Animal tracking (also known as spoorsny in Afrikaans) is more complex than most people might think. We invite you to join us on this exciting learning adventure, while you learn to connect with nature and get back to your roots.
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@example.com to learn more.
The current students on the EcoTraining Field Guide Course were taken on a walk around the Pridelands Camp to learn to identify various tree species. This course, recognized by FGASA as their Apprentice Field Guide Course, offers all the students to learn something new and for the international students the opportunity to see these species for the first time.
Before the tree identification walk could take place, all the students needed to have a lecture on the trees that they could possibly see whilst on their walk. The theoretical side of the lecture would inform them of the scientific as well as the common names of the trees as well as which parts can be utilized to make an accurate identification. Once this information had been shared, instructors Steve Baillie and Rhodes Bezuidenhout took the students on a walk around Pridelands camp to put all the theoretical knowledge to practical use.
For their assessment, and to be competent to pass the module, the students have to be able to name three tree species but they also have to identify some of their uses, whether it be cultural, traditional or medicinal. On this practical walk, the students were asked to identify seven species.
The Afrikaans name, ‘blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie’, is very descriptive! Getting entangled in one of these does tend to curtail your activity.
Probably more than any other tree, the Buffalo Torn has far-reaching cultural importance in Eastern and Southern Africa, with many beliefs attributed to it. In Botswana, the tree is believed to protect from lightning. The fruits are edible and nutritious though not very appetizing and can be eaten fresh, dried or made into porridge. Mix the crushed fruit pulp with water and you have a thirst-quenching drink, ferment it and you have a beer! The young leaves can be prepared similarly to spinach. Roasted seeds can be used as ‘pap’ or a coffee substitute. The wood is used for fence posts, fuel and tool handles. Nothing goes to waste. The sap can be used as a poison, the bark can be used to aid in tanning skins and hides. The roots have been known to aid in the treatment of snake bites, while the high tannin levels make it a remedy for dysentery.
The tree provides sustenance for animals and birds alike, including the elephant and the black rhino. Its nectar is a rich food source for local bee populations.
Also referred to as the African blackwood or African false-wattle, the bark is usually grooved and dark brown in the older plants. It has easily identifiable acacia-like leaves and yellow flowers. Not only is this tree a source of pollen for bees, birds and other insects, it is also utilized in many traditional medicines. It is said that the roots have antibacterial properties that can be used to treat wounds. They are also used in the treatment of mouth sores and can help relieve toothache. The leaves are said to remove internal parasites. The wide canopy and thick leafy canopy make ideal shade for animals and humans alike.
Occurring throughout Africa, it also found in Madagascar, India, Indonesia, and Australia. The spines, which are modified hardened branchlets, have been known to be the chief source of many punctures to tires on game drive vehicles. Often leading to it being referred to colloquially as “Landrovis Papwielus”. As a pioneer species, it can establish itself quickly and acts as an erosion barrier. Being termite resistant, it is used in the manufacture of fence posts and it is a constant source of quality firewood for the local communities. Like many African tree species, this too has medicinal properties. The roots can be used as a local anaesthetic and in Botswana, it is often prescribed by traditional healers as a tapeworm cure. The lilac upper-half and the yellow lower have of the sweet-smelling puffy flowers give rise to a rather descriptive name, the Chinese lantern tree.
An interesting fact about the Tamboti is that the milky latex that is secreted is poisonous to humans, but not to animals. It is a food source for many species of antelope, elephants, and black rhino. Porcupines’ appetites for the bark is so voracious that they sometimes ringbark the trees, which can lead to the death of the tree. The reason for referring to it as the ‘Jumping bean tree’, is that small grey moth from the Pyralidae family often lays its eggs in the fruit and the larvae cause the bean to ‘jump’ once they hatched.
