FIELD NOTES: APRIL 2013


“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” (Gandhi)

Knock, knock… Who’s there? Eco… Eco who? EcoTraining, adventure and excitement! There are still 9 months left of this year and we are still committed to make 2013 a memorable one. The courses are stacked and lined up at all our wilderness camps across Southern Africa and in Kenya. To tickle your interest and whet the appetite, read and take a look what happened in the last month…

TAKING NOTE
Come live and walk amid the spectacular wildlife of the African bush, experience things and gather knowledge that will blow you away. Like this amazing look at a rising full moon, where instructors will share and impart their knowledge about astronomy and give you a glimpse into this unique and wonderful world. 

From a handful of dates to a year, EcoTraining provides a choice of courses that prove to be endless.  Follow the link to our website (www.ecotraining.co.za) where you will get more details on the types of courses, dates and other important information. Or send an email to enquiries@ecotraining.co.za. We look forward to inviting you to one of our camps, so go on, have a look, you won’t regret it!


WHAT’S COMING UP
There are still some spaces left on the courses below in the next couple of months. Experience things and gather knowledge that will blow you away. From a handful of days to one year, the choices are endless! 



23-28 April: Wilderness Trails Skills – Makuleke
1-28 May: 28 Day Safari Guide - Karongwe
5 May-27 June: 55 Day FGASA Level One – Mashatu/Karongwe
13 May-9 June:Trails Guide – Makuleke
27 May 2013-23 March 2014: Professional Field Guide Course
29 May-21 July:55 Day FGASA Level One – Selati/Karongwe
21–26 June: Wilderness Trails Skills – Makuleke
28 July-10 August:EcoQuest – Kenya


LATEST NEWS
Office: The dedicated team at head office in Nelspruit is ready to answer all your questions and queries. Don’t hesitate to contact them!

Camps: Every minute on one of our courses in our wilderness camps in South Africa, Botswana and Kenya is a learning experience, being constantly exposed to the bush. See what transpired in the last month, it sure is a good indication of what will probably happen in the months to follow…

Selati: There’s never a dull moment on any of EcoTraining’s courses or in any of our wilderness camps. Margaux le Roux who is based with husband JP at Selati, explains exactly why:
“As the assistant instructor and the ‘mom’ of the camp, I often have to tell students to pick up their belongings and to not let their things lay around. I always use examples of snakes, scorpions and spiders who often crawl into people’s belongings, and who when provoked, might end up stinging or biting some unsuspecting soul. Now however, I have a new example to use in my repertoire of ‘Please don’t let your things lay around’…
After all the floods and excitement of moving tents due to rising floodwaters, we decided to give the students a well-deserved ‘off day’ to spend at leisure. Most of the group went to either Tzaneen or Hoedspruit for the day, but a handful remained in camp, and to treat them, I said we could go out on an afternoon game drive all by ourselves. What a treat we were in for!
The sun was setting rapidly, and as darkness descended the radio call came in: ‘There are lions in camp! They are close to Tent 13!’ We raced off back to camp after I instructed all the guys in camp to gather in the main lecture area or to stay in their tents. As we approached the camp, we decided to go and see exactly where the lions were, and how many there were so that we could make a judgement call as to what the next plan of action would be.


As we came around the corner, there they were; 3 of them, sprawled out in the middle of the pathway leading from the instructor’s tent to tent 13. It was a lioness and her sub-adult nephew and niece. They were quite relaxed before the young male got up and walked to tent 12. As he disappeared out of view we kept on looking at the older lioness who was very relaxed with in our company.
After a while we saw the youngster appear again: this time with a white object in his mouth. At first we could not see what exactly it was, but then the student that was sitting on the tracker seat exclaimed: ‘Hey! That’s my shoe!’ The youngster had walked all the way to the outside of his tent and had managed to pick up his Reebok Flip Flop. We could not help but laugh at the situation – especially at Christo, the owner of the shoe’s face. It was absolutely priceless!
The jokes started immediately with statements such as ‘Don’t get stroppy with me’ and ‘That youngster has a lot of sole’. He did not even seem guilty as he moved off towards the river to go and chew on his new found toy.
The lioness started to get restless and she started to move off before the two youngsters decided to follow her. We quickly rushed back to the rest of the students to fetch them so that they could also see the cats before they disappeared into darkness.
It was only 2 days later that we managed to find the shoe – half eaten and smelling really rotten. My moral of the story of course is ‘Please don’t let your things lay around. We have lions with a fondness of chewing people’s shoes!’”

Makuleke (Kruger National Park): The cherry on top after participating in the Professional Field Guide course (one year) is always the graduation ceremony. Group 6C had their ‘capping party’ recently at Makuleke and fun was had by all after all the hard work and effort in the preceding months. Take a look! (And good luck to all the guys and girls in their future endeavours!)





Mashatu (Botswana): The devastating floods that caused a great wave of destruction in the northern parts of the country in January had far reaching effects. One was the Motloutse River in Botswana becoming infested with Nile crocodiles from a crocodile farm in South Africa. EcoTraining’s wilderness camp in Mashatu in Botswana, that was partially washed away but up and running again, recently helped in the recapturing of those crocodiles. Clinton Phillips sent through this update:
“Estimates of up to ten thousand crocs were washed out of their pens into the raging Limpopo River. As water levels slowed, large (5m) and medium to small (1m) crocs spread out and upward along the Motloutse River, inundating the banks and deep pools.
The future of these crocodiles was never good but always certain whether in the wild along the Motloutse and Limpopo River, or back in their farm pens. They were bred for the leather and meat industry and the Motloutse ecosystem does not have capacity to sustain such numbers.
Considering the number of crocodiles that escaped, it was inevitable that their capture was on the cards.  It was important to get them out of the ecosystem as they were sure to be impactful on prey numbers and were destined for a horrible death of starvation and dehydration.



So, the EcoTraining team of instructors and students went out at night to assist with the capture. And we did our bit for conservation in the wildlife area.”

