In my year and a half at EcoTraining, I have had the privilege to move around our different camps and experience the unique relationship between humans and the animals that frequently visit the camps. The experience that captivated me, is the troop of baboons in Makuleke. They spend their days interacting with one another in and around camp and then roosting in the big Nyala Berry trees at night.
After completing the first phase of the Professional Field Guide course, our group spent the next few weeks building on some of the wider skills surrounding the guiding industry; navigation, birding, and tracking to name a few. During this time, I was incredibly fortunate to spend time with many passionate and knowledgeable instructors although one moment, in particular, stands out as a favorite.
Every year, the month of February is used to highlight the plight of the Pangolin. Now more than ever, it has become vital for protected areas and game reserves to provide a safe haven for these vulnerable creatures who play a critical role in their ecosystems, living as an all-natural pest control in the wild.
At the age of 71, Clare Wilson enrolled in an EcoTraining Career Course, packed her bags, and headed north for the bush.
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.
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.
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.’’
“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.
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.
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.
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.