As the sun slowly rises over the horizon the dawn chorus of a new day starts. Crested Francolins call in duet and the birds of prey start to warm up, desperately waiting to catch a morning commute with the rising thermals. It is here on the Southern side of Ndlovu dam where JP Le Roux and myself are doing some filming for our Youtube channel while enjoying a morning French pressed coffee.
I found myself speed walking to gate number C6 at Cape Town International airport. With way too many bags strapped over my shoulders, I shuffled towards the stairs going to the desired gate. From nowhere a friendly face stopped me and drew my attention to my shoes, this literally stopped me in my tracks.
Pridelands has two Black Mambas in camp at the moment and after a colorful interview, I can confirm that these ladies are way more lovely, and infinitely more hardcore than the snake.
Pridelands camp is many things. In this blog, Victoria shares what makes Pridelands the unique and wild camp that it is.
#BurpeesForConservation is all the rage at the moment. EcoTraining students have jumped on the trend and are raising their heart-rates in an effort to raise awareness and funds for conservation.
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.
“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.
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.
EcoTraining instructor Tayla McCurdy came across this giraffe carcass near to EcoTraining Pridelands Conservancy this past week, and she has put down in her words what this experience was like and all the other creatures that are reaping the benefits.
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.
For any Guides who are passionate about becoming a Trails Guide in the future. Professional Trails Guide Devon Myers speaks about some of the important duties and aspects of guiding on foot.
Have you ever seen elephants disappear? No, it’s not a magic trick but it is something we have seen with our own eyes.
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.
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.
It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But what happens when the eye being watched is towering several meters above where you are sitting? At EcoTraining Pridelands Camp recently the students had an encounter that reinforced that these gentle giants are exactly that if treated with calmness and respect.
Sitting quietly at the EcoTraining Pridelands Camp waterhole, watching a herd of elephants is always a great opportunity for students to get to understand the interactive dynamics of a group of the largest of all land mammals. Taking time off from their theoretical studies, the students got to sit and marvel as these giants frolicked in the water and mud on the far side of the waterhole. But what no one factored in whilst viewing the elephants was the possibility that part of the herd would decide to end up right outside the lecture tent (where everyone was sitting).
One of the golden rules of walking in the bush is “NEVER RUN” and the same was true in this instance. Having these huge animals testing the wind just a short distance away from the students had everyone’s ‘flight or fight’ reflexes on high alert. Thanks to the expertise of the instructors, who had, on previous occasions stressed the need to remain calm when in potentially dangerous situations with game, the students did exactly that and fought the natural urge to move and instead sat enjoyed the moment with these magnificent creatures.
At the various EcoTraining Camps there are learning opportunities around every corner, or in this case behind a tree. And this instance was no exception. The instructors took this opportunity to explain the feeding habits as well as the tooth structure of elephants to the group.
As a result of their size and poor digestion, elephants have to eat often and in copious quantities, it, therefore, came as no surprise to the students that part of the herd would stay to feed. What was a surprise was the fact that the bulls decided to come to where everyone was seated to fulfil that need. As the camp, like all other EcoTraining Camps, it is unfenced, the animals are not hindered in their search for sustenance.
By sitting quietly, we allowed these gentle creatures to continue with their daily feeding regime without feeling threatened or uncomfortable.
As the last of the young males slowly wandered through the camp, the students all watched in silence. What had this experience taught them? Elephants are definitely bigger than they seem (especially when you are on the same level) and, if treated with the respect they deserve, they will allow you to share their space, turning an encounter such as this into an educational experience.
How would you behave in a situation like this? Would you be able to relax or would you be too uncomfortable to remain seated quietly and enjoy the encounter? By joining an EcoTraining course you will be provided with the knowledge and understanding of how to make the most of encounters like this in a calm and respectful way. For more information contact EcoTraining on [email protected]
If you want to learn more about elephants maybe try your hand at our EcoTraining Elephant Quiz.
The current students on the EcoTraining Field Guide Course were taken on a walk around the Pridelands Camp to learn to identify various tree species. This course, recognized by FGASA as their Apprentice Field Guide Course, offers all the students to learn something new and for the international students the opportunity to see these species for the first time.
