“Christmas 2019, which is now over two years ago, I was sitting with my family in Germany around the Christmas tree. Now in The Year of Covid, I have a completely different Christmas story to tell.” A year in the bush during a Pandemic by Anna Elisabeth Franz.
The Racket-tailed Roller has a rather limited distribution in South Africa, primarily being found in the far northeastern tip of Kruger National Park which is dominated by Mopane (Colophospermum mopane) which occurs in dense stands with limited ground cover as its understory. Let instructor Ross Hawkins explain more about this elusive bird.
Based in South Africa, Albie Venter has been involved in professional wildlife guiding, wildlife management and eco-tourism since 1996 and we are very privileged here at EcoTraining that Albie managed to visit our camps on a regular basis. Here is a wonderful trip report of his most recent visit on a Wilderness Photography Course in the magnificent Makuleke.
Have you ever wondered how the little tadpoles get out of a Southern Foam Nest Frogs nest?
Well, no need to wonder any longer. Instructor Tayla McCurdy managed to spot one of the rarest sightings of her career. Let Tayla walk you through her amazing sighting.
“In photography, a viewfinder is what the photographer looks through to compose, and, in many cases, to focus the picture.” Media intern, Christoff Els speak to EcoTraining Videographer, Willie van Eeden and student David den Hartog about the importance of a viewfinder on their camera’s.
Apprentice Field Guide Victoria Craddock has recently just received her FGASA Qualification and we couldn’t be more proud.
Victoria tells her story and shares her experience with us.
According to the World Rivers Day Association this day “is a celebration of the world’s waterways. It highlights the many values of our rivers, strives to increase public awareness, and encourages the improved stewardship of all rivers around the world. Rivers in virtually every country face an array of threats, and only through our active involvement can we ensure their health in the years ahead.’’
As a young girl, I would never have thought that I could ever have loved being out in the wild, seeing the beautiful animals and driving around the scenic nature routes as much as I did. But, luckily for me, I got to grow up with a family that enjoyed going to areas such as the Kruger National Park and this gave my love a chance to grow even more.
Why not spend your time in the wilds of Africa whilst enjoying twice-daily activities at one of EcoTraining unfenced camps within the Limpopo Province. Or have a look what the other 8 amazing provinces in South Africa could have in store for you. Because you know, ‘Local is Lekker’
EcoTraining’s media intern Christoff Els and one of the EcoTraining instructors managed to get a little insight into what some of the hyenas around Pridelands get up to when the rest of the camp are sound asleep.
“Moving around by day, looking, listening, smelling, touching and tasting. Reawakening your senses” – this is the essence of a Wilderness Trail
If you have ever had the privilege of seeing a pangolin in real life, you will know the magnitude of this sighting. It will most definitely be the rarest sighting you will mostly like have whilst out in the African bush on Safari.
As you can see by the stats on your left, this is the most trafficked animal in the world – now, let that sink in!
So, what is the reason for the trafficking of these incredible creatures?
“Large-scale trafficking is driven by a belief that pangolin scales have magical and curative properties and demand for their meat. When mixed with bark from certain trees, the scales are thought to neutralize witchcraft and evil spirits. If buried near a man’s door they are said to give an interested woman power over him.” – African Wildlife Foundation
Did you know that there were four species of pangolin in Africa?
Well, now you do. These four species are as follows:
1. Giant Ground Pangolin (Smutsia gigantea)
2. Temminck’s Ground Pangolin (Smutsia temminckii)
3. The Black-Bellied Pangolin (Phataginus tetradactyla)
4. The White-Bellied Pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis)
If you want to learn more about pangolin’s and other endangered species have a look at the EcoTraining Endangered Species Quiz.
Now, you might be wondering why were are talking about pangolin’s, yes they are fascinating creates and we could probably talk pangolin facts all day, but something very exciting happens this week at our EcoTraining Makuleke Camp that we just have to share with you!
We’re going to let instructor Sean Matthewson fill us in…
“As a cold front rages across South Africa, all creatures, both large and small seek refuge from driving winds. But in an isolated pocket of wilderness, deep in the forest, a pangolin negotiates the terrain and approaching storm.
