.