“Moving around by day, looking, listening, smelling, touching and tasting. Reawakening your senses” – this is the essence of a Wilderness Trail
Boots on the ground & the conservation benefit of Walking Safaris
“We use our linear understanding of the sciences and continually take from the Earth. We take as much as we can, we call this production.”
Over a short distance, the cheetah has been recognized as the fastest land mammal on the planet. Encounters with these special predators feature on the bucket lists of both local and international travellers who visit the various natural wilderness regions throughout Africa. International Cheetah Day is a day in which we focus on these phenomenal creatures and the plight that they face in conservation.
Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) are found mainly in Africa and with a small remaining population in Northern Iran. A sighting of these rather elusive felines is always memorable and never easily forgotten. To call attention to the plight of this vulnerable species, we celebrate International Cheetah Day with some interesting facts that you can share when trading wildlife stories and bushveld encounters.
- Cheetahs are physically designed for speed! From nose to tail they are aerodynamically designed to achieve maximum acceleration in the shortest time.
- Their tails that can be used as a rudder when running, are almost as long as their bodies. In full hunting mode, it is used to balance the animal when it executes tight turns at high speed.
- To retain their fastest-land-mammal crown, they can get from 0 to 100 km/ph in 3 seconds. Faster than most supercars! However, they can only maintain their top speed of +/- 120 km/ph for a short period.
- Although cheetahs are generally regarded as solitary creatures, the males occasionally form coalitions that will allow them to hunt larger prey species. These groups consist of between two and four animals, usually siblings, but they can also be non-related animals that band together to be more effective hunters.
- It is hot work…when hunting, a cheetah can raise the body temperature from an average 38.3°C to over 40°C. They expend a lot of energy in the chase which often leaves them prone to overheating. Although they have a success rate of about 50%, their post-hunt recovery time means that they regularly lose their meal to opportunistic predators like jackal and hyena.
- You would think that with all the expended energy, they would have to drink regularly, but they are the least water-dependent of the cats, getting most of their moisture from the prey they eat.
- Unlike the roar of the lion or the sawing grunt of the leopard, cheetahs communicate through almost bird-like chirps and purrs. They are the only cat out of the big cats that actually purr.
- The dark lines running on either side of the nose are used to absorb light in order to cut-out the visible glare whilst hunting during the day. NFL football players in the USA have adopted similar markings to help them when playing under stadium lights.
- As a solitary animal, a cheetah mom gets no help from either the father of the cubs or other females in the raising and training of the cubs. The cubs are born with a grey ruff along their backs that mimics the colouration of a Honey Badger, a small animal with the attitude of an elephant!
- The fossilized remains of a Giant Cheetah have been carbon-dated, showing that it to be around 1 to 2 million years old!
Would you like to be able to learn to identify the tracks of a cheetah? Or perhaps even track one on foot? If this educational experience is on your bucket list, then why not celebrate International Cheetah Day by signing up and joining one of the EcoTraining Courses? For more information, contact [email protected]
Have ever wondered who was the first member of FGASA? His name is Ian Thomson, and his FGASA number is 1. He still lives and breathes wildlife and nature conservation.
Born in Scotland in 1945, as a child Ian moved with his family to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Finishing school at the unique bush-orientated Plumtree School, where he developed his first love of the wilds, Ian managed a tobacco, cattle and maize farm, before deciding to join his two elder brothers in the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management. Thus Ian not only pursued his passion for wildlife but had an in-depth hands-on training in all aspects of wildlife management and conservation.
The Road to Conservation
Initially based in Chirundu, on the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia, Ian was responsible for a huge hunting concession consisting of five hunting camps, hosting local and international clients. He was predominantly involved with everything that had to do with reserve management, from elephants and buffaloes to even the smallest creatures, insects and plant life that constitute an eco-system.
After every hunting season wildlife assessments had to be undertaken. This was done by vehicle on the few existing tracks, but mostly with foot patrols, going from waterhole to waterhole, along elephant paths and rivers, up and down hills and even sitting up in trees doing 24-hour game counts. Although some aerial counts were undertaken using small aircraft, large numbers of rhino, buffalo, elephants and many more wildlife species was best done at water holes. Today’s modern computer technology was unheard of in those days, which meant lots of paperwork back at the office once the appraisals were completed.