Lewa (Kenya): Instructor Mark Gunn and the bunch of students attending a 28 Day Kenyan Safari Guide course in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy had a rocking four weeks. Read and enjoy just one of their adventurous days:
Up at 04:30. Quick breakfast and off to Borana. Hope to find their lions. Impala alarm calling in our camp. Can't see the predator.  Verreaux’s eagle owl and pearl spotted owl calling...  05:00 depart... The headlights cut a thin line through the darkness as we drive over the grass plains... Stop at a dam. Crocodile, marabou storks, pink backed pelican, white stork, yellow billed stork and other waders. Lovely.... Trees and hills are taking dim shape as the sky lightens. The stars are fading...  Mount Kenya to our left. Borana hills visible in front... Sunrise... Two giraffe to our left...  Hyena calling. That is what was out there... Southern Cross, Scorpius and the Big Dipper are up. Eastern sky is starting to lighten... Jackal family with five pups. Hadedas and turtle doves greeting the dawn... Plains zebra on the right and grants gazelle to the left... Flock of 34 sacred ibis flying past... Yellow necked spurfowl in the road... Black bellied bustard just flew passed the front of the vehicle... More giraffe... Now entering mixed savanna. Acacia seyal and Acacia drepanalobium... Kori bustard male up ahead. Eland in the background...  At the Borana gate. We are waiting for the gate guard... Oh here he comes... 




We are on Borana. Riverine trees along the stream... A giraffe on the left, four on the right and another five on the left side... Long climb up the zigzag road... Another giraffe... Giraffe silhouetted on hill... Low range, second gear... The valley drops away behind us... Six buffalos on the left, two on the right. Waterbuck crossed the road... We are rushing to meet the guy who monitors the lions... The lion man is out with guests. We are on a hill overlooking the area. Trying to see them. Waiting for him to come out... Can hear the lion in the valley below. Elephant on the opposite hill... We have now found the lion man. Very steep downhill... Have wound our way up another valley through thick trees. Huge tree euphorbias and magic guarri trees. Stopped to use the telemetry... Still no lions... After a lot of back and forth getting telemetry signals from all angles, we have found a large male lion peacefully dozing under a bush amongst the trees... He is looking up now. A battle scared visage stares out across the lugga (valley)... We have left the lion. On the way to return the lion man we have a bull elephant on the right in a lugga browsing on the trees... Early lunch near the windmill. Elephant herd just below us... Snow covered flanks of Mount Kenya visible up the valley... Our lunch break was cut short by a herd of elephant coming to drink... We are all in the car. We and the elephants are waiting. They can smell us. They are suspicious but thirsty. If we behave they will come drink... Cool. We have retreated to give them a chance. They are moving in now... Reposition to see the water from a nearby slope... Fantastic view. Elephants at the tank. Fever tree behind and then Mount Kenya behind that... Moved off now. Going into the forest. Elephant and buffalo... We are following an old road round the mountain and then down the escarpment. We can see out over Lewa in the distance and Isiolo even further. The Matthews range of to the North... We are now down the escarpment. A drop of about 300m. Bad road. Tiring driving... Giraffe everywhere... Stopped at a nice exposure of metamorphic rock... Driving alongside the Ngare Ndare river. 3 elephant and greater kudu... Back on Lewa. Stopped at big dam. Swap drivers. Rhino at water. Pelican floating around... Grevy’s zebra, looking red because of dust bathing. Beisa oryx and warthog... Another reticulated giraffe. Grants gazelle and a kori bustard... Passing the jackal den. Only one visible this time... Rain clouds looming out of the east. We are all looking forward to a hot shower prepared by Richard, the camp man... Oryx and Grevy’s zebra... Two more rhino. Camp is in sight... Sorry it is three rhino... Lone buffalo bull out on the plains... Herd of about 40 Grevy’s zebra crossing the road ahead of us... All out to fill two aardvark holes in the road... Small herd of elephant at the swamp... Long crested eagle perched on a tree... Large breeding herd of impala... We have just driven into camp. An eleven hour epic game drive... End of the adventure.

“MEET YOU IN THE BUSH”
For two decades now EcoTraining has been training field guides, starting way back in 1993 with the first batch of eager students attending the inaugural course in the Sabi Sands reserve in Mpumalanga. Since then a great number has gone on to make their mark in the industry and are continuing to do great work all over the world. We want to hear from you, so send us your stories!
Like Raymond Khosa, the head guide (FGASA Level 2 and Trails Guide) at Berg-en-Dal rest camp in the Kruger National Park.
Raymond’s journey started 12 years ago, when in 2000 he was one of ten students sponsored by Africa Foundation to study tracking with EcoTraining. Under the guidance from instructors Johan Lombard, Anton Lategan, Khimbile Mnisi and the late Lucky Mavanga he started honing his skills and learning more about nature and its inhabitants.
And Raymond has certainly put this knowledge and skills he obtained to good use ever since. His resume is testament to this – Londolozi Private Game Reserve, the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, safari drives and bush walks for Execu Bush Safaris, and freelance work at Mbombela Safaris, Echo Africa Safaris, Elephant Herd Tours & Safaris and Akeru Private Camp.
Today Raymond credits EcoTraining with his sound base of knowledge.
“Having done tracking at EcoTraining has provided me with a valuable experience of knowing the behaviour of the dangerous animals. I am able to identify the signs of the wild and interpret its meaning. I can also identify the tracks and know the meaning of some bird calls like oxpeckers, honey guides and fork-tailed drongos. All of these skills of course are very important for a field guide. My time at EcoTraining was a once in a life time experience, and sometimes I wish I can go back and do it all again.”

CONTACT INFORMATION
Go and like our official fan page on Facebook at EcoTraining – Ecotourism specials.
Also visit us on www.ecotraining.co.zaand if you have any questions or queries, send an email to enquiries@ecotraining.co.za.

(Thank you to everybody who contributed with photos and information!)

TRACKING COURSE: WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY?



What is that, who made it, when was it here, what happened? And if you didn’t see it, does it mean it wasn’t really here, there or wherever?

Get a glimpse into ancient skills taught by local African experts and in the process have an unbelievable adventure when you book your place on one of the upcoming tracking courses. EcoTraining has joined forces with Alex van den Heever and his team of traditional Shangaan trackers (The Tracker Academy) for a unique experience. It is fun. It is hands on. It is life changing!


Dates: 10-16 April (7 Days, Mashatu, Botswana); 10-23 April (14 Days, Mashatu, Botswana); 5-11 May (Selati).

Sent an email to enquiries@ecotraining.co.za to book your place.