Every time a gust of wind blows through the forest floor, this little hero rolls up into a defensive ball. He’s not sure whether or not these gusts of wind are friend or foe, and rather opts to be safe.
In these uncertain times, it’s safe thinking like that which will ensure his survival.
Pangolins are the most trafficked animal on Earth, with the majority of animals finding their way to Eastern markets for consumption, and likely, unfounded medicinal practice. It is for this reason that this little champion of the elements will be left free and wild in an undisclosed location (exactly where and as we found him).
Suffice to say, this little armoured tank is considered the Holy Grail of the African bush, with many an avid explorer never having a single opportunity to see him in the wild. It is also the only animal (to this author’s knowledge) that in an instant, can turn a grown man into a blubbering child, overcome with the sheer pleasure of the privilege of a glimpse.
As we sat watching the star of the show, I couldn’t help but think to myself that this could be the last time I set eyes on a pangolin in my lifetime. I am, however, utterly at peace with this notion, as I am among the lucky few and that my search for the Holy Grail, is in fact over.
It is, however, my hope that even now, in conservation’s darkest moments, that these astounding creatures will still find their place in the Anthropocene, and that my children’s children will too stand one day in the presence of greatness, as I did.
My gratitude extends to EcoTraining, without whom this opportunity could never have materialized!”
Want to watch this real-life sighting?
Experience Makuleke, and the Fever Tree Forest through fresh eyes. Jessica Watt recently visited our EcoTraining Makuleke Camp and has brought the Fever Tree Forest to life with her beautiful words.
World-renowned wildlife trackers Alex van den Heever and Renias Mhlongo have spent more than two decades working together, tracking leopards and lions at Londolozi, jaguars in South America and grizzly bears in the United States. With a passion for wildlife, tracking and the natural world, this is a partnership that is set in stone.
The EcoTraining Camp at Pridelands can best be described as a camp of rustic luxury. There are not many places left on earth where one can revel in solitude, connect deeply to nature and intentionally immerse oneself in a primitive way of living. The rare opportunity, then, to do these things in a turbo-technological world, can and should be considered a luxury.
Situated on the Pridelands Conservancy just north of Hoedspruit, this camp is privileged to be one of only two EcoTraining camps positioned within the world-renowned Greater Kruger National Park.
During Summer’s lush Eden, the campgrounds are barely visible until one is right on its doorstep. Each canvas dome tent rests below a dappled canopy, mostly hidden from view. And if it wasn’t for the mouth-watering aroma of sizzling bacon coming from the communal dining tent, the kitchen might go unnoticed as well. The camp chameleons itself into its overgrown surroundings. Any student enrolled here has the extraordinary opportunity to embrace a raw wilderness experience that leaves almost no human footprint on the land. Ablutions are communal but wait until you take a shower after dark below a bejewelled African sky, lullabied by the songs of nocturnal mammals awakening from slumber. Or brushing one’s teeth watching an elephant bull wallowing in the nearby waterhole. This is a rustic luxury.
The camp runs off the grid with power limited to solar energy. On a balmy afternoon between safari activities with no access to a fan, why not string up a hammock between two Marula trees, catching a zephyr that twirls off the dam nearby? Replace scrolling social media with watching a hornbill dedicating hours to finding food for his chicks. Take a long deep breath and know that the inhaled air is pure. Pristine. Perfect. This is rustic luxury.
Camp facilities are basic yet leave no student wanting after anything. With a well-fed tummy, access to running water and a dry, safe place to sleep, the environment provokes the need for only one thing. Gratitude.
Simple luxuries are hiding in plain sight at Pridelands and nature just requests that they are noticed and appreciated. Gratitude for the feeling of coarse sand between one’s toes after a long bushwalk. Feeling grateful for the tree frog that finds a temporary home in the soap dish and expressing gratitude for the asymmetrical reflections mirrored in puddles after the rain.
