April is a magical time of year in the bush. The last of the summer rains have normally passed so the bush starts to turn a beautiful golden brown. The short bush Autumn starts to take place so the days are still warm but the nights are starting to cool, perfect for sitting around the fire or snuggling down into your sleeping bag. The days start to get a bit shorter and the nights longer, giving us more time to admire the beauty of the cosmos.
Even more reverent and iconic than Africa’s Big Five, Baobabs are the true titans of Africa. As the title would suggest, Baobabs are impressive in size, with some reaching up to 30 m in height.
Pridelands camp is many things. In this blog, Victoria shares what makes Pridelands the unique and wild camp that it is.
It’s a cool morning and I grab my coffee flask, flees jacket and camera. As the sun peaks over the dam wall, we lace up our boots and off we go into the veld in search of fresh signs of what happened the previous night…
We all feel stress at times. It is our bodies natural response when we experience something new, something unexpected, when we feel threatened or when we feel that we have no control over a situation. For some of us, stress can be a motivational tool and for others, it can make you feel anxious and even make you doubt yourself.
Do you want to know why you should become a Game Ranger or Safari Guide? EcoTraining instructor Michael Anderson explains in more detail.
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.
“Moving around by day, looking, listening, smelling, touching and tasting. Reawakening your senses” – this is the essence of a Wilderness Trail
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.
Why not start with this EcoTraining Crossword and test your knowledge:
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?
Animal tracking (also known as spoorsny in Afrikaans) is more complex than most people might think. We invite you to join us on this exciting learning adventure, while you learn to connect with nature and get back to your roots.
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.
As part of the EcoTraining Trails Guide Course the students get the opportunity of sleeping out under the vast African sky.
With a sleeping bag and a cooler box of food, they get to experience what it is like to be outside in the wild from sunset to sunrise.
While there is the possibility of animals wandering past, the silence of the bush and the vastness of the African sky is what created an immersive experience that was unforgettable.
Finding a campsite proved to be harder to agree on than actually setting up camp for the night.
After much discussion, a suitable spot was eventually decided on and the task of unpacking the vehicle was dealt with in quick time.
The first task was the collection of firewood to heat water for coffee and tea.
But not just any wood. No, it had to come from places around the site where the use of the wood would not have any impact on the ecosystem.
Sleeping bags were then laid out and tasks were assigned.
The backup guide, Aagia, had brought her guitar along and in the silence of the bush, her chords were clean and sweet, not loud and intrusive, but calming and quieting (Aagia playing guitar). It was now time to start a fire.
With the fire roaring in a purposely dug hole, it was time for toasting marshmallows and sharing stories.
The pasta that the camp kitchen staff had prepared for us was enjoyed with gusto. And the container of biscuits was most welcomed by those on duty in the early hours of the morning.
Ever used a bush loo? It’ very simple, find a nice bush with a good view, dig a hole and there you go!
The ever-changing flames of the ‘bush TV’ were hypnotic and despite the early hour, we were all ready to creep into our sleeping bags and settle down for the night.
But before the final good nights were exchanged a duty roster was worked out as there had to be someone awake at all times to keep an eye open for animals that might take an interest in our sleeping forms.
There were enough people for us to have to only do an hour each between 21h00 to 05h00.
It was soon discovered that all that was required during this on duty time was to keep the fire going and the water in the kettle boiling!
The bush does not sleep and although you might believe it is quiet there is a constant stream of noises that are sometimes difficult to identify.
The lions that walked past our sleeping forms were the easiest to identify. Their guttural vocalizations left no doubt as to whom they were and what they were capable of doing.
The crashing of branches close by signaled the fact that there was at least one feeding elephant in the vicinity.
Warm in our thermal sleeping bags we lay in silence, allowing all these sounds to envelop us without the need for discussion (That would take place over coffee in the morning).
Although the ground was hard and unforgiving, sleep did eventually come. And with it a deep, contented almost childlike sleep.
As the dawn broke and faces began to appear out of bedding it was time to share our impressions about our night and to repack the vehicle before heading off back to camp.
Just as we had set up camp the night before, we had to return it to as pristine a condition as we could before we headed off.
