A Students View on the Apprentice Field Guide Course

As I drove through the gates of Pongola Game Reserve on 18 February I wound down the window and took a deep breath. The air smelled sweet, warm and dusty. I had arrived. I was in South Africa.

Sunset - Ecotraining - Apprentice Field Guide Course
Photographs © Norman Chauke

Making it Happen

I booked onto the 55-day Field Guide course with EcoTraining when the UK was still in the midst of its first national COVID-19 lockdown. I have always had a passion for wildlife and had known about the course for years, but had never had the courage or the means to make it happen. It was never the “right time” and there was always a reason not to. But the daily routine brought on by lockdown had become suffocating and I longed to travel. So late one afternoon in May 2020 I finally took the plunge and sent off my enrolment form.

Like many people, I assumed everything would “be fine” by February 2021. But as the weeks and months rolled on and COVID-19 restrictions were tightened, I became less and less sure that my dream would ever become a reality. I dared not get excited or look forward to the course too much – just in case. My books remained closed. My bags unpacked. So, as I drove through that gate at Pongola, I had to pinch myself more than once. I was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime and I knew there was no going back.

Settling into the Rhythm

The first few days were better than I had ever imagined and we soon settled into our daily rhythm – an early morning activity (game drive), followed by brunch, lectures, personal study time and another activity in the evening. It is fair to say that by 10 pm most of us were already asleep in our tents, ready for another day of adventure and surprises.

Sunset - Ecotraining - Apprentice Field Guide Course
(All the students from EcoTraining have been isolating together in the bush.)    Photographs © Norman Chauke

A Learning Experience

The curriculum is demanding and varied, covering everything from astronomy to animal behaviour. We have daily lectures and assignments to complete, but most of the learning takes place ‘in the field’ – so no lesson is ever the same. We have already had some incredible sightings including four of the “Big 5” within the first week, as well as an abundance of herbivores, insects, reptiles and birds.

In Pongola, we were also lucky enough to receive a guest lecture from an elephant researcher from the Space for Elephants Foundation. Inspired by our highly experienced (and patient!) instructors Norman and Craig, we have learned a lot in a short space of time. We are encouraged at every opportunity to link the animals we see to the plants, trees, and soils that they rely on to survive, and above all to respect nature.

African Elephants - Apprentice Field Guide Course
Photographs © Kirstin Scholtz

A Healing Experience

I am surprised at how quickly it felt normal to be living in a community with other people again and how well the group has bonded. We have not forgotten the world beyond our camp boundaries, but we are appreciative of the time spent in the camps. Instead of conversations dominated by COVID-19, we are debating guiding ethics, discussing bird calls, and discovering the trees of South Africa’s Lowveld. For me, after the year we have just had, this has been a powerful reminder that the wilds of nature can help us to heal. I look forward to finding out what the next 42 days will bring.

About the Author: 

Graham Raman is currently one of EcoTraining’s students on our Apprentice 55-day Field Guide course.

About the Author:
Graham Raman

Graham Raman

Explore more

Instructor Richard Davis giving a lecture to several students in nature

Wildlife Conservation with EcoTraining

EcoTraining showcases its commitment to wildlife conservation and environmental preservation by promoting sustainable practices and educating people about protecting endangered species. EcoTraining sets the bar high with its courses, trains field guides, and instils a sense of responsibility towards nature and wildlife.

Read more
a group of students looking at tracks in the sand

Understanding Wildlife Tracking

The ancient art of tracking unveils the secrets of animal behaviour. We explore the key steps of identifying, interpreting, and tracking wild animals in the heart of the South African wilderness.

“Do not be afraid to get dirty. Get down on your knees and have a close look at the tracks. It is essential to take your time. You can make a mistake by being too quick on the trigger when identifying tracks,” said Gerhard Delport, a former EcoTracker student.

Read more
students at lanner gorge

EcoTraining Celebrates 30 Years of Excellence

Thirty years of EcoTraining is a significant milestone. This celebration is a testament to EcoTraining’s long history of promoting field guiding and wildlife conservation. It’s an opportunity to inspire the next generation of passionate individuals who will continue the legacy of creating guardians of the natural world.

Read more

Start your wildlife career

Want to become a field or nature guide? Explore our immersive courses and training programmes for professional safari guides and guardians of nature, taught and led by experts in the industry.

EcoTraining offers career and accredited courses, wildlife enthusiast courses, gap year programmes and customised group travel courses.

Join our nature-loving community.