But don’t just take our word for it. Read what Candice Wagener McGuire wrote about her experience on an EcoTraining tracking course. If that doesn’t whet your appetite…


"Let's talk about tracking! No, I don't mean the kind of tracking when your vehicle gets stolen. I mean the traditional art of tracking - the way the hunter tracks for his food and the way how many people still do today. 

A week with some of the best people in this field really teaches you a lot of things. Lessons you never thought you'd learn - tracking is an art that takes years to perfect. You glance down at the ground, a big circle has been made and you notice the disturbances and 'marks' in this circle.

Each day you'd wake up early in the morning, have tea and coffee and then you hit the road... The rest of the week plays out in the same way - heading out to a new destination, stopping and looking at tracks and then moving again. Then coming back to camp to refuel, vehicle and humans alike! Then a few minutes of relaxation with a lecture thrown in before lunch. The afternoon arrives all too quickly and we hit the tracks again. 

Everything starts to become clear as you start to realize what's what and how to identify a track. The week continues and evaluation day arrives and the camp is in a frenzy...

The fun and games come when the assessor makes his circle around the track. Everyone takes a look and give their answers...

Which brings me to the question, what is Tracker's Knee? It's getting up close and personal with the ground to see the tracks more clearly: if you don't have it, then you weren't really putting all the extra effort in!

The sun starts to set, the last letter of the last question is formed and it's over. Everyone is happy, because we've done our very first tracking exam! Everyone's smiling, the trainers are proud and you walk away feeling like you've done your best. 

The tracking course week is over, each day leaves us enriched with even more knowledge of the bush and tracking, great respect for our trainers and traditional trackers all around was earned. It was indeed an amazing experience to have gone through and shared. 

So go on, sign up for a course in tracking, take a look at what the bush has to offer and get Trackers Knee!"

(Thank you Candice for sharing!)


TAKING HANDS – CONSERVATION EDUCATION ACROSS THE GLOBE


A model for the Middle East. With some help from Africa. Taking conservation education across borders, a handful of different role players are adhering to the notion that in nature all is connected in some way, shape or form.

For the last three years EcoTraining, a leader in field guide training for 20 years in Africa, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan and Tetra Tech, a consultancy firm, have been working together to transform the conservation and guiding sectors in Jordan.

An opportunity like this, for conservation bodies and training facilities across the globe to strike up partnerships, recently resulted in the graduation of four young Jordanians after they successfully completed a yearlong professional field guide course at EcoTraining’s wilderness camps across South Africa.

From an extensive internet and social media campaign that attracted hundreds of applicants, Abdullah Abu’Ramman, Osama Alsomadi, Osama Alrabay’ah and Nadia Alalul were in the end the fortunate ones. With the knowledge acquired during the last year, armed with and fully certified under EcoTraining and South Africa’s guide qualification system (FGASA), these four are now task to go back to Jordan where they will practice as guides and trainers in their own right. In the process they will not only be transforming the guiding experience in Jordan, but also serve as the foundation for the next generation of highly qualified Jordanian nature guides.

(From left) Tall Osama, Short Osama, Abdullah, Nadia
The next phases of the program will involve the setting up of a training academy. This academy, currently being built in Aljoun about 80km outside of the Jordanian capital, will serve the urgent and vital need for building capacity in the whole of the Middle East to protect and manage its environmental resources in the face of ever increasing development pressure. Here expertise and skills would be developed at vocational level and a resource base for the region would be established.

Upon their graduation, Chris Johnson, the program director for new projects for RSCN and mentor to the foursome, said they feel strongly that nature be one of the drivers of economic opportunities not only in Jordan, but the whole of the Middle East.

“We’ve come to realize that the need for a project of this magnitude is far greater than we initially anticipated. The need for capacity building in Jordan and the whole region has snow-balled and we have just started on the path to grow this into something big and truly meaningful and longstanding.”

Ahmed Hassan, a director from Tetra Tech, said he knew EcoTraining would be the best fit for the project.

“I’ve known EcoTraining from previous visits to South Africa and realized that what we wanted to achieve in the long run, could not start on a better footing than using their method of training as a model. But hard work still remains, it is indeed only step one of a long journey.”

(From left) Short Osama, Tall Osama, Nadia, Anton Lategan, Ahmed Hassan, Chris Johnson, Abdullah

During their yearlong course, the two Osamas, Abdullah and Nadia wereexposed to the diverse ecological and geological terrains, landscapes, wildlife species and so much more in places like Makuleke, Karongwe and Selati where EcoTraining has its wilderness camps.  For the first six months, the company’s highly experienced instructors shared and imparted their wealth of knowledge on a variety of subjects – geology, astronomy, ecology, botany, taxonomy, animal behavior and conservation management, to name but a few. Then they got a taste of what life as a field guide really is like with their placement at a lodge.

Apart from being amazed at the amount of knowledge they accumulated in the time since taking those first tentative steps a year ago, Nadia said she is fully aware of the huge responsibility now resting on their shoulders, to transform and help shape the guiding industry in a different part of the world.

Nadia
“We have had the privilege of living in an environment that few people nowadays get to experience, living among wild animals in their natural environment, and being able to study and observe from only a short distance away.

All in all this has been an amazing adventure and I had the time of my life! Make no mistake, it has been grueling and the amount of information that I have absorbed has been enormous but I have learnt so much and everything has been interesting. I can recognize hundreds of bird calls, achieved a track-and-sign level 1, can tell the difference between a black and white rhino by looking at their dung, which way a leopard is moving and whether it’s a female or male by looking at its tracks in the dirt, and I know which tree can ease my pain and which one could kill me.

But most importantly, I have an appreciation and deep respect for all creatures like I have never had before. I wouldn’t have realized all this if it weren’t for those special people we have had the honor and great privilege to meet along the way. The dedication and knowledge of these highly experienced instructors in promoting conservation and helping to educate others on why our environment and everything in it is so important, has made a big impression.”

Tall Osama
‘Tall’ Osama said his dream to travel and explore the world came true when the RSCN awarded him one of the coveted spots in the yearlong professional field guide course with EcoTraining.

