World-renowned wildlife trackers Alex van den Heever and Renias Mhlongo have spent more than two decades working together, tracking leopards and lions at Londolozi, jaguars in South America and grizzly bears in the United States. With a passion for wildlife, tracking and the natural world, this is a partnership that is set in stone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 skills – for 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.
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.
“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.
With a new group of students arriving at the EcoTraining Mashatu Camp, the instructors needed to show them around the reserve so they could start orientating themselves. They started out on morning safari as usual, and if you believe it, by 05:30 am it was already 30°C, so with that, it only made sense to visit one of the major water points in the riverbed.
The instructors and students clambered over East-West ridge, using rocky crossing which ensured that any students that were maybe dozing off were now very much awake! Next up was the fever berry forest, where they stopped for a bit to talk about the medicinal uses of this tree and made spinning tops out of the developing fruit. This is a game played by Tswana children and it proved to be more difficult than anticipated.
Once moving out of the fever berry forest, a tawny eagle was spotted posing beautifully on a dead tree, no one thought much of it, as there is a pair that are seen almost every day in the area. Then someone spotted some jackals in the distance and at that very moment, something caught their eyes…
There was movement through the foliage that lined the rivers banks. Instructor Tayla McCurdy grabbed her binoculars, then explained to the students that there was a lioness coming their way with her cubs trailing behind her. One of the students then informed Tayla that the jackals were feeding on some kind of carcass, it turned out to be a fully-grown eland – the world’s largest antelope!
The lioness and cubs’ bellies were all bursting at the seam, the temperature had now climbed a fair amount and she wasn’t interested in eating but was instead looking for some shade. This meant that she had to move away from the carcass, and lead the cubs to a cool spot to rest for the day. She trundled along with her little ones in tow back towards the fever berry forest.
The vehicles were not covered so, sitting in an open safari vehicle (the best kind) lathering on sunscreen, quenching their thirst the students were also sitting down-wind from the fresh stench of the carcass. So, why did they not move out of the sighting into a more comfortable location?
A: Sometimes you need to learn to stomach horrid smells as a safari guide (this was mild).
B: The instructors were proactive in their guiding and guessed what might happen and wanted to be in the perfect position where they would not be interfering with the sighting. Thankfully, they were right! The vultures arrived out of nowhere and started circling above them, then one by one they started landing.
This was an impressive scene and comical at the same time. Vultures are not the most agile birds when it comes to landing, they bound about at great speed before coming to a complete halt. Then, in a very gangster-like movement with wings spread out they ran towards the carcass. There is always lots of squabbling amongst the various species, with the most dominant species being white-backed vultures and then a few Cape vultures joined the feeding frenzy.
Next minute the lioness burst out of the bush, she trotted angrily towards the scene scaring away as many of the thieving birds as she could. Just as quickly as the vultures arrived, they vanished into thin air, with the exception of a few brave souls that lingered on the tops of nearby trees.
In the video you have just watched, there are many hardships, firstly the lioness on her own trying to successfully raise, protect and feed her cubs, they too were battling what looked like mange. Then the second is the constant battle between predator and scavenger, the vultures, in the end, decimated the carcass and the lioness left the area with her cubs, luckily there are plenty of animals for her to hunt in Mashatu. Every single person on the vehicle were in awe of the sighting, some may have to wait many years to witness a spectacle like that again.
If you want to experience a possible sighting like this, or even have a dream of guiding people in the African wilderness. Why not look at the various courses we have on offer? Or contact enquires on [email protected] to learn more.