Be grateful; because on returning to the concrete jungle, one will yearn for these magical moments that left one in awe at EcoTraining Pridelands.
Take a virtual walkthrough of Pridelands camp and the wild natural landscape of the reserve and all the wildlife that call it home. With regular visits from elephants, hyena, and warthog, the camp offers a completely immersive experience. Have a look at the courses on offer for 2020.
Imagine, finding yourself out in the African bush, surrounded by the wilds of nature, from the whoops of hyena as the sun sets to the roars of a lion going into dawn, to the grunts of a hippo in the nearby waterhole. With all your belongings carried on your back, you will be immersed in nature, become part of the natural system and be forever changed. The question is; do you have what it takes to do a Wilderness Trail?
If you think that you are the type of person who can be absorbed by the natural beauty of the wilderness, have your breath taken away by the beauty of birds in flight and feel utterly at peace in the silence of nature then you are definitely in the right place. On an EcoTraining Wilderness Trails Skills Course, your nights will be spent sleeping under a blanket of billions of stars and you will be able to explore some of the last untouched wilderness areas in Southern Africa on foot. You will have a chance to forget the hustle and bustle of your everyday life and be able to get back to basics and appreciate the solitude and silence whilst being surrounding by the breathtaking beauty of the Makuleke in the Northern Kruger National Park.
Before you start the journey on the Wilderness Trails Skills Course, we thought you might want a few quick tips that may help you along the way…
Wilderness Trails Skills Tips and Tricks
- Ziploc bags are great to have to allow you to store rubbish. Sealing your rubbish will ensure you don’t get ants in your back-pack.
- Pack a pocket knife or Leatherman you never know when this will come in handy.
- Make sure you have a good-quality torch, preferably a head torch (that won’t need charging)
- Throw in a pair of gaiters or you are more than welcome to pick grass seeds and thorns from your socks every evening.
- Take our EcoTraining Bush Survival Quiz – this will help you prepare yourself for any situation – from digging for water to locating water, or even learning how to make a rope etc…
What to Pack:
- Sleeping bag (check temperature rating)
- Sleeping bag inner (if needed for warmth & keeps sleeping bag clean)
- Sleeping mat (foam roll mat) or inflatable hiking mattress (minimalist)
- Cooking utensils (spoon to cook and eat with is sufficient)
- Cooking equipment (stackable camping cooking set)
- Hiking gas stove (plus spare gas canister in case you run out)
- Personal first aid kit (small)
- Torch/ headlamp (strong beam) – new batteries plus spare
- Personal toiletries & sundry – Toilet paper, Toothbrush plus small Toothpaste, Sunscreen
- Personal clothing (absolute minimal)
- Neutral coloured: 1 set for walking, 1 set for sleeping
- Spare pair of socks
- Fleece and beanie for cold weather
- Rain poncho (can also be used as a groundsheet to sleep on)
- Hat (preferably wide-brimmed)
- Good comfortable walking shoes/boots/trainers
- Flip-flops for evenings and water travel
- Backpack (40 – 60L max)
- A 3-litre bladder in your back-pack allows you to drink whilst walking and is easier to fit in your back-pack.
- If you take bottles only, ensure you have bottles equivalent to 3 litres per day.
- You will need to bring water purification
Trail food – you will need to cater for these:
- 5 breakfasts; 4 lunches; 5 dinners
- trail snacks; energy drinks (i.e. game powders)
- Tea/coffee: Cappuccino sachets; condensed milk sachets (if you like sweetened drinks) or normal coffee, tea bags, sugar and powdered milk.
- Breakfast: Instant Oats sachets/rusks
- Lunch: Savoury crackers; Tuna sachets, Nola chicken & mayo sachets; 2 min noodles; Cup-a-soup sachets or Cheese for crackers (best in cooler winter months)
- Dinner: Dehydrated dinners; 2 min noodles with the tuna or chicken sachets to mix in; 2 min noodles with ‘cup a soup’ to mix in; to any of these, you can add salami or biltong.
