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.
Is Coronavirus getting you down? Do you need to pass the time during your self-isolation? Don’t fear, EcoTraining is here and we have loads of fun interactive quizzes, word searches and crosswords to keep you busy.
Why not start with this EcoTraining Crossword and test your knowledge:
With the world in crisis mode and humankind battening down the hatches
We have all been caught off guard by this current crisis. Certain drastic measures were put in place to keep the Coronavirus (COVID19) from spreading. These measures do have a major effect on everyone globally. Please take a few minutes to answer this 10 question survey about the Coronavirus and the effect it has on YOU personally and your travel plans.
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.
Anyone that has ever had the opportunity to witness the sheer power and prowess of big cats in action can stand testament to a leopard’s ability to catch and kill prey far larger than themselves. In this instance, a male leopard weighing around 85kg caught and killed a blue wildebeest bull which could have weighed as much as 290kg!
The video itself was filmed shortly after the kill, with the male leopard and his prey still exposed out in the open, hence the male’s herculean effort to pull this monstrosity into thicker bush and away from the prying eyes of vultures which would alert other, larger predators like lions and hyaenas to the presence of a free meal. This sighting was no exception.
Over the course of a few days, we watched as this leopard was chased by wild dogs (the dogs did not steal the kill as they are not carrion feeders) and then later fend off various attempts of hyaenas to steal his hard-earned prize.
In the end, the sighting lasted nearly three days with the big tom eventually relinquishing the remains of his kill to a pride of lions.
This, of course, is a regular occurrence for all predators, not just leopards, where competition for food is fierce. Lions are regular thieves, which should be a great reminder that the stealthy hyaenas aren’t the only mega-predators to stoop to such lows as to scavenge hard-earned meals from others. However, EcoTraining instructor Sean Matthewson has on one occasion seen a leopard scavenge from lions when the pride happened to leave a large giraffe carcass to go drink water. A young female leopard snuck in and stole as many mouthfuls of rotting giraffe as she could before the return of the pride heralded her silent departure from the carcass, the lions oblivious to her presence.
This is, of course, the cycle of life, the survival of the fittest.
Watch the amazing powers of this male leopard trying to move his wildebeest prize.
If you want to learn more about leopards why not try your hand at our EcoTraining Leopard Quiz?
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Want to know what you can expect from an EcoTraining course? Freelance content creator David Batzofin, chatted with Senior Instructor Steve Baillie to get his opinion about our 1-year Professional Field Guide Course.
David’s first question was “Talk me through what a participant can expect”. Listen to our latest podcast to learn more.
Want to start a career as a Field Guide? Or if you want to learn more about EcoTraining, follow us on social, either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to be apart of our students’ and instructors’ amazing journeys through the African wilderness.
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@example.com
They may have a bad rap in literature (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Midwich Cuckoos for example) but there are few more fascinating birds than cuckoos. In Southern Africa, cuckoos are all migrants, except for the Klaas’s Cuckoo which is a resident in some lowland areas. This means that they are absent from the region for most of the year, only moving down from further north in Africa and Asia during the rainy season.
While cuckoos tend to migrate from as early as September, typically most arrive in late October to November. Most of the 15 species we have in South Africa are intra-African migrants, which means that they come down from countries further north within Africa, down to the south of the continent. There are also a few Palearctic migrants, namely the Common (European) Cuckoo and the Lesser Cuckoo, with the Common Cuckoo coming from China, Korea and Japan and the Lesser Cuckoo coming from Afghanistan and the foothills of the Himalayas. These Palearctic migrants are, however, much less common than the intra-African migrants.
One of the reasons cuckoos migrate down to our neck of the woods is to feast upon the vast insect numbers that come to life after the early summer rains have fallen – specifically to eat the processionary worms (hairy caterpillars) that you will often see huddled together on tree branches, particularly on the Velvet Corkwood tree (Commiphora mollis). In fact, cuckoos are specialised in eating the hairy caterpillars, which are – for good reason – avoided by most other birds. For their meals, cuckoos smash the caterpillars against branches and other objects to remove the caterpillar’s irritating hairs. These caterpillars are the larval stage of the reticulate bagnest moth (Anaphe reticulata).
In spite of their dark reputation (see the books mentioned above and the saying “you’ve gone cuckoo”!), cuckoos are renowned for having very musical songs. That said, not all species are known for holding a tune with the Clamator cuckoos (Levaillant’s, Jacobin and great spotted cuckoo’s) have more of a chattering, unmusical call. But a few have such characteristic songs that it has resulted in their actual common name. For example, the red-chested cuckoo is called the Piet-my-vrou in Afrikaans, which is an onomatopoeic rendition of the distinct “quid-pro-quo” sounding call it monotonously sings. The Diederick cuckoo is called a Diederikkie in Afrikaans which is also a reference to its call which sounds like “dee-dee-deederick”.
Most cuckoos that migrate to Southern Africa breed during their stay here. Their breeding behaviour is very interesting and unlike that of most other birds. All of the locally occurring cuckoos are what we call “brood parasites”. A “brood parasite” is a bird that lays its eggs or egg in another bird’s nest, in the hopes that their clutch will outcompete the host’s eggs and the host bird will incubate and raise the cuckoo’s chicks. This is done for a few reasons: the cuckoo expends less energy as it does not need to raise its own chick and by laying eggs in a few different nests, the risk is spread and therefore the chances of the chicks being successfully raised is increased. To achieve this parasitism, cuckoos have developed techniques to trick their host birds: most cuckoos have developed what is called “egg-mimicry” in which their eggs look similar in size, colour and shape to that of the host’s egg. Typically, the cuckoo will also evict an egg from the host nest, for each one she lays. When they hatch, some cuckoos – like the African emerald cuckoo and the Diederick – will even evict unhatched host eggs. After hatching (and while still blind) the hatchling will back up to the host’s egg, collect it in a special cavity and then toss it over the edge of the nest. They may do this to the host’s young chicks as well. Alternatively, the cuckoo chick will hack and peck the host chicks to death once they have hatched – and which might just help explain their reputation in popular culture! However, in some cases, the parasite and host chicks are raised together without any hostility.
Another interesting point to add is that males often perform “courtship-feeding”, in which they feed caterpillars to females in an attempt to court them. This often leads people to believe that the cuckoo is feeding one of its own, yet this is not true as no local cuckoo species raises its young.
Cuckoos are amazing birds and are fascinating even to non-twitchers, particularly for their long-distance travel, nesting behaviour and beautiful melodic calls. Unfortunately, however, catching sight of a cuckoo is not easy as they are only seen – and more often just heard – in the rainy season.
This, however, just makes their presence more special as they are here to tell us that summer has well and truly begun!
Are you keen on birds or learning more about them, have a look at our Birding in the Bush course we offer.
Still want to learn something more today, have a look at the bird quizzes we have available: