EcoTraining is pleased to announce a brand-new partnership with wildlife broadcasting experts, WildEarth.
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.
Karongwe Camp is situated in the southern parts of the 21,000-acre Karongwe Private Game Reserve. This Reserve not only boasts the Big Five, and other various species of mammals but also a massive diversity of habitat and a bird species list to rival any other reserve in the region. So, what can students expect from Karongwe Camp?
If you have not yet experienced being immersed in a wilderness area this is a brilliant way to start. EcoTraining’s Karongwe Camp is unfenced, students are accommodated in tents, hearty meals are prepared over the open fire and lectures are conducted under a large thatched open-aired classroom.
Each of these buildings have multiple functionalities. The bottom left-hand thatch building is a drinks area and above it a library. There are ablution facilities under the office in the centre and there are sky beds above both the kitchen and the lecture room (building on the right). This is where you will start your journey, arriving here filled with excitement and exhilaration at the adventure that lies ahead.
Faith is the camp coordinator of Karongwe Camp. Listen to what she has to say about her role, an average day at Karongwe and a little bit about herself.
Students get to share accommodation while in training. The tents become home very quickly with small touches making the space more personal. The tents in Karongwe are spacious enough to accommodate two beds as well as shelves where the students can unpack items that are used regularly. They are also able to hang items inside as well as outside.
This is where the magic happens! Students are amazed at the variety and quality of the food that can be produced on a small stove and two gas hobs. Although the students do not have to make the food, the groups are broken in duty teams whose job it is to collect the food from the kitchen and place it on the tables (buffet style) in the dining area.
These rotating ‘duty teams’ consist of two students who will present the meals as well as choose the order in which the remaining students collect food at mealtimes. This can be as simple as those –wearing-open-toed-shoes to using bird calls or frog sounds to decide who gets to the buffet first.
The instructors offer lectures on a variety of required topics. Each instructor has a unique style of transferring knowledge, but all of them incorporate the information in an educational and entertaining way. The courses are not all intense learning but are interspersed with fun and interesting activities.
A requirement for several of the EcoTraining courses is a walking component. Before each activity, a briefing is held to prepare the new students for what might lie ahead. The two most important rules? “Stay behind the rifle at all times’ and “don’t EVER run”!
Although not all the students might have been on a walk before joining a course, many might have been on a game drive of some description. On the courses, it is not exclusively about big five sightings. Instructors will take time to describe trees, grasses, and tracks as they see fit. Can’t hear the bush sounds around you? Cup your hands behind your ears and you will be amazed at the amplification.
What a great way to end off a day, in true bush style. Swapping stories and experiences around the campfire before and after dinner. It is here that friendships are formed that will last longer than the flames will. The guiding industry is almost insular and even though the students will be ending up at separate lodges, there is every chance that they will meet up again somewhere down the line.
Are you ready for a new challenge? Consider joining one of the variety of courses that EcoTraining have to offer.
Still not convinced? Watch this EcoTraining TV video as past student Aagje describes her experience on the Professional Field Guides course.
No matter how many times you have witnessed a pride of lions when out on a game drive, or if you have been lucky enough to have had an encounter on foot, your heart will always beat faster and the adrenaline will flow that much quicker. Today, the 10th of August 2019 we celebrate World Lion Day with some interesting facts.
Although often referred to as the ‘King of the Jungle’, you will often find lions in grasslands, open plains, or near a water source.
Try sitting next to a lion while it is vocalizing! Their roar can be heard up to 8km. Lions can vocalize as soon as they are born, but they only begin to roar when they are around one year old.
Although weighing in at an average of 180kg, the heaviest wild lion ever recorded was in 1936; a male lion weighing 313kg, which is very unusual for a lion; especially in the wild. The lion is the second-largest cat, with the tiger being bigger and heavier.
Whatever you do, don’t try to outrun them! They can reach speeds of up to 80km/h, but only in short bursts as they lack the stamina for lengthy chases. A cheetah which is the fastest mammal averages speeds of 100 – 120 km/h so if you think about it the lion is not too far off.
Contrary to what you may think, they are not the most successful predators, with less than 75% of their chases ending in a kill. Their most successful hunts usually happen under the cover of darkness. “Lions are the archetypal apex predator, but their hunting success rate strongly depends on the number of lions involved – a single lion hunting in daylight has a success rate of 17% – 19%, but this increases for those hunting as a group to 30%. Of 1,300 hunts observed in the Serengeti, nearly half involved only one animal, 20% involved two and the rest a group of (normally) between three and eight individuals.” – Discover Wildlife
That being said, their night vision is impeccable, along with their highly developed sense of smell and great hearing, their most advanced sense would have to be their eyesight. Lions are able to see eight times better than us at night, which is amazing as during the day our eyesight is not that different.
A pride can spend between 18 – 20 hours a day resting and conserving energy. They will only become active at dusk or if the need arises during the day.
Due to loss of habitat and exponential human population growth, the African lion population has been reduced by half since the 1950s.
