“I still can’t put my finger on what it is exactly that fascinates me about the wilderness. Perhaps everything about it. When I finished school I knew I wanted to explore every bit of it. I came upon EcoTraining and the one-year Professional Field Guide course and applied. I still believe this to be one of the best decisions I have taken in my life so far.
My group was lucky enough to not just have some fantastic experiences and great people to share them with, but we also had passionate instructors who taught us more than just knowledge of the natural world. For me personally, this was a journey of discovery and challenging the boundaries of my comfort zone. This journey is still far from over, but it all started by going to EcoTraining.
When I got back to Germany, I could not just simply go and study biology in a classroom in the middle of a city. I wanted to be back in the African bush, 24/7. And so I went back a few times to eventually get my Lead Guide Qualification. But I soon realised, after exploring the backyard of Europe a little, and the shocking lack of wilderness, that I wanted to play a role in the conservation and restoration work of the European wilderness.
After some research, I came upon a project named Rewilding Europe. Its plans to rewild Europe fitted perfectly with my own principles and desires. After a three-month period of volunteering with a great team of hard-working and committed people in the Bison Rewilding project in the Southern Carpathians, Romania, I was hooked and could not leave. And I have been here ever since.
The project work can be hard at times but it is always rewarding and stimulating. And it gets more exciting with every step the project takes forward. Now we have 20 Bison roaming around in total freedom with 10 more just about to be released. They shape the landscape in a way that only bison can do, opening up forests and laying animal paths, a bit like elephants do, and therefore changing the activity routes of other animals. They look and sound like ancestral beasts whenever you encounter them in the wild and because we also have bears, wolves, lynxes, fish otters and many other interesting creatures in the area, going out into the forest can be just as unpredictable and exciting as the African bush. The best part is that this place is meant to become wilder and wilder as time passes by!
The project involves many areas from the Bison Conservation work to community development, ecotourism and research. We now have a research station with six beds in the middle of the community and a visitors centre that has some very interesting installations (like the largest HoloDeck in Europe for example) to display the scientific findings from the Bison Hillock in an interactive way to the public.
If you want more information on this project read here:
They are considering recruiting EcoTraining students to join the project to gain experience in research and monitoring in Europe. Call it a new form of internship on our one year course. What a thrilling and different option!
From next year onwards we want to involve EcoTraining students in this project from an ecotourism point of view but also with an eye to research. From my personal experiences with the courses and standards maintained by EcoTraining, I am sure the students will play an important part in the success of this project and I can’t wait to introduce them to this wild place. There will be many exciting things to do from wildlife monitoring using tracks and signs for example, to guiding and helping the bison rangers mitigate human-wildlife conflict. Most importantly the work will help make this already wild place even wilder and hopefully contribute to the wider work in the whole of Europe!
Making use of this opportunity I really want to thank Graham Cooke, Margaux Mathey, J.P Le Roux, Henry Parsons, Bruce and Dee Lawson, Dale Geldenhuys, Brian Kelly, Okwa Sarefo, Brian Rode and Chantelle Venter, Massimo Rebuzzi, Rhodes Bezuidenhout Alan McSmith, Alweet Hlungwani and Duncan McKenzie for being more than just inspirational instructors during the course and beyond! Thank you to all the other special people who I was lucky enough to share time with during these years!”
This story shows that with specialised training one can accomplish so much if your heart is in it. George travelled all the way to Africa to learn about wildlife and nature and he walked away with the necessary knowledge and skills to run this amazing project in Europe. And this is a case in point that fulfils our director, Anton Lategan’s, personal and professional mission:
“to educate people on the importance of the wilderness and especially the processes that drive the natural ecosystems of the world. Our hope is that participants, armed with this knowledge, leave our courses and go out and make a difference in the way we look after our planet in their day-to-day lives.