“I am not sure if it was normal for a little child of four years old to answer the classical question of what you do you want to be when you grow up with “Emperor” but this was my answer. I couldn’t even pronounce it right but since then, I learned to dream big. And now I am prepared to go back to Jordan and teach this art to others. In the end I would thank my beloved parents, brother and sisters, the RSCN, Chris Johnson and all the people that build up my story with pieces from here and then.”
Short Osama

Every single person that he met in the last year, has marked his life forever, is how ‘Short’ Osama reflected on his time with EcoTraining.

“And I have to also give thanks to every impala. From the very first one that we saw and didn’t even know what it was. We were just amazed by its beauty, taking pictures and posing with it. To the very last one that we took for granted and thought to ourselves it’s just another impala.”

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step, and Abdullah may have summed it up best when he said that their lives have now been changed forever, and for the better.

Abdullah

“It has been an amazing year spent with great people with an absolute love and passion for nature and all that happens out in the wild. I can honestly say that I never could have imagined an experience like this. I am now very much looking forward to the rest of the journey and sharing what I have learned.”

BUSH TELEGRAPH: Please don’t let your things lay around - Selati


There’s never a dull moment on any of EcoTraining’s courses or in any of our wilderness camps across Southern Africa and in Kenya. Margaux le Roux who are based with husband JP at Selati, explains exactly why:

“As the assistant instructor and the ‘mom’ of the camp, I often have to tell students to pick up their belongings and to not let their things lay around. I always use examples of snakes, scorpions and spiders who often crawl into people’s belongings, and who when provoked, might end up stinging or biting some unsuspecting soul. Now however, I have a new example to use in my repertoire of ‘Please don’t let your things lay around’…

After all the floods and excitement of moving tents due to rising floodwaters, we decided to give the students a well-deserved ‘off day’ to spend at leisure. Most of the group went to either Tzaneen or Hoedspruit for the day, but a handful remained in camp, and to treat them, I said we could go out on an afternoon game drive all by ourselves. What a treat we were in for!

The sun was setting rapidly, and as darkness descended the radio call came in: ‘There are lions in camp! They are close to Tent 13!’ We raced off back to camp after I instructed all the guys in camp to gather in the main lecture area or to stay in their tents. As we approached the camp, we decided to go and see exactly where the lions were, and how many there were so that we could make a judgement call as to what the next plan of action would be.

As we came around the corner, there they were; 3 of them, sprawled out in the middle of the pathway leading from the instructor’s tent to tent 13. It was a lioness and her sub-adult nephew and niece. They were quite relaxed before the young male got up and walked to tent 12. As he disappeared out of view we kept on looking at the older lioness who was very relaxed with in our company.

After a while we saw the youngster appear again: this time with a white object in his mouth. At first we could not see what exactly it was, but then the student that was sitting on the tracker seat exclaimed: ‘Hey! That’s my shoe!’ The youngster had walked all the way to the outside of his tent and had managed to pick up his Reebok Flip Flop. We could not help but laugh at the situation – especially at Christo, the owner of the shoe’s face. It was absolutely priceless!

The jokes started immediately with statements such as ‘Don’t get stroppy with me’ and ‘That youngster has a lot of sole’. He did not even seem guilty as he moved off towards the river to go and chew on his new found toy.

The lioness started to get restless and she started to move off before the two youngsters decided to follow her. We quickly rushed back to the rest of the students to fetch them so that they could also see the cats before they disappeared into darkness.

It was only 2 days later that we managed to find the shoe – half eaten and smelling really rotten. My moral of the story of course is ‘Please don’t let your things lay around. We have lions with a fondness of chewing people’s shoes!’”

(Thanks for sharing the story and the picture!)

FIELD NOTES: MARCH 2013



"Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.” (John Lubbock)  

The call of the wild has never been stronger and there is no better time than the present… Therefore, don’t delay; there is plenty of exciting times waiting just around the corner when you attend an EcoTraining course at any of our wilderness camps across Southern Africa and in Kenya. All you need to do is visit www.ecotraining.co.zaor send an email to enquiries@ecotraining.co.zato join in the action! To peak your interest and whet the appetite, read and take a look what happened in the last month…

TAKING NOTE
With the Wilderness Trails Skills course EcoTraining wants to give back to the industry and conservation, introduce guides to one another and share what they have.
The 5 nights/6 days course will be spend exploring one of South Africa last true wilderness areas on foot. The Makuleke is a 24 000 hectare concession of pristine wilderness inside the Kruger National Park.
Bruce Lawson, one of South Africa’s premier wilderness guides and one of only a hand full of guides who have passed the SKS DG and Birding qualifications, will be tutoring each course. Lessons you will be taught will not be found in any books, but will rather be hands on learning.
Maybe an encounter like this one on a previous Wilderness Trails Skills course explains it even better. In Bruce’s own words:
“While we were all down preparing lunch a large bull elephant also decided he wanted to spend time in the forest.  We all sat quietly while he approached having a massive scratch on a tree 20m from where Brett was standing.  He continued to approach unaware of us and in his own world. Brett raised his right hand when the bull got to 10m in an attempt to make him aware of us which it did.  He stopped, looking surprised, rocked back onto his back feet, looked down at Brett turned slowly and sauntered off in a different direction.  What an amazing experience!”
Dates: 23-28 April, 23-28 May, 21-26 June, 20-25 July, 19-24 August, 17-22 September
For more information/bookings for the Wilderness Trails course, visit www.ecotraining.co.za or send an email to enquiries@ecotraining.co.za.

WHAT’S COMING UP
There’s still some spaces left on the courses below in the next couple of months. Experience things and gather knowledge that will blow you away. From a handful of days to one year, the choices are endless!
28 March-10 April: 14 Day EcoQuest – Mashatu
5 April-29 May: 55 Day FGASA Level One – Selati (5 April-5 May), Pongola (5-29 May)
10-16 April: Seven Day Tracking – Mashatu  
10-23 April: 14 Day Tracking – Mashatu

LATEST NEWS
Office: The dedicated team at head office in Nelspruit is ready to answer all your questions and queries. Don’t hesitate to contact them!

Camps: Every minute on one of our courses in our wilderness camps in South Africa, Botswana and Kenya is a learning experience, being constantly exposed to the bush. See what transpired at the end of 2012, it sure is a good indication of what can and probably will transpire in the months to follow…

Selati: The bush and its inhabitants never cease to amaze, surprise and excite. And no two days are ever the same!