While students like Kaenan took notes, Steve shared his knowledge with the group. Found in the Lowveld, this tree is often found in rocky areas and sometimes on river banks. The leaves are enjoyed by several antelope species as well as both elephant and giraffe. It is a very dense wood and as a result, it is often used to manufacture handles for tools and mine supports. If you are looking to make yourself a walking stick, then this is the tree to choose from. The seeds can also be used to make tea. If you want to know how to make bushwillow tea have a look at this video as instructor Mike Anderson shows us how it is done.
The Jackalberry tree is found throughout Africa. These trees are often found growing from termite mounds as they prefer the deep sedimentary soils (but it is also not uncommon for them to grow in sandy soils). As the wood of the Jackalberry is almost impermeable to termites, this makes a nice symbiotic relationship, as the termite colonies provide the tree with aerated soil and a source of moisture. In turn, the roots of the tree protect the termites, who don’t eat the living wood. Jackalberry wood is almost termite-resistant after it has been cut down and is most useful in the making of fence posts and tool handles. These trees can grow up to 24m with a circumference of 5m. The female Jackalberry is the only one to produce fruit.
This tree occurs on all soil types although it is easier to find in areas with clay soils or on rocky outcrops. The heartwood, which is dark in colour, is heavier than the outer ring and, is also heavier than the iconic Leadwood tree. The flowers are a scented greenish-white that covers the tree during the summer months. The roots are favoured by elephants, while the leaves are enjoyed by a variety of species, including giraffe. The traditional medicinal properties include using the roots to treat headaches and toothache. The roots and the wood are often used to make woodwind instruments and jewellery.
So, next time you take a walk in your neighbourhood try and see how many trees you can identify. Taking into consideration all the different uses from one tree, your expert knowledge might just come in handy someday.
Would you like to brush up on your knowledge of tree species? Then why not enrol in one of the many courses offered by EcoTraining? To find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to still learn more have a look at our Flora Friday Series on EcoTraining TV.
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.
Students participating in the Trails Guide Course are working towards attaining their FGASA Apprentice Trails Guide status and have already completed their FGASA Apprentice Field Guide/NQF2 qualification. One of the elements of the course is to pass their ARH (Advanced Rifle Handling).
One of the students are pointing out where the bullet should go. On this particular day, each student was required to fire a total of 10 rounds. These 10 rounds are broken down into 3 exercises. The first exercise was a grouping of three rounds followed by an exercise that required 4 rounds. Finally they were allowed to choose their final exercise that involved 3 rounds.
When you are staring into the eyes of a dangerous animal that is intent on doing you or your guests harm, this is how you want to place the rounds. That being said, firing the rifle and taking the life of an animal is an absolute final resort when all other avenues have been unsuccessful.
Safety is paramount at the range. Seeing that live rounds are being used, expert instructors take the time to explain what is expected clearly and concisely. Each exercise is fully explained to the student at the firing line. Neither a rifle nor the rounds are issued without all the relevant safety measures being in place and that includes ear protection as well.
The rules are simple during an Advanced Rifle Handling course. Keep the rifles pointing down range at all times. Do not turn around with a loaded rifle and if in doubt make the weapon safe and ask for help.
For the uninitiated, the sound of the first shot and the recoil of the rifle butt against a shoulder can be rather daunting. Not all of the students on this particular Trails Guide course had previous experience with a .375 calibre rifle. This can take some adjusting to make certain that the rifle is held firmly and that the trigger is squeezed and not jerked. By the end of the day, the instructors had made certain that all the students were competent to complete the exercises.
Watch for the brass. Look carefully at this image and you can see the cartridge being ejected from the breach. The rifles are single action, which means that each round has to be placed into the breach using the bolt action. There is a standard way of this being done and the students competency relies on all aspects of rifle handling being completed correctly.
For those who transgress the range rules, this was the consequence. Push-ups!
In the beginning, it was 40 repetitions, but by the end of the day, the final transgressor ended up doing 60! Although there was a lot of banter around the punishment, all of the students completed their allotted number without exception.
