“In photography, a viewfinder is what the photographer looks through to compose, and, in many cases, to focus the picture.” Media intern, Christoff Els speak to EcoTraining Videographer, Willie van Eeden and student David den Hartog about the importance of a viewfinder on their camera’s.
Apprentice Field Guide Victoria Craddock has recently just received her FGASA Qualification and we couldn’t be more proud.
Victoria tells her story and shares her experience with us.
Have you ever seen elephants disappear? No, it’s not a magic trick but it is something we have seen with our own eyes.
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But what happens when the eye being watched is towering several meters above where you are sitting? At EcoTraining Pridelands Camp recently the students had an encounter that reinforced that these gentle giants are exactly that if treated with calmness and respect.
Sitting quietly at the EcoTraining Pridelands Camp waterhole, watching a herd of elephants is always a great opportunity for students to get to understand the interactive dynamics of a group of the largest of all land mammals. Taking time off from their theoretical studies, the students got to sit and marvel as these giants frolicked in the water and mud on the far side of the waterhole. But what no one factored in whilst viewing the elephants was the possibility that part of the herd would decide to end up right outside the lecture tent (where everyone was sitting).
One of the golden rules of walking in the bush is “NEVER RUN” and the same was true in this instance. Having these huge animals testing the wind just a short distance away from the students had everyone’s ‘flight or fight’ reflexes on high alert. Thanks to the expertise of the instructors, who had, on previous occasions stressed the need to remain calm when in potentially dangerous situations with game, the students did exactly that and fought the natural urge to move and instead sat enjoyed the moment with these magnificent creatures.
At the various EcoTraining Camps there are learning opportunities around every corner, or in this case behind a tree. And this instance was no exception. The instructors took this opportunity to explain the feeding habits as well as the tooth structure of elephants to the group.
As a result of their size and poor digestion, elephants have to eat often and in copious quantities, it, therefore, came as no surprise to the students that part of the herd would stay to feed. What was a surprise was the fact that the bulls decided to come to where everyone was seated to fulfil that need. As the camp, like all other EcoTraining Camps, it is unfenced, the animals are not hindered in their search for sustenance.
By sitting quietly, we allowed these gentle creatures to continue with their daily feeding regime without feeling threatened or uncomfortable.
As the last of the young males slowly wandered through the camp, the students all watched in silence. What had this experience taught them? Elephants are definitely bigger than they seem (especially when you are on the same level) and, if treated with the respect they deserve, they will allow you to share their space, turning an encounter such as this into an educational experience.
How would you behave in a situation like this? Would you be able to relax or would you be too uncomfortable to remain seated quietly and enjoy the encounter? By joining an EcoTraining course you will be provided with the knowledge and understanding of how to make the most of encounters like this in a calm and respectful way. For more information contact EcoTraining on [email protected]
If you want to learn more about elephants maybe try your hand at our EcoTraining Elephant Quiz.
Another day begins in the African bush, in the beautiful Makuleke. The Pafuri section of the Kruger National Park is by far the wildest, most remote and biologically diverse region in the Greater Kruger. The EcoTraining Makuleke Concession (Pafuri section) is 25,000 Hectares in extent, which makes up only 1% of the entire Kruger National Park, however, contains 75% of the park’s biodiversity. Imagine spending part of your EcoTraining Course immersed in this wilderness.
On each course, students are split up in groups of twos that make up the “duty teams”. Each team is responsible for the daily set up of meals, teas, coffees and wake up calls. This is a great way for them to learn the various hosting duties that they may be required to take on when working at a Safari lodge.
Hundreds of these magnificent and iconic Baobab trees can be found throughout the Makuleke region. Baobab’s trunks have been known to grow to a diameter over 40 feet, some are thought to be well over 1000-years in age. If you want to learn more about this incredible tree take our EcoTraining Quiz and test your knowledge.
Students are usually accommodated two per tent. The Makuleke Camp tents are very comfortable, they are elevated on wooden platforms and each has its own bathroom facility. The tents are set in a semi-circle, facing outwards to give each room the best view possible. There are also pathways in between the tents that are used by a variety of animals, including a couple of resident bull elephants.
The beds are comfortable and are supplied with a pillow and duvet. Students are encouraged to bring pillows and a sleeping bag for when the weather becomes cooler and trust us it does get cooler.
Much like all the other camps, the heart of this camp is the kitchen. Judging by the comments on the above board, many have attested to the delicious food that is produced by the ladies working here, the notice board has clearly turned into a thank you board! A hot breakfast is served once the students return from morning activity. Although the students do not cook or prepare any of the meals everyone works as a team and helps one another and the camp staff to bring the food, condiments, cutlery, and plates to the dining area. Most of the EcoTraining camps use a kudu horn to call the students to meals, here it is the sound of the cowhide drum that informs all in the camp when meals are ready.
On all the EcoTraining courses there is a mix of theoretical book work and exams as well as practical training and assessments. Between meals, the beautiful open-aired dining area turns into a bush-classroom where the instructors give lectures on a variety of very interesting course work. Although all the instructors have different skills and teaching styles, they all have one thing in common…passion! For both the natural environment as well as passing their expertise on to those who have come to learn.
Usually, after a long day filled with activities in the bush, students get to either walk back or drive back to camp as the sunsets. It is at this time where they get the opportunity to wind down, grab a well-served shower and a cool drink.
After dinner, everyone can enjoy the company of a crackling fire and reflect on a wonderful day had in the remarkable wilderness that is Makuleke.
If you would like to find out more about what each camp offers, please email [email protected]
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.
As part of the EcoTraining Trails Guide Course the students get the opportunity of sleeping out under the vast African sky.
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.
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.
The first task was the collection of firewood to heat water for coffee and tea.
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 bags were then laid out and tasks were assigned.
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.
With the fire roaring in a purposely dug hole, it was time for toasting marshmallows and sharing stories.
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.
Ever used a bush loo? It’ very simple, find a nice bush with a good view, dig a hole and there you go!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The wood had to be replaced back into the tree line.
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 is offered to students as an exciting and different experience when it comes to wildlife encounters.
When you are driving in the bush and you come to a river crossing, do you
- A) Trundle through irrespective?
- B) Stop, look, wonder and THEN trundle through?
- 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“I was born and raised in the Netherlands, amongst the shadows of concrete building and perfectly manicured parks. In a country where at that time had hardly any wildlife left. It was in 1996 when I visited Africa for the first time for our honeymoon and I was eager to see elephants in the wild.”