Before the tree identification walk could take place, all the students needed to have a lecture on the trees that they could possibly see whilst on their walk. The theoretical side of the lecture would inform them of the scientific as well as the common names of the trees as well as which parts can be utilized to make an accurate identification. Once this information had been shared, instructors Steve Baillie and Rhodes Bezuidenhout took the students on a walk around Pridelands camp to put all the theoretical knowledge to practical use.
For their assessment, and to be competent to pass the module, the students have to be able to name three tree species but they also have to identify some of their uses, whether it be cultural, traditional or medicinal. On this practical walk, the students were asked to identify seven species.
The Afrikaans name, ‘blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie’, is very descriptive! Getting entangled in one of these does tend to curtail your activity.
Probably more than any other tree, the Buffalo Torn has far-reaching cultural importance in Eastern and Southern Africa, with many beliefs attributed to it. In Botswana, the tree is believed to protect from lightning. The fruits are edible and nutritious though not very appetizing and can be eaten fresh, dried or made into porridge. Mix the crushed fruit pulp with water and you have a thirst-quenching drink, ferment it and you have a beer! The young leaves can be prepared similarly to spinach. Roasted seeds can be used as ‘pap’ or a coffee substitute. The wood is used for fence posts, fuel and tool handles. Nothing goes to waste. The sap can be used as a poison, the bark can be used to aid in tanning skins and hides. The roots have been known to aid in the treatment of snake bites, while the high tannin levels make it a remedy for dysentery.
The tree provides sustenance for animals and birds alike, including the elephant and the black rhino. Its nectar is a rich food source for local bee populations.
Also referred to as the African blackwood or African false-wattle, the bark is usually grooved and dark brown in the older plants. It has easily identifiable acacia-like leaves and yellow flowers. Not only is this tree a source of pollen for bees, birds and other insects, it is also utilized in many traditional medicines. It is said that the roots have antibacterial properties that can be used to treat wounds. They are also used in the treatment of mouth sores and can help relieve toothache. The leaves are said to remove internal parasites. The wide canopy and thick leafy canopy make ideal shade for animals and humans alike.
Occurring throughout Africa, it also found in Madagascar, India, Indonesia, and Australia. The spines, which are modified hardened branchlets, have been known to be the chief source of many punctures to tires on game drive vehicles. Often leading to it being referred to colloquially as “Landrovis Papwielus”. As a pioneer species, it can establish itself quickly and acts as an erosion barrier. Being termite resistant, it is used in the manufacture of fence posts and it is a constant source of quality firewood for the local communities. Like many African tree species, this too has medicinal properties. The roots can be used as a local anaesthetic and in Botswana, it is often prescribed by traditional healers as a tapeworm cure. The lilac upper-half and the yellow lower have of the sweet-smelling puffy flowers give rise to a rather descriptive name, the Chinese lantern tree.
An interesting fact about the Tamboti is that the milky latex that is secreted is poisonous to humans, but not to animals. It is a food source for many species of antelope, elephants, and black rhino. Porcupines’ appetites for the bark is so voracious that they sometimes ringbark the trees, which can lead to the death of the tree. The reason for referring to it as the ‘Jumping bean tree’, is that small grey moth from the Pyralidae family often lays its eggs in the fruit and the larvae cause the bean to ‘jump’ once they hatched.
While students like Kaenan took notes, Steve shared his knowledge with the group. Found in the Lowveld, this tree is often found in rocky areas and sometimes on river banks. The leaves are enjoyed by several antelope species as well as both elephant and giraffe. It is a very dense wood and as a result, it is often used to manufacture handles for tools and mine supports. If you are looking to make yourself a walking stick, then this is the tree to choose from. The seeds can also be used to make tea. If you want to know how to make bushwillow tea have a look at this video as instructor Mike Anderson shows us how it is done.
