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Field Guide Assessments

Matthew, a keen photographer from South Africa, was busily checking the vehicle and greeting the guests for his upcoming drive. I filled my flask with hot tea to stave off the morning chill and climbed aboard next to the assessor, ironically my assessor from years before.

Although nervous at the beginning, Matthew soon hit his stride and began sharing his knowledge on track, plants and, clearly, one of his favourite topics – birds. His depth of knowledge was impressive for someone with only a couple of months of training behind him. By morning coffee, a few well-placed jokes had the group creased up in laughter. Various game animals and an old male buffalo presented some pleasant viewing opportunities, which was a great start to my EcoTraining visit.

Photographs © Emily Whiting

Over the next few days, I joined Lila, a sustainability consultant from Germany, Stefan, who works in HR in the German military and Bert, chief of staff in the Belgian senate. Bound through love for nature, these students had come together from all walks of life and came to experience something far beyond the realms of a typical vacation. We enjoyed superb sightings of buffalo, elephants, white rhino, herds of giraffe and zebra and even a cheeky barred owlet.

On one particular evening, Lila stopped her vehicle just in time for us to enjoy the last golden rays of sunlight through the trees. At her say-so, we dismounted and waited for her to prep the sundowner drinks and snacks. To my utter delight, she had even brought along a bar of chocolate for us to share – saved especially for the occasion! Absorbed in our treats, we almost didn’t notice the soft crackle of branches approaching from the left.

Slowly but surely, an enormous herd of buffalo steadily advanced in our direction. The assessor and a couple of students spotted them first. Unsure as to whether they should say something, a few worried looks as Lila unknowingly continued pouring her drinks. The large, black mass of bodies was now coming into view through the thicket. Suddenly realising her predicament, Lila immediately encouraged us back into the vehicle. Relieved that she had spotted the imminent problem, we freely obliged and excitedly continued sipping our drinks, waiting for the herd to arrive.

Photographs © Emily Whiting

The deep call got louder still until the herd almost surrounded us. The buffalo rolled past us in a steady stream, kicking up dust and shaking their heads in frustration at their relentless cohort of flies. As the sun began to duck below the horizon, the last golden rays lit up the scene from behind, highlighting every detail as if perfectly designed for a movie set. Now and then, the odd individual would stop in their tracks and stare at us – a menacing look that puts fear in the hearts of many guides. However, from the safety of the vehicle, we happily clicked away with our cameras, soaking up the moment until, at last, the herd moved on, and darkness fell around us.

Photographs © Emily Whiting

More memorable moments ensued with Stefan and Bert. Bert, over-flowing with a passion that after 15 minutes, we had yet to leave sight of the camp as we were so pleased in his facts of red-billed buffalo weavers. Thankfully, all the students passed their assessments with flying colours. Although I could not stay long enough to celebrate the end of assessment week, I was glad to have met such a passionate and friendly group. I wish them all the very best for their futures.

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About the Author: 

Emily Whiting is a former EcoTraining Professional Field Guide student and currently working as a Field Guide at a 5* lodge in the Greater Kruger, South Africa.

About the Author:
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Emily Whiting

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