Just ask the group of professional field guide students that started their yearlong adventure at our wilderness camp in the Selati Game Reserve at the beginning of 2013. Nicki Steenberg, one of these students, explains:
“So many things happened in those first couple of weeks, even the first days were just amazing and such a lot occurred, where do I start???
We had another black mamba incident, a student was stung by a scorpion and Will got spat in the face by a Mozambican spitting cobra while he was doing push ups in his tent. The cobra was hiding in his messy tent and got a fright and attacked. Luckily it wasn’t fatal but he went to the doctor just in case. Will recovered really fast and was back in shape in no time. The next day he even gave us all a massive scare by screaming “Leopard in the tree!” Just to find a huge baboon jumping up and down the branches. Maybe the cobra did affect his eye…
I thought I had just seen about everything in those first couple of weeks.  Boy was I wrong! The Selati River has been dry since the floods last year and hadn’t see water in a while. Then we had rain for two days straight, nothing serious, more like a light drizzle. We were still jogging up and down the river bed getting some exercise. I went in to take a shower and ten minutes later walked out to hear water running in the back ground. I did not know what was going on. I walked to the river bed to see water flowing down in a gush! Some students were standing on the rocks, just watching in awe! This was by far the most amazing natural phenomenon I ever witnessed! I could not believe it. We were all excited.
The next day we got flood warnings and were told we need to rotate in the middle of the night to keep watch on the water levels as most of our tents were very close to the river bed. It was exciting at first until everything was wet:  our clothes, our shoes, our beds. We had to eventually get ready for evacuation so we all packed our things and took it higher up. After standing guard for three nights, checking the water levels, the river started going down and there was no need to evacuate.
I’ve had the time of my life so far! I have met some amazing people, saw some spectacular things and learned the importance of keeping your tent neat and tidy! This is only the beginning and I cannot wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for me!”

Makuleke (Kruger National Park): When she first set foot on African soil way back in 1997, Salka B Eynon just felt it in her heart and has since returned many times to this magical continent that kept pulling at the strings. And then, to mark a very special birthday, Salka’s daughters gave her the best gift in the world – spending a month in the bush learning about the environment and getting to walk amongst all things wild and wonderful! The setting – EcoTraining’s wilderness camp in the Makuleke concession in the far north of the Kruger National Park.
She shares her memories:
“I must say I was weary about sharing a tent with a stranger and also about the mixture of people I was about to meet. And it all turned out so well – much due to the organization and the way the whole setup was done. And that is a challenge – to address people who have lived more than half their lives as well as the ones that hardly started.
“Ok, now for some special memories…
“The feeling of tranquility just walking in silence when the world is awakening around you – the special feeling of being cared for in terms of security, so that you can focus on the small things around you. The special feeling when the group was divided into two when we were walking closer to the two leopards on foot. The guides’ situational awareness and care for every angle.
“A picture that I am so sad I didn’t capture with my camera is when we came really close to a heard of buffaloes. Our guide was just in front, quietly in the grass, the sun from behind shining on the dust – so beautiful. Writing this I realize the picture is very alive inside of me – even without the camera.
“One morning we took our break in the Limpopo riverbed. The good thing about spending a month together is that there is time for our different personalities to mix. In Sweden we make angels in the snow. I loved doing it in the sand, the moment after we saw some warthogs crossing from one country to another, with the little ones beside. It’s easy to feel privileged.
“So many times I had to pinch myself for believing I was there. Instead of sitting in my office or going to meetings dressed in a suit, I was sitting on top of a game viewing vehicle with the wind blowing through my hair looking for big cats (the spotted ones…).
“I loved every minute of my experience at the Makuleke – the birds, the animals, the grass, the sun, the stars, the moon, the windy nights, the rhythm, the campfire, the morning coffee, the walks, the drives, the interaction… Simply everything!”

Mashatu (Botswana): Ever wonders what happens when no one is watching, especially in nature? Here's your chance... We have various camera traps in and around our wilderness camp at Mashatu in Botswana, to capture those moments when human attention is occupied elsewhere... Go on, have a look and feast your eyes!




Lewa (Kenya): There are certainly places in nature where you just know, with every fibre of your being, if you go there, you will never be disappointed… The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya is such a place, and once again this wilderness is delivering!
Instructor Mark Gunn is currently there, conducting an EcoTraining 28 Day Kenya Safari Guide course, with participants from Switzerland, Germany, America, South Africa and Kenya. Reports of Big Five sightings have been coming through thick and fast. Just take a look at this blow-by-blow account of a morning walk!


07:07: I can see lion, buffalo and elephants from my position.
07:46: Now we have two white rhinos but have lost the lion. We are walking to the ridge to try and spot them.
07:55: We have reached the ridge. Still looking for the lion but we have sight of three herds of elephants. There are a couple of lone bulls. Two groups of rhinos, a herd of buffalo and a solitary bull elephant from earlier. Giraffe herds on three sides and a lot of zebra all around. Also have walked past a group of Grants gazelles. Just found the lion tracks, we are following.
08:32: Right now we have an elephant in front at 40m and two black rhinos to the right at 80m.
08:45: We’re still with the elie but three white rhinos have also walked into view.
08:56: Now we are headed towards a herd of buffalo, more elephants and four white rhinos.
Earlier in the course, this is what the group experienced:
11 February: Two elephant encounters as well as rhino on the first walk.
12 February: Lion, elephant, rhino and buffalo on the same walk. Spent a long time with the male and female lion.
13 February: Encountered elephants and buffalos in the morning. Afternoon walk – black rhino, buffalo, lion and white rhino.
14 Feb: Lion in the morning. Elephants, white and black rhino in the afternoon.  The days are warm and the nights are cold.
15 February: There were lions inside the camp fence early this morning. We also saw Elvis the black rhino at very close range on the walk.
16 February: Very good white rhino encounter, seven of them. Then elephants. Very good birding. Grevy zebra close up.

The life of a field guide through the eyes of four Jordanian students: Naturalist John Muir said “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
For the last two years EcoTraining, a leader in field guide training for 20 years, and Tetra Tech, an American consultancy firm for the Jordan government and NGO in charge of the national parks in Jordan, has been working together to transform the conservation and guiding sectors in Jordan. The result being four promising Jordanians sent to South Africa to complete the one year professional field guide course presented at EcoTraining’s wilderness camps across Southern Africa.  