Ian pointed out that “In those days’ conservation had to be done on your feet so one knew very inch of your area.” Ian remembers clearly when one night a herd of buffalo came through the camp surrounding his tent grazing until daybreak. When counted at the nearby waterhole it was estimated there were 1,200 buffalo in that herd. “The now critically endangered Black Rhino were so numerous as to be a nuisance during foot patrol!”
After 6 years in the Zambezi Valley, Ian was relocated to Nyanga National Park as Senior Ranger. Situated in the north of Zimbabwe‘s Eastern Highlands and one of the first national parks to be declared in the country, it features the highest rugged mountains in Zimbabwe. Whilst stationed here Ian studied Ecology at the University of Rhodesia after which he focused on environmental education, a subject he is particularly passionate about.
As a Warden in the Matopos and Hwange National Parks, Ian gained further experience of different ecologies and wildlife management. Leaving Zimbabwe for South Africa in 1982 he was the Chief Conservation Officer with the Department of Agriculture in the Ciskei, assisting in developing the Double Drift Game Reserve. He also organised a Hippo capture operation at Ndumu Game Reserve in Kwazulu-Natal and transported a number of animals to the Fish River which bordered Double Drift. These Hippo are still doing well there today.
Ian then joined the Department of Conservation of Kwazulu-Natal as Head of Tourism and Wildlife Management, becoming Deputy Director then Director. During this time, he qualified in Environmental Management (and EIA’S) from The University of Cape Town and Human Resource Management through Wits University.
Discussions about guiding standards in South Africa
While working for the Department of Conservation, Ian and his peers had become concerned about the standards of safari guides and guiding, and that there was no formal qualification available.
This was when Clive Walker called a meeting at Lapalala with Ian Player, Nick Steele, Ian Thomson and Drummond Densham from Natal Parks Board. FGASA has grown from there with Ian being one of the first members to enrol for his Field Guide qualification. Thus being at the right place at the right time is how Ian became FGASA membership # 1. Ian is also qualified as a Professional Field Guide (formerly known as Field Guide level 3) and has an SKS dangerous game qualification.
Role-player in various development projects
- Leaving the Department of Conservation, Ian consulted as the Technical Advisor for the German KFW Development Bank in Malawi, rebuilding the Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve. This included all aspects of Park Management, provision of new vehicles, habitat management, uniforms, rewriting of management plans, security and up-skilling of staff. During the 5 years, a tourist lodge was refurbished, new lodges designed and built.
- Ian worked on an embryo plan with Zambian National parks to establish a Trans-Frontier Park. Although this project started in 2000, it was only completed two years ago.
- As a consultant, Ian has worked in Saudi Arabia, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi and most regions of South Africa.
- Assisting with the development of Manyoni Game Reserve (previously Zululand Rhino Reserve) and Zulu Waters Private Reserve (formerly Dalton Private Reserve), Ian wrote their original management plans. Whilst at Manyoni, working through the Board of Directors, he arranged with the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project to introduce a founder population of Black Rhino, and with Kruger National Park to introduce a founder population of elephant. At Zulu Waters, he introduced one of the first breeding herds of disease-free buffalo into KZN.
- Ian coordinated the Rhino and Elephant Security Group of Southern Africa. This was a SADC range state group which held annual meetings in different SADC countries. A policy document, which was signed by all member states was produced for the management and security of these animals for the SADC region. This policy also formed the backbone of the SADC wildlife protocol document.
The word retirement does not exist in his vocabulary
Recently, while working in Zululand, Ian has been lecturing international students from universities and colleges in the United Kingdom England about all aspects of Wildlife and Environmental Management.
Ian does not believe in retirement. Being very active in wildlife and conservation, continuously thinking of new ways to empower people with environmental knowledge and sharing his experiences and knowledge, Ian enjoys guiding and taking people on walking safaris in dangerous game areas. If that does not inspire you, then nothing will!