Have you ever heard a .375 rifle go off? During this Advanced Rifle Handling course there were many. Here’s an audio clip of the sound of the rifle cocking and shots being fired.
Starting out in a new job or career can be a daunting prospect. We at EcoTraining have found that these are some of the most frequently asked questions when students consider joining our 1 year ‘Professional Field Guide course’ or our 55 day FGASA level 1 (NQF2) course.
A year is a major commitment to a future in any industry and getting a guiding qualification is no exception. Proper research and due diligence is an important process when deciding what course is best for you. Before we share answers to frequently asked questions, let us give you a brief background of what FGASA is and what they do.
FGASA, the acronym stands for ‘The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa’. A Section 21 company, it was formally established in 1990 by a group of professional guides aiming to set a standard for nature guiding practice. FGASA represents individual tourist guides; nature, culture and adventure guides; trackers; and organisations involved in offering professional guiding services to members of the public. FGASA is an accredited provider with CATHSSETA. It has set the guiding standards for many years and continues to maintain the highest standards within the guiding industry. In conjunction with CATHSSETA within the National Qualifications Framework, FGASA promotes the standards for guiding throughout southern Africa.
Great! Now take a look at the answers to some of the most pertinent questions that we get asked…
Is the FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2) the same course as FGASA Apprentice Field Guide?
The ‘FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2)’ name according to FGASA has changed its name and is now known as the ‘Apprentice Field Guide’. EcoTraining’s programme, FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2) is the exact same course as FGASA’s Apprentice Field Guide and upon successful completion will achieve an NQF2.
What NQF level is FGASA level 1?
EcoTraining’s FGASA Field Guide Level 1 course (FGASA’s Apprentice Field Guide equivalent) is a NQF level 2 which consists of 41 credits. The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) currently collates credits assigned to various formal courses at a specific level. The EcoTraining FGASA Level 1 (NQF2) course is recognised nationally in South Africa. The FGASA Field Guide (NQF2) must be registered with the National Department of Tourism in order to legally operate as a Nature Guide.
How much does it cost to register for FGASA level 1?
Currently the registration fee for South African membership is R1,760.00. This is done by EcoTraining and is included in the course fees for EcoTraining courses.
Can I do the FGASA training if I don’t have a matric?
Matric is not a requirement for any EcoTraining courses. However, as both the course material and instructions are in English, participants on the course are expected to have a fair command of the English language and must be able to speak, read and write English. If you are unsure if your English is good enough, contact EcoTraining to find out.
What is the pass mark?
Students are required to obtain a pass mark of 75%. There are two elements to the qualification. Theory (which has to be passed first) and a practical. A student is only considered to be competently qualified once both elements have been completed and passed.
Am I allowed to drive guests at South African based lodges?
If you are younger than 21, then the answer is unfortunately not. South African law requires that the necessary license, a Public Driving Permit, can only be obtained at age 21. But do not despair or let that detail derail your guiding ambitions. Consider becoming a Trails Guide and conduct on-foot guiding.
If you want to be a nature guide, get involved in conservation or just want to learn more about nature and the environment, then FGASA is definitely something that should interest you.
We hope these answers help some of the questions you may have. Should you wish to know answers to any other question not listed above, contact email@example.com and we will be happy to assist you with your research.
To find out more about what we offer, please visit our website.
“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.”
FGASA (Field Guide Association of Southern Africa) and EcoTraining will help you plan your guiding career by sharing an overview of the various types of guiding and options available to you.
Sometimes in life you don’t exactly know where you want to go or what you want to do, but you know the general direction. Other times, you know where you want to end up, but do not know how you want to bumble around until then.
“I have seen the seasons change and lived through that in a much more immersive way and for the first time, I’ve truly understood it.”
You don’t need to be born in Africa to have Africa in your blood. The longing to be connected with the African wilderness is a way of life for a lot of people from all around the world and an unexplained marvel.