- Snacks: Trail Mix (nuts, dried fruit etc); Muesli/energy bars
So, are you up for the challenge then why not reconnect with nature, rejuvenate your spirit and experience nature on a different level. Join the next Wilderness Trails skills course (04 – 09 April 2020) and spend your days walking in a uniquely untouched wilderness area on foot. Email [email protected] for more info.
Celebrating our mutualistic relationship with the animals of EcoTraining Camps.
When you set up an unfenced camp in a wildlife area or game reserve, you are bound to have animals come into your camp relatively often. With the EcoTraining camps, there is no exception.
In fact, a very important aspect of the EcoTraining experience is reconnecting with nature. By living in nature and being close to nature – and staying in one of EcoTraining’s unfenced camps does exactly this. Waking up to birds singing in the morning, having animals walk through the camp, and the occasional snake that has to be removed from a bathroom all encompass a true experience of nature. It may seem dangerous and scary to people at first, but when animals are given respect, it is possible for both humans and animals to live in close proximity without either party being negatively affected.
Wildlife around Karongwe Camp
From elephants walking through the camp, lions roaring outside your tent, hyenas breaking into the kitchen and baboons stealing fruit from the breakfast table, it is not uncommon to have an encounter with an animal within the camp limits. Sometimes these encounters are awe-inspiring and sometimes they are nerve-racking, but it is highly uncommon for the encounter to end with an animal or person in danger or disturbed.
The most common animals in camps are those that find safety within the space. Nyalas are a prime example of this, with all EcoTraining camps as well as most lodges having resident Nyalas hanging around. This is because camps offer a degree of safety from predators as well as less competition from other herbivores (so more food).
Baboons and vervet monkeys are also common utilisers of campgrounds – likely using the camp areas for safety as well. As anyone who has stayed in a camp will know, they will also try their luck at stealing whatever scraps of food they can get their hands on. A common phenomenon that has been observed with baboons is that they will often flip the rocks that demarcate the pathways in camps – this is in order to find any grubs, scorpions or general bugs hidden under the rocks for them to munch on.
EcoTraining’s Karongwe camp has a resident genet that is often seen commuting through the campgrounds. She has become very habituated and allows people to come quite close, however she is still wild and does not rely on people or the camp for food and safety. It is a strict policy to never feed animals as we don’t want them to start expecting food from people and losing their instinct to get their own food. We also don’t want the animals to lose their instinctual fear of humans as this can aid in their exploitation – for example, poachers can have an easier target if an animal has learnt that humans do not pose a threat.
Some animal encounters around camp (c) Zach Savage & David Niederberger
Wildlife around Makuleke Camp, Greater Kruger National Park
EcoTraining Makuleke has several elephants that frequent the camp. These gentle giants come in only looking to feed on the Brown Ivory, Umbrella thorns and other trees in the camp. The decks in front of each tent always provide for spectacularly close but safe viewing of the elephants as they make their way through the camp.
Respecting the symbiotic relationship
All camps have a plethora of bird, reptile, amphibian and insect life to excite the interests of students when they are in camp and to keep them learning about the nature around them. Even though you are living in a ‘wild’ area, the ethos of EcoTraining is to provide a holistic and safe experience to everyone who spends time in one of our camps. We respect the nature around us and want to maintain a mutualistic relationship on both sides.
At first, it may feel daunting to stay in an EcoTraining unfenced camp. But once you have had a few nights to settle in, you start to love every moment of it – so much so that even a lion roaring five metres from your tent will not scare you. Instead, it will thrill you to your bones and you will connect with the experience on a very primal level – an experience that your ancestors perhaps once had, now reborn in an EcoTraining camp.
Some Trivia fun;
do you know the difference between the large-spotted & small-spotted genets?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 [email protected]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Southern white rhinoceros or square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum simum)
- Northern white rhinoceros or northern square-lipped rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni)
- Southern-central black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor)
- South-western black rhino (Diceros bicornis occidentalis)
- 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.
Body shape: The white rhino is much longer, bigger and weightier looking, whereas the black rhino is shorter and more compact.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.