It takes only one person to make a difference… Ian is one of those people!
If you find yourself daydreaming of being in the African wilderness or have a passion to make a difference. Why not take a look at the EcoTraining Courses that we offer.
It sometimes seems that the trio of hyaenas from Disney’s famous movie the Lion King is a representation of the species as a whole. There can be nothing further from the truth, as hyenas are not cowardly, skulking scavengers that they are made out to be.
Found in most wilderness regions of sub-Saharan Africa, the spotted hyena plays a very important role in many African eco-systems.
Much like other animals that have stripes or spots, the pattern on each animal is unique, allowing for easy identification.
These large animals can be found is a vast variety of habitats and have even been found at altitudes as high as 4,100m!
Although they have their cubs in a den, they do like to lie in shaded hollows, culverts and even pools of water during the heat of the day. If you have ever had the privilege to travel to Tanzania or Kenya, you will see hyenas wallowing midday like a hippo in muddy pools of water.
Most people believe that hyena scavenges the majority of their food, but this is not necessarily the truth. They kill up to 95% of their food, with the remaining percentage being scavenged or stolen. Hyenas have excellent hearing and can hear the sound of predators on a kill from up to 10 km away. They will eat almost anything on offer, including fish, pythons and tortoises if nothing else is available. The amount of scavenging versus the amount of hunting a hyena does is all dependent on the population dynamics of other large predators in the region.
Hyenas exert a far greater bite pressure than any other land predator on the continent, they can crush bones that other carnivores cannot eat.
The main rivalry for hyenas are lions. And in many areas, where lions do exist, hyenas are regarded as the dominant apex predator. In the Ngorongoro Crater in Northern Tanzania, hyenas and lions are in a constant battle with each other, in what can only be described as a gladiator’s arena of life and death where often, due to numbers and cunning, hyenas are the victor.
Living in clans as they do, they can be observed to be extremely social. And considering that these clans can exceed 50 in number, it is no easy task. The clans are matriarchal, as the females are larger than their male counterparts and can outweigh them by as much as 30%.
Hyenas communicate via a range of vocalizations varying from whoops and grunts to almost demented human-like laughter. Hence they are often referred to as ‘Laughing Hyenas’. Each call has a specific use and is therefore easily distinguished and interpreted by the rest of the clan. Sitting and listening to a pack of hyenas as they call to each other in the dead of night, is a cacophony that will not be easily forgotten.
When cubs are born at the den site, they get to interact with each other and thus build up a clan hierarchy. The female offspring of the dominant matriarch is known as a Princess and will be afforded special privileges by the rest of the clan.
Built like they are running uphill; they can attain speeds of up to 60 kph, however, more importantly, they maintain that speed for long period of time, enabling them to tier their prey out before catching it and ripping it to shreds.
Female hyenas have a pseudo-penis, making the animals difficult to sex when young, though as adults’, females are easily noticeable due to their size and weight difference to the males. Clans are territorial and will defend their areas aggressively. They mark their areas with dung and a pungent paste secreted from their anal glands.
Hyenas are one of the most intelligent animals on the African continent and arguably the most intelligent predator bar the African Wild Dog.
So, the next time you are on a Safari and encounter these amazing creators, take the time to watch them and learn more about their complex and interesting behaviours.
If you want to know more about EcoTraining, have a look at our website and some of the courses we offer.
Watch and listen to the incredible sounds below in an EcoTraining TV video.
Do you love mangoes, bananas and coffee? You have the bats to thank for that!
They are the unsung heroes of nature, often misunderstood and feared by people, they play a vital role in keeping our ecosystems healthy. From pollination and seed dispersal to keeping insect populations in check, we have bats to thank for all that.
Bats around the world play crucial ecological roles that support ecosystem health and human economies. Many bat species consume vast amounts of insects, including some of the most damaging agricultural pests. A single bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects every hour, and each bat usually eats 6,000 to 8,000 insects every night! Some of their favourite prey include crop-destroying moths, cucumber beetles, flies and mosquitos. Natural insect control is their speciality.