And in the last 12 months Abdullah Abu’Ramman, Osama Alsomadi, Osama Alrabay’ah and Nadia Alalul were exposed to the diverse ecological and geological terrains, landscapes, wildlife species and so much more in places like Makuleke, Karongwe, Selati (South Africa) and Mashatu (Botswana). For the first six months, instructors shared and imparted their wealth of knowledge on a variety of subjects – geology, astronomy, ecology, botany, taxonomy, animal behavior and conservation management, to name but a few. Then they got a taste of what life as a field guide really is like with their placement at a lodge.
That part of the journey has just ended, culminating in their graduation with honors.  And now it is continuing with the foursome, armored with the appropriate knowledge and fully certified under EcoTraining and South Africa’s acclaimed guide qualification system (FGASA), returning to Jordan where they will practice as guides and trainers in their own right, transforming the guiding experience in Jordan and serving as the foundation for the next generation of highly qualified Jordanian nature guides. The next phases of the program will involve additional training in Jordan and setting up a training academy in that country.
Apart from being amazed at the amount of knowledge they accumulated in the time since taking those first tentative steps a year ago, Nadia Alalul says she is fully aware of the huge responsibility now resting on their shoulders, to transform and help shape the guiding industry in a different part of the world.
Yes, what they are going to try and accomplish, is a serious affair, but Nadia says despite the importance of it all, it was the adventure of a lifetime. Upon graduation, Nadia reminisces and shares some of her fondest memories.
“We have had the privilege of living in an environment that few people nowadays get to experience, living among wild animals in their natural environment, and being able to study and observe from only a short distance away.
I won’t easily forget working late one night on a raised platform in one of the wilderness camps. I didn’t realize that everyone had gone to their tents. Usually most of the students will be in bed no later than 11pm because of the cold and to avoid any run-ins with wild animals at night. I realized at around 12:30am that there was no one else around and decided it was getting too cold to finish my work. I picked up my headlamp and from the top of this platform looked around and saw three pairs of glowing eyes reflecting light right back at me. There were three spotted hyenas (probably the ones who had ripped my slippers to shreds a few nights earlier!) just below me and I soon realized there was no way I was walking back to my tent alone.
So I pitched up on this platform and tried to fall asleep, which was impossible! First of all it was too cold and I had no blanket or warm clothes on and what I did have on was covered in condensation. Secondly I was too worried about having my face bitten off while I was sleeping! At around 2am the cold got the better of me and I thought I would rather face hyenas then the cold. I walked back to my tent watching their glowing eyes staring at me but honestly at this point I didn’t care about these hyenas in the slightest! It is amazing what our priorities are when faced with difficult choices…
All in all this has been an amazing adventure and I had the time of my life! Make no mistake, it has been grueling and the amount of information that I have absorbed has been enormous but I have learnt so much and everything has been interesting. I can recognize hundreds of bird calls, achieved a track-and-sign level 1, can tell the difference between a black and white rhino by looking at their dung, which way a leopard is moving and whether it’s a female or male by looking at its tracks in the dirt, and I know which tree can ease my pain and which one could kill me.
But most importantly, I have an appreciation and deep respect for all creatures like I have never had before. I wouldn’t have realized all this if it weren’t for those special people we have had the honor and great privilege to meet along the way. The dedication and knowledge of these highly experienced instructors in promoting conservation and helping to educate others on why our environment and everything in it is so important, has made a big impression.”

“MEET YOU IN THE BUSH”
For two decades now EcoTraining has been training field guides, starting way back in 1993 with the first batch of eager students attending the inaugural course in the Sabi Sands reserve in Mpumalanga. Since then a great number has gone on to make their mark in the industry and are continuing to do great work all over the world. We want to hear from you, so send us your stories!

CONTACT INFORMATION
Go and like our official fan page on Facebook at EcoTraining – Ecotourism specials.
Also visit us on www.ecotraining.co.zaand if you have any questions or queries, send an email to enquiries@ecotraining.co.za.

(Thank you to everybody who contributed with photos and information!)

LAST CHANCE TO ENTER TRACKING COMPETITION – CLOSING DATE 28 FEBRUARY!


What is that, who made it, when was it here, what happened? And if you didn’t see it, does it mean it wasn’t really here, there or wherever? The questions are endless, but the answers are there as well…

To unravel the mysteries of nature even further, enter the EcoTraining tracking competition simply by liking our official page on Facebook – EcoTraining – Ecotourism specials or send a tracking related query to enquiries@ecotraining.co.za. You have one week left, so hurry, the closing date is 28 February!

If you are the lucky one, you will get the chance to learn the traditional art of tracking at the hands of authentic Shangaan tracker instructors. You will also get a glimpse into ancient skills taught by these local African experts.

You will be provided with an in-depth animal tracks and tracking course where it will be all about understanding and learning to interpret so much more about the bush and wildlife as you search for, tracks and find game.

The course outline is simple: the bush is the lecture room; the available tracks and sign, trails, and animals are what we work with.  And then the questions, much in the vein of “Right, in the circle, who made that, with which foot, male or female, and how long ago did that animal walk here?”

Again, you have one week left – go for it! For more information, go to www.ecotraining.co.za, send an email to enquiries@ecotraining.co.za or like us on Facebook at EcoTraining - Ecotourism specials.


BUSH TELEGRAPH: LEWA IS DELIVERING ONCE AGAIN! (UPDATE FROM KENYA)


There are certainly places in nature where you just know, with every fibre of your being, if you go there, you will never be disappointed… The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya is such a place, and once again this wilderness is delivering!

Instructor Mark Gunn is currently there, conducting an EcoTraining 28 Day Kenya Safari Guide course, with participants from Switzerland, Germany, America, South Africa and Kenya. He sent through this excited update of this morning’s fabulous walk. A blow-by-blow account!


07:07: I can see lion, buffalo and elephants from my position.

07:46: Now we have two white rhinos but have lost the lion. We are walking to the ridge to try and spot them.

07:55: We have reached the ridge. Still looking for the lion but we have sight of three herds of elephants. There are a couple of lone bulls. Two groups of rhinos, a herd of buffalo and a solitary bull elephant from earlier. Giraffe herds on three sides and a lot of zebra all around. Also have walked past a group of Grants gazelles. Just found the lion tracks, we are following.

