I remember that day like it was yesterday. A hot and humid early summer day in November 2020, the day my Field Guide Level 1 course started. Little did I know that from this day on, I would embark on a journey that would teach me so many things and make me leave my comfort zone. A journey that yet continues to last.
“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.
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.’’
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.
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.
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]