Fruit-eating bats pollinate many valuable plants, ensuring the production of fruits that support not just local economies, but diverse animal populations too. We have a lot to be grateful for because of the existence of bats. Fruit bats excrete seeds from the ripe fruit they eat. They do this in flight, often a considerable distance from the parent tree. The seeds, which are packed into their own fertilizer (guano), then grow into new fruit trees, helping to regenerate forests. Some bats also drink nectar from flowers and — like sunbirds, bees, and butterflies — pollinate the flowers. Overall, bats are irreplaceable in sustaining their forest habitats, which would simply disappear without them.
Unfortunately, about 40 percent of bat populations worldwide are in danger of going extinct. Bats are slow at reproducing. Most species give birth to only one pup a year, which means they cannot quickly rebuild their populations. Much of the blame for declining bat populations rests on human shoulders. Bats can be poisoned when they consume insects that have been sprayed with synthetic pesticides. But the biggest problem for the bat population is the loss of natural habitat. Many bats prefer to roost in dead or dying trees under the loose and peeling bark, or in tree cavities. Some prefer to roost in caves or caverns. Populations have dwindled and diversity has suffered without the protection of these important natural roosts.
So, I have decided to run 50 miles for bat conservation and to raise awareness about the importance of bats. I’m batty enough to run the Karkloof 50 Miler on 21 September 2019 in support of bats! But I need your help. I’m raising money for ReWild NPC, a local NGO in Phalaborwa. They do amazing work to rescue and rehabilitate bats, as well as to educate the public on the importance of bats.
ReWild NPC helps wildlife that has been injured or orphaned and, when they are ready, return them to the wild. But they do far more than this! They help with human-bat conflict resolution, they help farmers to use bats to control crop pests, they make bat houses and apply many other bat conservation measures.
Please help me to raise crucial funds for bat conservation and ReWild NPC by donating to my campaign on GivenGain.
If you want to learn more, maybe take this week EcoTraining Quiz.
If you want to do more for wildlife or are just generally interested and want to learn more about our natural world, have a look at the courses we have to offer.
The field of guiding is attracting more women into the industry every day. This August EcoTraining celebrates those women who are dedicating their lives to making our natural world a nurturing one.
Jennifer Palmer, is the founder of Women for Wildlife, an organization that seeks to empower local communities and at the same time, work towards the goal of conserving wildlife. She recently spent time at all of the EcoTraining camps and was part of several courses that were running in those camps at the time.
Jennifer, who has a Masters Degree in International Applied Ecology and Conservation, was able to immerse herself in both the ethos of EcoTraining and the roles that women play in the South African guiding industry.
Her work and passion has taken her to more than 40 countries including in Latin America, the South Pacific and now Africa.
Her goal she says “is to bring people together with compassion to make a difference in the world”.
As a solo traveller, she shared some tips for other women who might find themselves in similar situations, listen to what she has to say on her solo travels.
She also shared her thoughts about her time at the EcoTraining camps.
In honour of Women’s Day, we’ve put together a video of some of the EcoTraining Women who show us that being brave, strong and independent has never looked so good!
There are so many women out there that are making a difference every single day. We want you all to know that we appreciate your drive and dedication to the industry.
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!
You are a woman!
This is a man’s world!
You don’t belong here!
This is far too tough for you to handle!”
“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.
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.
And with so much enthusiasm, knowledge and power.
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!
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.
Indlulamithi – above the trees for World Giraffe Day.
Today on the winter/summer solstice also know as the longest night in the Southern hemisphere or the longest day in the Northern hemisphere we celebrate a very special, unique, curious, long necked animal, the Giraffe.
So why is the 21st June World Giraffe day? This is a new annual event launched by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) to raise awareness of our iconic long-necked friends. Did you know that even though they are an iconic African species that very little research has been done on them, and because of this the tallest mammal of the African bush has been disappearing right under our noses? According to the ICUN it is now thought that there are less than 69000 mature Giraffes left across the African Continent. This might sound like a healthy population number however; when you consider that over the last three decades Giraffe numbers have decreased by around 30-40%, a staggering amount, this population estimate is beginning to not look as good as it first you first thought.