08:32: Right now we have an elephant in front at 40 m and two black rhinos to the right at 80 m.

08:45: We’re still with the elie but three white rhinos have also walked into view.

08:56: Now we are headed towards a herd of buffalo, more elephants and four white rhinos.

In the preceding days, since the course started on 10 February, this is what the group experienced:

11 February: Two elephant encounters as well as rhino on the first walk.
12 February: Lion, elephant, rhino and buffalo on the same walk. Spent a long time with the male and female lion.
13 February: Encountered elephants and buffaloes in the morning. Afternoon walk – black rhino, buffalo, lion and white rhino.
14 Feb: Lion in the morning. Elephants, white and black rhino in the afternoon.  The days are warm and the nights are cold.
15 February: There were lions inside the camp fence early this morning. We also saw Elvis the black rhino at very close range on the walk.
16 February: Very good white rhino encounter, seven of them. Then elephants. Very good birding. Grevy zebra close up. 

(Thank you Mark for the update!)

THE LIFE OF A FIELD GUIDE: GIVING BACK AND INSPIRING – WILDERNESS TRAILS SKILLS COURSE

http://www.safarious.com/en/posts/5462-the-life-of-a-field-guide-giving-back-and-inspiring-wilderness-trails-skills-course

FIELD NOTES: FEBRUARY 2013



“Nature is a mutable cloud which is always and never the same” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The first month of 2013 is already done and dusted, wow, how time flies when you are having fun! And there is plenty of exciting times waiting just around the corner when you attend an EcoTraining course at any of our wilderness camps across Southern Africa and in Kenya. All you need to do is visit www.ecotraining.co.za or send an email to enquries@ecotraining.co.zato join in the action! To peak your interest and whet the appetite, read and take a look what happened in the last month…


COMPETITION TIME

Do you want the chance to learn the traditional art of tracking at the hands of authentic Shangaan tracker instructors? Do you want to get a glimpse into ancient skills taught by local African experts? EcoTraining aims to restore this indigenous knowledge by engaging with some of the last true indigenous experts. Now you stand a chance of winning a spot on a tracking course of this nature! All you have to do, is like EcoTraining – Ecotourism specials on Facebook or send a query related to the course via our website at www.ecotraining.co.za. The closing date of the competition is 28 February 2013. 


WHAT’S COMING UP
There’s still some spaces left on the courses below in the next couple of months. Experience things and gather knowledge that will blow you away. From a handful of days to one year, the choices are endless!

1 March-28 March: Trails Guide – Mashatu
6–12 March: Seven Day Wildlife Photography – Karongwe
16-22 March: Seven Day EcoQuest – Makuleke
28 March-10 April: 14 Day EcoQuest – Mashatu
5 April-29 May: 55 Day FGASA Level One – Selati (5 April-5 May), Pongola (5-29 May)
10-16 April: Seven Day Tracking – Mashatu  
10-23 April: 14 Day Tracking – Mashatu

LATEST NEWS
Office: The dedicated team at head office in Nelspruit is ready to answer all your questions and queries. Don’t hesitate to contact them!

Camps: Every minute on one of our courses in our wilderness camps in South Africa, Botswana and Kenya is a learning experience, being constantly exposed to the bush. See what transpired at the end of 2012, it sure is a good indication of what can and probably will transpire in the months to follow…

Selati and Karongwe: Almost exactly a year since the big floods ripped through the greater Hoedspruit area, where we have wilderness camps in the Karongwe and Selati Game Reserves (18/19 January 2012), the heavens opened up again! And even though the students at the different camps, including at Makuleke in the Kruger National Park, and Mashatu in Botswana were wet to the bone, every single one remained safe and sound. It was yet again another example of the power of nature and all watched in amazement for a moment, before the adventure of learning more about all things wild and wonderful continued!



Selati: JP and Margaux le Roux are the respective head and assistant instructors at our wilderness camp here in the Selati Game Reserve. And something exciting is bound to happen where this dynamic duo is involved. Their students are indeed very privileged, sometimes even extremely lucky…
Margaux shares:
“… JP got a phone call from the assistant reserve warden of Selati. A neighbouring game farmer had caught a Southern African python. The snake had managed to crawl through a game fence where the farmer had several baby nyalas and a grey duiker in an enclosure. The snake had managed to catch the duiker and consume it, but it was not able to crawl through the small hole it had entered in the first place.
Unfortunately the snake got a big fright when the farmer and his workers approached it, and as is often the case, it regurgitated the meal up in order to escape. Fortunately for it, instead of killing the creature, the farmer caught the snake (and its slimy meal) and brought it to Selati where it would be released onto the property.
This is where we became involved. We were given the task to release the python onto the reserve. As the farmer had placed it in a big bag, we could not fully comprehend the size of the animal (other than gauging that it had to be large on account of the fully grown duiker male that it had killed).




We gathered all the students around, and found a suitable place to open the bag. At first nothing happened, and with a little bit of coaxing, the snake emerged out of the bag. Initially it was uncoiling itself, and then suddenly, it lunged forward at us, with mouth agape. It always amazes me how quickly these creatures can strike. Off course we gave it enough space, and we all just watched as the at least four meter beast started to move off. “

Makuleke (Kruger National Park): Fact is, when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. It doesn’t matter where you are. But when it’s out and about where wild animals roam, it can get a bit tricky.
As Judith van Heumen, a participant on a 28 Day Safari Guide course at our camp in the Makuleke concession in the far north of the Kruger National Park, explains. When nature calls, it calls.
“… I’ll tell you about my first day at Makuleke.
When we first arrived at camp, we got to know each other… Then we were ushered onto the vehicles for our first game drive, excitement abounded!

At our stop, Mark (Gunn, instructor) got of the vehicle, looked around and then pointed out some bushes and said ‘Ladies on the right, guys on the left.’ (I don’t need to explain this, do I?)
It was my first time answering ‘nature’s call’ in nature, if you know what I mean… I disappeared behind the bush and started to answer that call. One small problem though – when I looked down I saw a long slender body not very far away, yes, it was a snake!
I did exactly what we were told upon arrival in camp what we needed to do when we encountered one – don’t try and handle it, just shout ‘snake!’ And just as I yelled out very loud, the snake disappeared.
Mark started asking all the questions – what, how long, and so on. In the end we identified it as a puff adder.
So yes, on my first day at Makuleke I almost got very well acquainted with a snake while in a very compromising position. Needless to say, I didn’t have a camera with me. But from that day onwards, for the rest of the course, it was always around my neck!”