Having once roamed the entire globe, lions are now only found in Africa and a small group that call the Gir Forest in India home.
The ultimate goal of World Lion Day is to be both educational and informative and create awareness surrounding lions and other conservation challenges we face.
Want to know more about lions? Have a look at the EcoTraining YouTube Channel to learn more.
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.
Karongwe Camp is on the banks of the Karongwe River (mostly a dry river bed) in the 9,000ha (22 239-acre) Karongwe Game Reserve, which is to the south-west of the Kruger National Park. Three rivers flow through the reserve, all tributaries of the Olifants River, carving their way through the bedrock and dividing the reserve. So what can you expect from EcoTraining Karongwe Camp.
Like all of the EcoTraining camps, the one at Karongwe is unfenced, giving course participants an immersive bush experience. This is the first view that new arrivals get to experience. New students arrive at around mid-day and are welcomed by the friendly EcoTraining staff contingent. After a short walk around the camp to orientate the participants, they are given time to settle into their accommodation before lunch is served.
The thick foliage hides the tents from each other, allowing total privacy for the occupants. The spacious shared Meru tents fit two people comfortably and are equipped with two single beds and mattresses. There is also space to hang and store their belongings.
There are separate communal ablution facilities throughout the camp. And what can be more exciting than an outdoor shower? With the open sky above and the river in front of you, it is a wonderful way to connect with Africa while washing off the dust from a game drive or an on-foot activity.
If you sit quietly, you might be privileged to indulge in a moment like this with the resident Nyala. They are not fed in the camp but use it as a refuge from predators while feeding and when their offspring are young. Many an unsuspecting and preoccupied student has stumbled into these on one of the paths. They are normally only encountered during daylight hours.
The EcoTraining method of calling all in camp is to blow a Kudu horn. This alerts students to the start of meal times or lectures. It does take some practice to master, but the resulting sound is eco-friendlier than the raucous noise made by the ubiquitous Vuvuzela.
Who says that pizza cannot be made in the bush? Certainly NOT the chef at Karongwe camp! This delicious example is a testament to her skills. All those in the camp were suitably impressed as it was not what was expected.
When the EcoQuest group heads out on a game drive and this is where they decided to stop for an afternoon drinks sundowner. This stunning dam was home to more than one crocodile, but both the humans and the reptiles kept their distance and allowed the international participants on the EcoQuest course to fully enjoy their surroundings while sipping a beverage of their choice.
If you are very lucky, you might get to spot a leopard when out on a drive. These elusive predators can hide in plain sight and are often only spotted in the rear view mirror! This young female was seen on an evening drive and as she was rather skittish when caught in our spotlight. As a result, a red filter was used instead of open white light. In this manner, the animal is not startled by the light but conversely, it makes colour photography difficult.
Dinners, especially after an exciting leopard encounter are the ideal time for participants and instructors to share thoughts and experiences around the glowing embers of the fire.
All meals, unless the weather is inclement, are enjoyed outdoors. Delicious food, like-minded company and the excitement of upcoming activities can be shared around a table.
The expression “Early to bed, early to rise” best describes the attitude of both staff and students alike and as a result, the camp settles down to where the only sounds are those that nature provides. Be it the snort of an Impala or the vocalizing of lions in the distance.
Mornings in camp, especially for those who are not used to being woken early can be a ‘struggle’. But the aroma of fresh coffee and the promise of an exciting day can have the most reticent student ready and raring to go in a short space of time.
The pre-breakfast activity can be a game drive or an on-foot experience. Once these have been completed, it is back to camp for a full, hot breakfast.
Students are given some time off before a mid-morning lecture takes place.
As part of the EcoQuest course, participants are treated to a series of lectures on a variety of topics. This one, on tracks and signs, was given by assistant instructor Michael Anderson before the group set off on a bush walk where they could put their newly found skills to the test.
Lead by Assistant Instructor Michael Anderson and back up Trails Guide, Aagie van der Plaetse, this group on the EcoQuest course set off on an afternoon walk. The walks give the course participants a totally different perspective on their time spent in the bush. They focus on the biodiversity of the bush that game drives bypass.
This stunning flower is part of the Pea family. Although these are visible on game drives, it is only when one gets up close on a walk that their innate beauty can be appreciated to the full.
The Aardvark that left this sign is predominantly a nocturnal animal. Getting to see one during the day is an experience that not many to get to enjoy. That being said, this tentative digging was an indication that there was one in the vicinity and that with perseverance it might get seen at some point.
It is not only the large webs of the ubiquitous Golden Orb spiders that can turn one into a dancer almost immediately.
This tiny Kite spider, which is part of the Orb web family, almost turned some of the EcoQuest participants into ballroom specialists when they walked into the edge of its web!
An EcoQuest course is the ideal way to sharpen your bush skills, improve your mental well being as well as being the ideal break from the hustle and bustle of regular urban lives.
Working in nature in unfenced bush camps is a wonderful and frightening experience at the same time. We live and work in remote areas so wildlife encounters in camp occur quite often.