The campfire had to be doused and the ashes scattered.
The wood had to be replaced back into the tree line.
And the area swept with branches to eradicate as much of the traces of our stay as possible.
Personally, I believe that no one who spends a night under the vast African sky can return without a change of some sort.
It might not be a huge ‘Eureka’ moment, but deep in the psyche of each of those present, a change had occurred.
In contrast to our silence during our stay, we drove away in high spirits. Chatting loudly about our experience…and enquiring as to when we could do it again!
Matabele ants get their name from the mighty Matabele tribe as they equally go to war with termites the same way the Matabele tribe use to overwhelm their adversaries.
The participants on the EcoQuest course at Karongwe Camp came upon this Matabele Ant raiding party setting out. Also known as hissing ants because of the sound they emit, they live on a diet comprised solely of termites.
Although the Matabele raiding party featured extensively during the morning drive, there was time to focus on other interesting interactions that were taking place close by. Like this African Harrier Hawk and Fork-tailed Drongo.
Equipped with long scaly legs and a long neck for getting into the cracks and crevices, the large grey raptor also known as a gymnogene was busy searching in this tree as to where chicks and eggs might be concealed.
In this scenario, it is possible that the Drongo did have a nest it was protecting. This relatively small bird will dive-bomb large raptors that are intent on killing their offspring or just out of defense.
When first discovered, the participants watched as the raiding party set out in a very organized manner. Then, one of their scouts took a wrong turn, leading to total confusion within the party until the issue was resolved and they could move off with confidence.
Another diversion, this time to take a moment to look at some of the flora that we can observe during morning activity. The Black Stick Lily is known as the Monkey’s Tail, derived from its Afrikaans name ‘Bobbejaan’s stert’ (Baboon’s Tail).
This is a resilient plant that can withstand extreme conditions and can also go for long periods of time without water. Their medicinal properties include the treatment of asthma and as an anti-inflammatory.
Instructor, Michael Anderson, wondering what the result would be if he stuck his fist into the path of the returning raiding party. The bite of this ant, although not toxic to humans, can be very painful and can cause swelling.
This particular species of ant is the only one that look after those that get injured during a raid. Much like the US Marines, they try not to leave anyone behind and will tend to the wounded on the site of the battle. The treatment is only carried out on individuals who have lost one or two limbs.
From the time they left their nest until they returned with their spoils, less than an hour had elapsed. As they were not under constant surveillance, it is not certain as to how far they had to go to reach the termite mound.
The returning raiding party with their spoils. As their diet consists only of termites, they returned with as many as they could carry. Interestingly enough a raiding party will not return to an already raided termite mound immediately. Thus giving the termites a chance to replenish their losses. These ants do not forage individually, but only as a large coordinated party.
The successful and victorious raiding party disappears into the grass to share and enjoy the fruits of their labour with the rest of the colony.
Students participating in the Trails Guide Course are working towards attaining their FGASA Apprentice Trails Guide status and have already completed their FGASA Apprentice Field Guide/NQF2 qualification. One of the elements of the course is to pass their ARH (Advanced Rifle Handling).
One of the students are pointing out where the bullet should go. On this particular day, each student was required to fire a total of 10 rounds. These 10 rounds are broken down into 3 exercises. The first exercise was a grouping of three rounds followed by an exercise that required 4 rounds. Finally they were allowed to choose their final exercise that involved 3 rounds.
When you are staring into the eyes of a dangerous animal that is intent on doing you or your guests harm, this is how you want to place the rounds. That being said, firing the rifle and taking the life of an animal is an absolute final resort when all other avenues have been unsuccessful.
Safety is paramount at the range. Seeing that live rounds are being used, expert instructors take the time to explain what is expected clearly and concisely. Each exercise is fully explained to the student at the firing line. Neither a rifle nor the rounds are issued without all the relevant safety measures being in place and that includes ear protection as well.
The rules are simple during an Advanced Rifle Handling course. Keep the rifles pointing down range at all times. Do not turn around with a loaded rifle and if in doubt make the weapon safe and ask for help.