Mashatu (Botswana): There is so much to say about the Land of the Giants. But you kind of have to go there to get 'it'. EcoTraining is indeed very privileged to have a wilderness camp in this special corner of the Tuli blok in Northern Botswana. And since opening, Mashatu has attracted its fair share of attention, becoming a firm favorite with students from across the globe.
Like Heleen Roebeling from the Netherlands that spent a couple of weeks at Mashatu during a trails guide course. She shares some memories and photos.



"Staying at Mashatu, what a great experience it was indeed! And because of - the surroundings, the views, colours, emptiness, space! Approaching the animals on foot, feeling so close to these wonderful creatures, without disturbing them... And last but not least, instructors Brian Rode and Chantelle Venter, two wonderful, special and hardworking people. And, to me so important to see, two people with a real love for the environment, still touched by the beauty of nature. You two succeeded to share this with me, thank you so much! Mashatu will forever be very special and important to me."

The life of a field guide through the eyes of Ruth Welti: The saying goes, for a great variety of things in life, that you are only as good as your last … (you can fill in the dots). And when one decides to come on an EcoTraining course, you’d better believe that each day is going to be better than the previous.
There are however certain days that will stand out for individuals. Ruth describes one of those days, while on a 28 Day Safari Guide course at our wilderness camp in the Makuleke concession in the far north of the Kruger National Park. 
“… We arrived at Crook’s Corner, the spot where the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique meet, and we just soaked in another beautiful spot in the concession. The Limpopo River didn’t have a lot of water, if we wanted to, we could have walked over to Zimbabwe or Mozambique.
We sat down for a couple of minutes, then decided to have a drink.
I can’t remember who saw or heard the elephant first. But then someone said ‘There is an elephant coming.’
Mark Gunn (instructor) and Ian Kruger (assistant) got up to have a look. And the elephant was literally just around the corner! They quickly moved the vehicles closer to us, just to make sure that the elephant didn’t come between us and our escape.



All of us were standing next to the vehicles and just snapping away, as this big bull elephant walked past…
He decided to walk through the bush, for a couple of minutes we could just hear the movement, without seeing him. It amazed me once again how quickly this big, grey animal just vanishes, incredible! 
Then the elephant came down to the spot where we were just sitting a couple of minutes ago. So beautiful to look at! He probably felt so safe, he wasn’t in a hurry, had a snack from time to time, and then proceeded to walk slowly across the Limpopo in the sunset. Stunning!”

“MEET YOU IN THE BUSH”
For two decades now EcoTraining has been training field guides, starting way back in 1993 with the first batch of eager students attending the inaugural course in the Sabi Sands reserve in Mpumalanga. Since then a great number has gone on to make their mark in the industry and are continuing to do great work all over the world. We want to hear from you, so send us your stories!

CONTACT INFORMATION
Go and like our official fan page on Facebook at EcoTraining – Ecotourism specials.
Also visit us on www.ecotraining.co.zaand if you have any questions or queries, send an email to enquiries@ecotraining.co.za.

(Thank you to everybody who contributed with photos and information!)

CAMP DISPATCH: DIGGING IN THE DIRT – SELATI




Our wilderness camp in the Selati Game Reserve is home to a wide range of animals – from the Big Five to special species like sable and eland, to the smaller critters that play just as an important role in nature’s cycles.

Like dung beetles. And now all kinds of very interesting information is emerging about these busy bodies. The BBC recently published the following fascinating story on their website (24 January 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21150721). The accompanying pictures are of dung beetles doing their thing on a heap of rhino dung, in Selati!

DUNG BEETLES GUIDED BY MILKY WAY

They may be down in the dirt but it seems dung beetles also have their eyes on the stars.
Scientists have shown how the insects will use the Milky Way to orientate themselves as they roll their balls of muck along the ground.




Humans, birds and seals are all known to navigate by the stars. But this could be the first example of an insect doing so.

The study by Marie Dacke is reported in the journal Current Biology.
"The dung beetles are not necessarily rolling with the Milky Way or 90 degrees to it; they can go at any angle to this band of light in the sky. They use it as a reference," the Lund University, Sweden, researcher told BBC News.

Dung beetles like to run in straight lines. When they find a pile of droppings, they shape a small ball and start pushing it away to a safe distance where they can eat it, usually underground.




Getting a good bearing is important because unless the insect rolls a direct course, it risks turning back towards the dung pile where another beetle will almost certainly try to steal its prized ball.
Dr Dacke had previously shown that dung beetles were able to keep a straight line by taking cues from the Sun, the Moon, and even the pattern of polarised light formed around these light sources.

But it was the animals' capacity to maintain course even on clear Moonless nights that intrigued the researcher.

So the native South African took the insects (Scarabaeus satyrus) into the Johannesburg planetarium where she could control the type of star fields a beetle might see overhead.

Importantly, she put the beetles in a container with blackened walls to be sure the animals were not using information from landmarks on the horizon, which in the wild might be trees, for example.

The beetles performed best when confronted with a perfect starry sky projected on to the planetarium dome, but coped just as well when shown only the diffuse bar of light that is the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy.




Dr Dacke thinks it is the bar more than the points of light that is important.
"These beetles have compound eyes," she told the BBC. "It's known that crabs, which also have compound eyes, can see a few of the brightest stars in the sky. Maybe the beetles can do this as well, but we don't know that yet; it's something we're looking at. However, when we show them just the bright stars in the sky, they get lost. So it's not them that the beetles are using to orientate themselves."

And indeed, in the field, Dr Dacke has seen beetles run in to trouble when the Milky Way briefly lies flat on the horizon at particular times of the year.

The question is how many other animals might use similar night-time navigation.

It has been suggested some frogs and even spiders are using stars for orientation. The Lund researcher is sure there will be many more creatures out there doing it; scientists just need to go look.

"I think night-flying moths and night-flying locusts could benefit from using a star compass similar to the one that the dung beetles are using," she said.

But for the time being, Dr Dacke is concentrating on the dung beetle. She is investigating the strange dance the creature does on top of its ball of muck. The hypothesis is that this behaviour marks the moment the beetle takes its bearings.