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Game Drive in Karongwe

The Classroom of Karongwe

Shaded by mighty Jackalberry trees, EcoTraining Karongwe Camp waits patiently for its first group of 2020 students. The expectant energy is palatable. The new students will be embarking on a 55-day EcoTraining Field Guide Course which will solidify the bedrock of each participant’s potential career as a field guide.

The unfenced solar-powered camp area lies unobtrusively adjacent to the dry Karongwe riverbed where new students will delight in discovering numerous bird and mammal species. At this time of year, the bush is alive with activity. The summer rains have washed away the dust and replaced it with emerald abundance.
The resident Nyala family feeds below a canopy of Tamboti trees and even they seem anxious to welcome the new students. The lambs bounce around excitedly jostling for front row seats and above them in the eaves, Paradise Flycatchers flit in a boastful aerial display.

Plants

“The summer rains have washed away the dust and replaced it with emerald abundance.”

The open-air classroom entices all sounds and smells of the wilderness in. A library of textbooks and a collection of skulls, tortoise shells and animal bones are lined tidily for students to explore. Yet the space beyond the formal classroom boundaries will invite students on a much greater journey of enquiry beyond their wildest dreams. Every bird that chirps, every leaf that falls, every flower that blooms and every insect that rattles in song is an opportunity to gain knowledge and connection with the fauna and flora of the Lowveld wilderness.

Karongwe in summer

The rains bring Karongwe bush to life

At the edge of the camp lies the fireplace. As dusk stretches the shadows and awakens the stars, the earth has the power to draw everyone magnetically in. It is around this blazing campfire that learning will transcend facts and figures and where wisdom will be shared through storytelling.

As an African barred owlet hoots somewhere in the distance and his message for the new students is clear… “Protect this wilderness, for you are the guardians of its future.”

Karongwe camp wildlife

The beauty of Karongwe

It is a privilege to be an EcoTraining student because you hold these wild spaces in your hands and in your heart, and have the collective ability to nurture it for future generations. Karongwe is a classroom sanctuary where custodians of nature are born and inspired.

Good luck to all the students of 2020!

EcoTraining Quiz: Kruger National Park

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Elephant in Makuleke

What can you expect | Makuleke Camp

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.

Lanner Gorge Sunrise

Lanner Gorge, Makuleke Concession, Kruger National Park

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.

Baobab Tree

Lone Baobab (c) David Batzofin

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.

Makuleke Camp Accommodation

Makuleke Accommodation

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.

Makuleke elephant

Elephants in the Makuleke

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.

Makuleke camp kitchen

Kitchen board & morning coffee

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.

EcoTraining student

EcoTraining student hard at work

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.

Greater Kruger Park Walking Trail

Walking Trail in Makuleke

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 enquiries@ecotraining.co.za

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.

Male lion killed a lioness at pridelands

The harsh reality of lions | Not for sensitive viewers

The students at our EcoTraining Pridelands Camp recently witnessed a severe yet interesting occurrence.

Early in the morning the sounds of lions fighting echoed across the region. During morning game drive, the instructors and students were informed of the presence of two large male lions and a lioness in an area not far from the camp.

Upon arriving at the sighting, they were surprised to see that the lioness was in fact dead! The bite marks around her throat, back of the neck and lower spine indicated that she had indeed been killed by the two male lions lying close by.

Male lion killed a lioness at pridelands

Male lion killed a lioness (c) Fabio v.d Westhuizen

These males seemed to be new to the region, having come, we believe from somewhere in the Greater Kruger National Park. The blood on the chin and paws of one of the male lions as well as a laceration at his elbow and two small cuts on his face suggests that he was the one most responsible for the dead lioness.

Male lion with blood on his chin

Male lion (c) Fabio v.d Westhuizen

It has been witnessed in the past that when dominant male lions expand their territory and take over another pride of lioness and their cubs that they will immediately try to kill any cubs under the age of around a year. Occasionally lionesses will try to defend their cubs and, in the past, this has resulted in male lions driving home the attack and killing lionesses. From the evidence gathered the seems to be the case in this situation.

Dead lioness

Lion dragging lioness (c) Fabio v.d Westhuizen

Even more interesting is the fact that the lions that seem to have killed the lioness spent some time feeding on her carcass, lions have on the very rare occasion been known to cannibalize each other, this is less common and not often witnessed.

Male lion feeding on lioness

Feeding on the carcass (c) Fabio v.d Westhuizen

This very rare sighting witnessed by the EcoTraining students paints a picture into the harsh reality of lions and their somewhat cruel yet natural territorial behaviour.

World Rhino Day | 22 September 2019

On September the 22nd, 2019 we celebrate World Rhino Day. Rhinos once roamed throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, and were depicted by early Europeans in cave paintings. Within historical times, rhinos were still widespread across Africa’s savannas and Asia’s tropical forests. On a single day, numerous amounts of rhinos could be seen in large herds, now if you are lucky enough you may get to see one when out on Safari in the African Bush. Today, very few rhinos survive outside protected areas. And almost all five species are threatened, primarily through poaching.

World Rhino Day was first established in 2010 in South Africa, this day has now gained international recognition and it is celebrated by a variety of organizations and individuals from around the world.

World Rhino Day celebrates all five of the surviving species:

  1. Southern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum)
  2. Northern white rhinoceros or northern square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni)
  3. Southern-central black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor)
  4. South-western black rhino (Diceros bicornis occidentalis)
  5. East African black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli)

At EcoTraining we are cognoscente of the important role that rhino play in both tourism and conservation and we are, therefore grateful to the founders of this day and the huge amount of work that has been done to make it the worldwide phenomenon that it has become in such a short space of time.

How can you tell the difference between black and white rhino?