The reasons why their numbers are declining is a familiar story. War, civil unrest, explosions in the human population, deforestation, habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, disease and poaching are all contributing to their decline.
The Giraffe should have one advantage over other animals, because of its height they can reach food that other animals can’t which means that they don’t compete with other wild or domestic animals for food. However; in countries like Niger, where people are cutting down trees for fire wood, to grow crops and to sell, the Giraffes started to raid peoples crops, which in turn meant that the animals were being viewed as pests.
Currently the ICUN acknowledges the giraffe as one species with nine different subspecies. The Giraffe as a species are listed as vulnerable to extinction and if you break it down into the nine subspecies you will see that some of these subspecies are in danger of disappearing completely – the Nubian and Kordofan subspecies are critically endangered and the Reticulated subspecies is classified as endangered. The giraffes that live in Eastern, Western and Central Africa with most of them living in scattered, fragmented populations are the ones that are under the greatest threat whereas the lucky subspecies that live in Southern Africa have more stable population figures, although they are also not immune to population decline.
In recent years there has been some hope. The West Africa subspecies population declined so drastically that by the mid-nineties there were only 49 left. They used to have an extensive range, but they disappeared everywhere except in a small ‘giraffe corridor’ in Niger. Due to people recognizing the importance of them a massive conservation effort began. The Niger government gave them protected status and money was spent on anti-poaching. Thousands of Acacia trees, their favorite food have been planted, which helped to stop the Giraffes raiding people’s valuable crops. Thanks to Giraffe conservation organizations like GCF working with local people awareness of the Giraffes plight has increased and people now see these Giraffes as a positive force as they provide them with and income and jobs. All this work has had positive results. Their population numbers have increased and according to the ICUN there are now approximately 425 mature individuals. This success has enabled 8 West African Giraffes to be translocated to the protected Gadabedji Biosphere Reserve, an area they haven’t roamed for 50 years. Although this might sound like a small number these Giraffe have helped to increase the Biosphere Reserves biodiversity and most importantly these precious animals are helping to establish a second colony of West African Giraffe.
Now there we are researching Giraffe we are learning some interesting things. Thanks to genetic testing our assumptions that there are nine subspecies has been shown to be wrong and many questions are being raised. It has shown that there are four distinct species of Giraffe that have not interbreed for millions of years. Some of these species of Giraffes also have subspecies.
Whilst this might seem like an academic argument, after all it doesn’t change the conservation status of these animals, it goes to show that there is still so much to learn about them. It is also hoped that with more research, by understating their genetic makeup and what makes each species of Giraffe unique that they will be able to come up with new conservation approaches that can save this amazing animal.
|Masai giraffe||Giraffa tippelskirchi||35,000|
|Northern giraffe||Giraffa camelopardalis||5,600|
|Kordofan giraffe||G. c. antiquorum||2,000|
|Nubian giraffe||G. c. camelopardalis||3,000|
|West African giraffe||G. c. peralta||600|
|Reticulated giraffe||Giraffa reticulata||15,780|
|Southern giraffe||Giraffa giraffa||54,750|
|Angolan giraffe||G. g. angolensis||17,750|
|South African giraffe||G. g. giraffa||37,000|
When humans put their minds to it, we can change the world and when we work together with nature rather than just considering our needs, we can create a positive change.
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]
Humans have long been the greatest threat to this planet’s biodiversity. That is why we are said to be living in the Anthropocene – the years wherein the Earth’s atmosphere, geology, biosphere, and ecosystems have been most greatly impacted by the presence of Homo sapiens.
Happy World Rhino Day 2018! On this day we’d like to recognise the successes in the fight against the extinction of this majestic animal.
In celebration of Arbor week, we would like to share our personal thoughts on the subject of trees and to ‘leaf’ you with something to think about.
International Ranger’s Day is a day dedicated to the unsung heroes who protect our fragile wildlife, natural treasures and cultural heritage. We salute you!
How the re-introduction of predators helped build a balanced, natural ecosystem.