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Ian Thomson

FGASA Member Number One l Ian Thomson

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.

Humble Beginnings
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.

EcoTraining Quiz | South Africa

Continuing with the Heritage Day spirit, here is this week’s Thursday trivia and the latest quiz, can you guess, it is all about South Africa!

It’s going to be ‘lekker’ let us know how you do this week.

elephant encounter

World Ranger Day 2019

July 31st we celebrated World Ranger Day. And by extension, it should also be celebrated as World Field Guide Day.

If you are a Field Guide, Game Ranger or involved in the conservation and eco-tourism industry, then thank you for your time and dedication. We appreciate all those who put in the effort every day to conserve and teach those around us about Africa and the majestic wilderness that surrounds us. If you have ever thought about learning more or getting involved in the industry, whether as a full-time profession or just to learn and broaden your knowledge, then read on…

If your answer is yes, and joining the guiding industry is something that you are passionate about? Or perhaps you just want to up-skill your bushcraft. If either of these is an option, then an EcoQuest course might just be what you are looking for.

Instructor Mike Anderson point of tracks

Instructor Mike Anderson point of tracks (c) David Batzofin

If you find yourself on Safari or on a game drive with friends, and your thirst for knowledge and your need to know more about the wilderness around you is too much, then look no further than an EcoTraining EcoQuest Course.

The course is a ‘snapshot‘ of the Professional Field Guide Course that we offer.

Tree Squirrel

Tree Squirrel (c) David Batzofin

Time in the bush is not always about dangerous game and encounters with those that have teeth, claws and horns.

It is also about taking time to appreciate the ‘smaller’ inhabitants and how they contribute to a particular eco-system.

Game Rangers

(c) David Batzofin

Some of the course’s unique selling points are:

The EcoQuest courses can be tailored to suit individuals or groups.

Participants can sign up for either a 7 or 14-day course, depending on how much time they have at their disposal.

Do you have a speciality that you would like to highlight?

We can structure your course time to focus on that.

It is an immersive experience, in world-class wilderness regions.

Baboon skull

Baboon skull (c) David Batzofin

The course is designed to inform, educate and entertain. Finding skulls and identifying them is just one of the activities that can be experienced during an outing.

Flower

(c) David Batzofin

Each of the EcoTraining camps in South Africa,  Selati, Karongwe, Pridelands and Makuleke are situated in different biomes.

Thus making the vegetation very different.

bug

(c) David Batzofin

Did you know that there are about 100,000  insect species in South Africa?

Most of the reading material only mentions a fraction of these, however, you can find out more about some of those on the walks from the various EcoTraining camps where this course is presented.

Luckily, most of the species found in South Africa are harmless but it does help to know which might sting or bite.

Elephant tracks

Elephant tracks (c) David Batzofin

What does the EcoQuest course cover?

The course consists of drives, walks and lectures.

Each activity covers flora, fauna as well as tracking and spoor identification.

Termite mound

A termite mound (c) David Batzofin

Aside from the underground construction by this insect, termites also build these above-ground structures.

They can vary in height and are made out of clay that is stuck together with saliva. Should a portion of this mound be broken, they can repair it in record time.

Sunset in the African bush

Sunset in the African bush (c) David Batzofin

Walking back to camp as the sun sets.

A perfect ending to a day filled with exciting new experiences.

Camp fire

Campfire (c) David Batzofin

Share experiences around a roaring campfire.

There are stories to be told and it is here where friendships are made and lifetime bonds formed.

 

EcoTraining Managing Director, Anton Lategan sat down with David Batzofin and shared his hopes and dreams for EcoTraining.
Where we have come from and where we are going. Listen to the interview here.

Kate Ochsman

To all you future female guides, you can do it!

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!

Mwambe Pan Makuleke

Overlooking Mwambe Pan

“But wait…WHAT?

You are a woman!

This is a man’s world!

You don’t belong here!

This is far too tough for you to handle!”

EcoTraining Trails Guide Course

Kate on Trail

“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.

On Safari

Kate on Safari with an Elephant

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.

Better

With elegance

Confidently

Gracefully

And with so much enthusiasm, knowledge and power.

On Safari

Kate Ochsman

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!

Kate on Safari

Kate on Safari with another Elephant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

America to Africa

EcoTraining TV – America to Africa

Home on the range | Advanced Rifle Handling

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).

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

FGASA | Frequently asked questions and answers

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 enquiries@ecotraining.co.za and we will be happy to assist you with your research.
To find out more about what we offer, please visit our website.

What type of guide do you want to be?

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.

A wilderness Photographer who became a professional Field Guide

People come to EcoTraining for a variety of reasons. Some want to become safari guides. Some want a gap year of adventure. Some just want to learn. Then you get some who want to be better photographers.

Where will YOUR off the beaten path take you?

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.