September 1st is known as the official start of Spring in South Africa. However, in 2017, it heralded a different kind of beginning for me. Having spent years wishing, dreaming, and saving, I was finally seated at a large wooden table with 11 other wide-eyed students as we began our EcoTraining induction.
I’ve lived in several countries in Europe and in each of them I was far enough away from Southern Africa to have developed a considerable misconception about that place over the years. Europe holds many gems but unfortunately, the wildlife is not as enthralling as in Africa, and our ecosystems are incredibly different. The role of the field guide is not such a well-known job in our European cities and therefore many things about this job have been unknown to me all these years.
A deep purring sound makes me stop abruptly and immediately brings me back to the here and now. Did I really hear this? It sounded like a house cat purring, only much deeper and louder. I try to shine some light into the bushes in front of me…
It would be impossible to learn everything about butterflies in one day but let’s start by exploring some of the practical reasons for being so pretty. Victoria dive into the ornate nature of butterfly colouration and we discover that a butterfly is so much more than beauty and grace.
“I made the decision to travel to South Africa. Upon arrival, I knew that I was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime! No surprise that is exactly how it is playing out…” Student, Graham Ramon, gives us a glimpse into the first few weeks of his time on the Apprentice Field Guide course.
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.
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.