Tropical Cyclone Eloise was one of, if not the strongest cyclone ever to impact the country of Mozambique, the impacts of Eloise were also seen here in the Lowveld. Instructor Sean Matthewson explains some of the effects the storm had on the Lowveld.
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.
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.
As one ventures over the bridge straddling the Luvuvhu River into the Makuleke Concession, the landscape transforms into something extraordinary. Ancient Baobab trees fortify the rugged sandveld, groves of Lala Palms bow to the few stems that have shot skyward and stunted mopane thickets line the alluvial plains in orchard-like symmetry. Legions of elephant patrol this expansive kingdom, countless buffalo herds till the soil with marching intent and abundant nyalas glide around in elegant momentum.
This northern-most section of the Kruger National Park holds seventy-five percent of the biodiversity found in the region and is on the bucket-lists of keen birders and naturalists alike. Visitors come in search of a trove of endemic species like Pel’s Fishing Owl, Racket-Tailed Roller and Arnot’s Chat but almost always leave with so much more than just a pencilled check-list. And almost always leave a sliver of their soul behind.
The natural heritage and history of Makuleke is palpable. Once a trading corridor where distant travellers exchanged gold, animal skins and salt, this land continues to tell the tales of the traditional Makuleke people that once inhabited it and who now benefit greatly from its role in conservation.
Iconic Baobab specimens were not just trees to these people. They were cherished as more than just a source of food and medicine but as spiritual guides. Tribal elders shook trusting hands in their fibrous shade, the Makuleke Chief and his wife dwelled in one regal specimen’s hollowed-out cavity and rite-of-passage ceremonies were conducted in their proximity with the belief that this would pass strength and health to the growing young men.
It is against the backdrop of this magical place that the EcoTraining Camp is set. The camp itself resembles a tiny forest village. Each raised thatch and canvas tent claims one of the forest trees as its protector from the harsh heat. The tents are generously spacious with private bathrooms and outside decks overlooking the wilderness beyond. There is a constant concert of birdsong to accompany the tranquillity and many other animal heartbeats share the space of the unfenced camp. The main dining tent brings everyone together over hearty meals made with love and where life-long friends are made.
But not much time is spent in the tents as there is a magnetic pull to explore this area on foot or in open safari vehicles. EcoTraining’s twice-daily activities introduce students to the unforgettable beauty of the area with the additional privilege of facilitating an educational experience.
This special place carries an air of wisdom. It requests the best version of anyone visiting it, cradles one in raw beauty and leaves one with an instinctive desire to protect it. Thankfully, this magnificent places alongside EcoTraining’s vision to “reconnect people to nature” inspires a mighty force of wilderness guardians.
Want to learn more?
Do you want to know more about some of the special birds you could spot in the Makuleke? Try our EcoTraining Lowveld Birds Quiz. Or if you want to know more about the Kruger, we also have a Kruger Quiz. This beautiful paradise as you can feel is a once in a lifetime experience and definitely not to be miss. If this is something you are interested and want to be immersed in the wilds of the Northern Kruger National Park we have a few Easter Special running at the moment.
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]
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.
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.
To run a Wilderness Photography course, you have to find a location that offers a diverse selection of shooting opportunities. The Makuleke concession in the Norther Kruger Park is one of those special locations and it just proved perfect for the first photography course for 2018.