Size: Firstly, the white rhino is a lot larger in size in comparison to the black rhino. A white rhino female weighs about 1, 700kg and the male about 2,300 kg, compared with a black rhino which weighs between 800 – 1,400 kg.

The white rhino is considerably larger than the black rhino and has a distinctive ‘barrel-shaped’ body. The black rhino is slighter, smaller and more compactly built than its counterpart due to the different habitats they roam.

two white rhinos

White rhinos

Body shape:  The white rhino is much longer, bigger and weightier looking, whereas the black rhino is shorter and more compact.

black rhino facing

Black rhino (c) David Batzofin

Feeding and mouth structure: One of the greatest differences between the two is the shape of their mouths. A white rhino has a very broad, flat, wide lip, which makes perfect sense as it is a grazer and requires a mouth designed for feeding on grass. A black rhino is a browser and feeds on leaves, shoots and branches. As a result, it has a more pointed soft beak-like prehensile lip, which it uses to grab hold branches than can often be very spikey.

Horn: The white rhino has longer front horn with a much shorter second horn. The black rhino tends to have a slightly shorter front horn and longer second, meaning that its two horns are more similar in length.

Habitat: Although the habitats of black and white rhino may sometimes overlap, there are definitely specific areas that you would expect to see either a black or a white rhino. A white rhino will typically be found in grasslands or in areas that are open, whereas a black rhino will be found in thickets and dense bushes this is again due to their feeding habits.

These are just a few differences between these mighty giants.

oxpecker on rhino

Oxpecker on a rhino (c) David Batzofin

The Poaching Crisis:

The current rhino poaching crisis began in 2008, with massive numbers of rhinos killed for their horn throughout Africa. From around 2016 there has thankfully been a decrease in the number of rhinos poached across Africa since the peak of 1,349 poached in 2015.

However, there are still two and a half rhinos killed every single day: there is still a lot more to do.

South Africa holds nearly 80% of the world’s rhinos and has been the country hit hardest by poachers, with more than 1,000 rhinos killed each year between 2013 and 2017.

Africa Rhino stats from 2008 to 2018

South Africa & Africa Rhino Poaching Stats 2006 – 2018 (c) Save The Rhino

At 769 recorded poaching incidents in South Africa in 2018, poaching numbers are still high. As you can see in the graph above the numbers show a decrease in both South Africa and Africa as a whole in comparison to 2017, when a whopping number of 1,028 rhino were poached in South Africa.

According to Save The Rhino this positive sign does not mean rhinos are now thriving. It shows at least two rhinos were killed each day in 2018. Furthermore, the cumulative impact of the poaching crisis is taking its toll, as well as the prolonged drought affecting food and water resources.

This decline in the amount of rhino poached may demonstrate that the anti-poaching work taking place is having an effect, or it could also mean that there are significantly fewer rhinos surviving in the wild, therefore it is getting harder for poachers to locate them.

Rhino in the bush

White rhino (c) David Batzofin

Do you know what a rhino’s horn is made of?

Rhino horn is made up primarily of keratin – a protein found in our hair and fingernails, as well as animal hooves. To get more technical about it, the rhinoceros’ horn is a chemical complex and contains large quantities of sulphur-containing amino acids, particularly cysteine, as well as tyrosine, histidine, lysine, and arginine, and the salts calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate.

What is rhino horn used for?

In traditional Asian medicine, rhino horn has been used for more than 2,000 years to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. It also states that the horn could also cure snakebites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, carbuncles, vomiting, food poisoning, and “devil possession.” When used, the horn is shaved or ground into a powder, before being dissolved in boiling water and consumed. As seen in the graph above, in 2008 there was a massive increase in demand for rhino horn, this was due to the false belief that it could cure cancer.

Have you heard that rhino horn is used as an aphrodisiac? The most popular belief in Western countries is that rhino horn is used as an aphrodisiac, but this is not correct and seems to have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by Western media. However, research has shown that people in Vietnam are starting to, unfortunately, believe that this rumour is true.  There has been a recent surge in demand for rhino horn in Vietnam, where it is being used as a hangover cure.

The international trade of rhino horn is banned under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora). In recent years in South Africa, there has been a call to legalise the trade of rhino horn, this in itself it a whole new debate, if you want to know more about this, the Department of Environmental Affairs wrote this paper.

white rhino with calf

White rhino cow & calf (c) David Batzofin

 

Shiluva on game drive

Shiluva on game drive (c) David Batzofin

Shiluva pictures above, is from the Makuleke Community just outside the Northern Kruger National Park and is on the EcoTraining 1-year Professional Field Guide Course. She grew up hearing folk tales from here parents and elders about the magnificent rhinoceros. Listen as Shiluva tells the story of how the hippo lost its horn, and how the rhino ended up with two!

Have you seen or heard about rhinos being dehorned? Watch the EcoTraining TV YouTube video to find out more:

So, after hearing all the stories and learning about the rhino do you think you are up to the task of taking our EcoTraining Rhino Quiz? Click here to see how clued up you are about rhinos and their conservation.

With World Rhino Day in mind, let’s all do our part and sharing this message of rhino conservation far and wide.

What to expect from EcoTraining Karongwe Camp

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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. 

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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. 

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

 

Top 5 reasons why you should do a birding course in the Kruger National Park

All of EcoTraining’s birding courses dates are carefully selected for an optimal experience. With the coming of each season, along with it brings different experiences. Here are the top 5 reasons why you should do the 7-day ‘Birding in the Bush Course in February:

The Makuleke Concession in the Kruger National Park is a Biodiversity Hotspot

Biological diversity or biodiversity is the variety of life around us, life of all kinds, from the largest animal to the smallest plant. Its complexity is measured in terms of variations at genetic, species and ecosystem levels.