The Jackalberry tree is found throughout Africa. These trees are often found growing from termite mounds as they prefer the deep sedimentary soils (but it is also not uncommon for them to grow in sandy soils). As the wood of the Jackalberry is almost impermeable to termites, this makes a nice symbiotic relationship, as the termite colonies provide the tree with aerated soil and a source of moisture. In turn, the roots of the tree protect the termites, who don’t eat the living wood. Jackalberry wood is almost termite-resistant after it has been cut down and is most useful in the making of fence posts and tool handles. These trees can grow up to 24m with a circumference of 5m. The female Jackalberry is the only one to produce fruit.
This tree occurs on all soil types although it is easier to find in areas with clay soils or on rocky outcrops. The heartwood, which is dark in colour, is heavier than the outer ring and, is also heavier than the iconic Leadwood tree. The flowers are a scented greenish-white that covers the tree during the summer months. The roots are favoured by elephants, while the leaves are enjoyed by a variety of species, including giraffe. The traditional medicinal properties include using the roots to treat headaches and toothache. The roots and the wood are often used to make woodwind instruments and jewellery.
So, next time you take a walk in your neighbourhood try and see how many trees you can identify. Taking into consideration all the different uses from one tree, your expert knowledge might just come in handy someday.
Would you like to brush up on your knowledge of tree species? Then why not enrol in one of the many courses offered by EcoTraining? To find out more, email [email protected]
If you would like to still learn more have a look at our Flora Friday Series on EcoTraining TV.
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.
July 31st we celebrated World Ranger Day. And by extension, it should also be celebrated as World Field Guide Day.
If you are a Field Guide, Game Ranger or involved in the conservation and eco-tourism industry, then thank you for your time and dedication. We appreciate all those who put in the effort every day to conserve and teach those around us about Africa and the majestic wilderness that surrounds us. If you have ever thought about learning more or getting involved in the industry, whether as a full-time profession or just to learn and broaden your knowledge, then read on…
If your answer is yes, and joining the guiding industry is something that you are passionate about? Or perhaps you just want to up-skill your bushcraft. If either of these is an option, then an EcoQuest course might just be what you are looking for.
If you find yourself on Safari or on a game drive with friends, and your thirst for knowledge and your need to know more about the wilderness around you is too much, then look no further than an EcoTraining EcoQuest Course.
The course is a ‘snapshot‘ of the Professional Field Guide Course that we offer.
Time in the bush is not always about dangerous game and encounters with those that have teeth, claws and horns.
It is also about taking time to appreciate the ‘smaller’ inhabitants and how they contribute to a particular eco-system.
Some of the course’s unique selling points are:
The EcoQuest courses can be tailored to suit individuals or groups.
Participants can sign up for either a 7 or 14-day course, depending on how much time they have at their disposal.
Do you have a speciality that you would like to highlight?
We can structure your course time to focus on that.
It is an immersive experience, in world-class wilderness regions.
The course is designed to inform, educate and entertain. Finding skulls and identifying them is just one of the activities that can be experienced during an outing.
Each of the EcoTraining camps in South Africa, Selati, Karongwe, Pridelands and Makuleke are situated in different biomes.
Thus making the vegetation very different.
Did you know that there are about 100,000 insect species in South Africa?
Most of the reading material only mentions a fraction of these, however, you can find out more about some of those on the walks from the various EcoTraining camps where this course is presented.
Luckily, most of the species found in South Africa are harmless but it does help to know which might sting or bite.
What does the EcoQuest course cover?
The course consists of drives, walks and lectures.
Each activity covers flora, fauna as well as tracking and spoor identification.
Aside from the underground construction by this insect, termites also build these above-ground structures.
They can vary in height and are made out of clay that is stuck together with saliva. Should a portion of this mound be broken, they can repair it in record time.
Walking back to camp as the sun sets.
A perfect ending to a day filled with exciting new experiences.
Share experiences around a roaring campfire.
There are stories to be told and it is here where friendships are made and lifetime bonds formed.
EcoTraining Managing Director, Anton Lategan sat down with David Batzofin and shared his hopes and dreams for EcoTraining.
Where we have come from and where we are going. Listen to the interview here.