For the uninitiated, the sound of the first shot and the recoil of the rifle butt against a shoulder can be rather daunting. Not all of the students on this particular Trails Guide course had previous experience with a .375 calibre rifle. This can take some adjusting to make certain that the rifle is held firmly and that the trigger is squeezed and not jerked. By the end of the day, the instructors had made certain that all the students were competent to complete the exercises.
Watch for the brass. Look carefully at this image and you can see the cartridge being ejected from the breach. The rifles are single action, which means that each round has to be placed into the breach using the bolt action. There is a standard way of this being done and the students competency relies on all aspects of rifle handling being completed correctly.
For those who transgress the range rules, this was the consequence. Push-ups!
In the beginning, it was 40 repetitions, but by the end of the day, the final transgressor ended up doing 60! Although there was a lot of banter around the punishment, all of the students completed their allotted number without exception.
Have you ever heard a .375 rifle go off? During this Advanced Rifle Handling course there were many. Here’s an audio clip of the sound of the rifle cocking and shots being fired.
Starting out in a new job or career can be a daunting prospect. We at EcoTraining have found that these are some of the most frequently asked questions when students consider joining our 1 year ‘Professional Field Guide course’ or our 55 day FGASA level 1 (NQF2) course.
A year is a major commitment to a future in any industry and getting a guiding qualification is no exception. Proper research and due diligence is an important process when deciding what course is best for you. Before we share answers to frequently asked questions, let us give you a brief background of what FGASA is and what they do.
FGASA, the acronym stands for ‘The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa’. A Section 21 company, it was formally established in 1990 by a group of professional guides aiming to set a standard for nature guiding practice. FGASA represents individual tourist guides; nature, culture and adventure guides; trackers; and organisations involved in offering professional guiding services to members of the public. FGASA is an accredited provider with CATHSSETA. It has set the guiding standards for many years and continues to maintain the highest standards within the guiding industry. In conjunction with CATHSSETA within the National Qualifications Framework, FGASA promotes the standards for guiding throughout southern Africa.
Great! Now take a look at the answers to some of the most pertinent questions that we get asked…
Is the FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2) the same course as FGASA Apprentice Field Guide?
The ‘FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2)’ name according to FGASA has changed its name and is now known as the ‘Apprentice Field Guide’. EcoTraining’s programme, FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2) is the exact same course as FGASA’s Apprentice Field Guide and upon successful completion will achieve an NQF2.
What NQF level is FGASA level 1?
EcoTraining’s FGASA Field Guide Level 1 course (FGASA’s Apprentice Field Guide equivalent) is a NQF level 2 which consists of 41 credits. The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) currently collates credits assigned to various formal courses at a specific level. The EcoTraining FGASA Level 1 (NQF2) course is recognised nationally in South Africa. The FGASA Field Guide (NQF2) must be registered with the National Department of Tourism in order to legally operate as a Nature Guide.
How much does it cost to register for FGASA level 1?
Currently the registration fee for South African membership is R1,760.00. This is done by EcoTraining and is included in the course fees for EcoTraining courses.
Can I do the FGASA training if I don’t have a matric?
Matric is not a requirement for any EcoTraining courses. However, as both the course material and instructions are in English, participants on the course are expected to have a fair command of the English language and must be able to speak, read and write English. If you are unsure if your English is good enough, contact EcoTraining to find out.
What is the pass mark?
Students are required to obtain a pass mark of 75%. There are two elements to the qualification. Theory (which has to be passed first) and a practical. A student is only considered to be competently qualified once both elements have been completed and passed.
Am I allowed to drive guests at South African based lodges?
If you are younger than 21, then the answer is unfortunately not. South African law requires that the necessary license, a Public Driving Permit, can only be obtained at age 21. But do not despair or let that detail derail your guiding ambitions. Consider becoming a Trails Guide and conduct on-foot guiding.
If you want to be a nature guide, get involved in conservation or just want to learn more about nature and the environment, then FGASA is definitely something that should interest you.
We hope these answers help some of the questions you may have. Should you wish to know answers to any other question not listed above, contact [email protected] and we will be happy to assist you with your research.
To find out more about what we offer, please visit our website.
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