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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.

elephant encounter

World Ranger Day 2019

July 31st we celebrated World Ranger Day. And by extension, it should also be celebrated as World Field Guide Day.

If you are a Field Guide, Game Ranger or involved in the conservation and eco-tourism industry, then thank you for your time and dedication. We appreciate all those who put in the effort every day to conserve and teach those around us about Africa and the majestic wilderness that surrounds us. If you have ever thought about learning more or getting involved in the industry, whether as a full-time profession or just to learn and broaden your knowledge, then read on…

If your answer is yes, and joining the guiding industry is something that you are passionate about? Or perhaps you just want to up-skill your bushcraft. If either of these is an option, then an EcoQuest course might just be what you are looking for.

Instructor Mike Anderson point of tracks

Instructor Mike Anderson point of tracks (c) David Batzofin

If you find yourself on Safari or on a game drive with friends, and your thirst for knowledge and your need to know more about the wilderness around you is too much, then look no further than an EcoTraining EcoQuest Course.

The course is a ‘snapshot‘ of the Professional Field Guide Course that we offer.

Tree Squirrel

Tree Squirrel (c) David Batzofin

Time in the bush is not always about dangerous game and encounters with those that have teeth, claws and horns.

It is also about taking time to appreciate the ‘smaller’ inhabitants and how they contribute to a particular eco-system.

Game Rangers

(c) David Batzofin

Some of the course’s unique selling points are:

The EcoQuest courses can be tailored to suit individuals or groups.

Participants can sign up for either a 7 or 14-day course, depending on how much time they have at their disposal.

Do you have a speciality that you would like to highlight?

We can structure your course time to focus on that.

It is an immersive experience, in world-class wilderness regions.

Baboon skull

Baboon skull (c) David Batzofin

The course is designed to inform, educate and entertain. Finding skulls and identifying them is just one of the activities that can be experienced during an outing.

Flower

(c) David Batzofin

Each of the EcoTraining camps in South Africa,  Selati, Karongwe, Pridelands and Makuleke are situated in different biomes.

Thus making the vegetation very different.

bug

(c) David Batzofin

Did you know that there are about 100,000  insect species in South Africa?

Most of the reading material only mentions a fraction of these, however, you can find out more about some of those on the walks from the various EcoTraining camps where this course is presented.

Luckily, most of the species found in South Africa are harmless but it does help to know which might sting or bite.

Elephant tracks

Elephant tracks (c) David Batzofin

What does the EcoQuest course cover?

The course consists of drives, walks and lectures.

Each activity covers flora, fauna as well as tracking and spoor identification.

Termite mound

A termite mound (c) David Batzofin

Aside from the underground construction by this insect, termites also build these above-ground structures.

They can vary in height and are made out of clay that is stuck together with saliva. Should a portion of this mound be broken, they can repair it in record time.

Sunset in the African bush

Sunset in the African bush (c) David Batzofin

Walking back to camp as the sun sets.

A perfect ending to a day filled with exciting new experiences.

Camp fire

Campfire (c) David Batzofin

Share experiences around a roaring campfire.

There are stories to be told and it is here where friendships are made and lifetime bonds formed.

 

EcoTraining Managing Director, Anton Lategan sat down with David Batzofin and shared his hopes and dreams for EcoTraining.
Where we have come from and where we are going. Listen to the interview here.

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

 

Kate Ochsman

To all you future female guides, you can do it!

Kate Ochsman took an EcoTraining one-year Professional Guide Course and she wanted to share to all the future female guides or those who are thinking about joining this industry that you can do it and here is why…

A message from Kate:

When you think of Safari, conservation, being a field guide, a ranger…the first thing that comes to mind is, “He must be living the life”. Surrounded by wildlife each & every day, getting to drive an awesome 4 x 4 vehicle, being submerged by the ruggedness of the bush, fixing things with his hands, living a simple lifestyle with only pure nature as his surroundings.

What a man!

Mwambe Pan Makuleke

Overlooking Mwambe Pan

“But wait…WHAT?

You are a woman!

This is a man’s world!

You don’t belong here!

This is far too tough for you to handle!”

EcoTraining Trails Guide Course

Kate on Trail

“Tell me, lady, can you even handle a rifle?

What if there’s a big animal encounter?

Will you be able to handle that situation? If it arises?

Not even to mention all the hard labour you have to do!”

Well my fellow fella’s, that time is long gone.

On Safari

Kate on Safari with an Elephant

Me myself also coming in with that mind-set taking my first steps into the Safari/Wildlife industry. But I must admit there was a rude awakening that lurked around the corner for me.

A man will be a man and there is always this little “macho-man” temperament that will surface every time the boys get together.

“Who can do it the quickest?”

“How close can you get?”

“Who can shoot the best?’’

And the list goes on…

It is here where I saw, not some, but all the ladies stepping up and showing the guys how it’s done.

Being in this industry but more so being part of a company who provides training to the future of this industry, I can write this with great pleasure and excitement that the future looks bright. Especially with all our female counterparts joining this magnificent, exciting wild world.

What I came to see is that they CAN do it.

Better

With elegance

Confidently

Gracefully

And with so much enthusiasm, knowledge and power.

On Safari

Kate Ochsman

Still being the feminine you.

And still, feel beautiful and sexy as hell.

Ladies, You CAN do it…and you are welcome to.

Your skill, knowledge and elegance will leave this industry empty if you are not part of it.

You are strong.

You are confident.

You are powerful beyond all measure.

Here I am leaving you with a classic but oh so powerful quote from one of my favourite movies…Cool Runnings.

“Look in the mirror and tell me what you see!”

“I see Junior”

“You see Junior? Well, let me tell you what I see.

I see pride!

I see power!

I see a badass mother who doesn’t take no crap off of nobody!” To all you future female guides, you can do it!

Kate on Safari

Kate on Safari with another Elephant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to know more about Kate?

In the video below, we have Kate Ochsman. An American woman from Los Angeles who is not trying to but showing us all that it can be done. Showing everyone that you still feel like a lady or listen to Kate’s interview on Sound Cloud. You can also follow Kate’s journey and her life after EcoTraining on Instagram.

America to Africa

EcoTraining TV – America to Africa

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!

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.

 

What to expect from EcoTraining Karongwe Camp

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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. 

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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. 

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

 

What to expect from EcoTraining Selati camp

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.