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Sleeping out under the vast African sky

As part of the EcoTraining Trails Guide Course the students get the opportunity of sleeping out under the vast African sky.

Log smoking

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Camp site

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Teapot

David Batzofin (cc)

The first task was the collection of firewood to heat water for coffee and tea.

David Batzofin (cc)

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 bag

David Batzofin (cc)

Sleeping bags were then laid out and tasks were assigned.

Aagia and guitar

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

starting the fire

David Batzofin (cc)

With the fire roaring in a purposely dug hole, it was time for toasting marshmallows and sharing stories.

dinner time

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

bush toilet

David Batzofin (cc)

Ever used a bush loo? It’ very simple, find a nice bush with a good view, dig a hole and there you go!

Bush TV

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

middle of the night

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Morning

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

putting out the fire

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

cleaning the site

David Batzofin (cc)

The wood had to be replaced back into the tree line.

leave no footprints

David Batzofin (cc)

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 at Karongwe Camp

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Home on the range | Advanced Rifle Handling

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).

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

Advanced Rifle Handling Course

David Batzofin (cc)

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.

FGASA | Frequently asked questions and answers

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 enquiries@ecotraining.co.za and we will be happy to assist you with your research.
To find out more about what we offer, please visit our website.

To Bumble About

“Travel has the ability to show us what we’re really made of, to expand our minds, hearts and spirits, and to transform us, among so much more. “

Nashville, Tennessee Native, Kiefer, born to effect positive change in the world

Sometimes in life you don’t exactly know where you want to go or what you want to do, but you know the general direction. Other times, you know where you want to end up, but do not know how you want to bumble around until then.

Jeffrey as back-up Trails Guide at Makuleke

A British Naturalist in the African Bush serving as a volunteer EcoTraining Back-up

“The reality is that these instinctive influences would have been a part of daily, world-wide, human survival in pre-historic times and in fact remain vital to some indigenous populations today.”