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, The accompanying pictures are of dung beetles doing their thing on a heap of rhino dung, in Selati!


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.


EcoTraining has partnered with renowned tracking specialist Alex van den Heever to provide an in-depth animal tracks and tracking course at any of our wilderness camps in Southern Africa. EcoTraining seeks to contribute to the restoration of indigenous knowledge, by involving deeply experienced local Shangaan trackers to co-facilitate the tracker training courses. The standard of this course can only be one of excellence as Alex is one of the most highly qualified trackers in South Africa. This sets EcoTraining's courses apart from most other of this nature.

The course outline is simple: the bush is the lecture room, the available tracks and signs, trails and animals are what we work with. We alter between track and sign interpretation and following and trailing sessions. Techniques long forgotten are introduced to the learners in a practical manner. 

It is fun. It is hands on. It is life changing!

Stand a chance to win a place on one of EcoTraining's famous tracking courses. All you have to do to enter, is simply inquire about the Animals Track and Tracking course or like our official Facebook fan page at EcoTraining - Ecotourism specials. The competition closes on 28 February 2013. So come one, what are you waiting for! 


The vast open plains of East Africa have an allure all of their own... For as far as the eye can see there are open grasslands, dotted with wooden giants reaching for the skies and in the distance a mountain rising from the valley floor. Participants on an EcoTraining 28 day Safari Guide course in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya will get to view just this.

The next one starts on 10 February (until 9 March) and there is still some places left. Visit or send an email to to make sure you join in this remarkable experience!

A better camp and classroom setting one could hardly asked for – surrounded by fever trees on the edge of the swamp area, impalas and Grevy’s zebras make their way to greener pastures in the early morning, buffalo and rhino saunter past in the late afternoon, and as the sun is setting, the unmistakable call of a male lion. Priceless!
Lewa wildlife

Lewa wildlife

Lewa wildlife

Lewa wildlife

Lewa wildlife

Lewa wildlife
And with encounters like these experienced on the last course there, Lewa is certainly adhering to the notion that Africa just has its way with people, something that can’t be explained unless experienced, the ‘TIA’-feeling (This Is Africa):  “Had six elephant encounters, one rhino encounter (with three rhinos), and one lion encounter, all on their first afternoon game walk!”; “Two rhino encounters, also saw two sets of elephants and buffalo in the distance”; “Three elephant sightings with buffalo and rhinos in the distance and good birds along the swamp”; “29 reticulated giraffe together”. And so the lists just grow and grow, with sightings galore of mammals and birds all kinds of other big and small creatures!

With over 70 mammal species, including the endangered black rhino en Grevy’s Zebra, and more than 350 bird species, as well as glimpses of Mount Kenya, it is indeed the perfect setting for acquiring knowledge.

Lewa wildlife

Lewa wildlife

Lewa wildlife

Lewa wildlife

Lewa wildlife

Lewa wildlife
 The Safaricom campsite is the base of EcoTraining’s operations in Lewa and it is here that the students wake up every morning.  Returning to camp just as the sun is setting every day, with the lanterns lit and a scrumptious meal waiting, it really feels like home.  In between the early starts and the afternoon activities, the days are filled with lectures on a wide range of subjects, including ecology, geology, astronomy, mammals, reptiles, animal behavior to tracks and tracking.

Safaricom campsite

Safaricom campsite

Safaricom campsite

It is EcoTraining’s aim to give those, which are attracted by the lure of these wild and wonderful places, an experience to learn about the environment in an exciting way. We want to put the bush back into Africa for all those that are searching for the most authentic wildlife training and safari experiences. The combination of the lectures and the method of teaching, reinforced by practical experience out in the field and all under the watchful eye of our experienced instructors, make for an unforgettable experience with memories to last a life time.

Mount Kenya

Visit for more or send an email to


If one looks at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 at our wilderness camp in the Karongwe Reserve, the next 12 months is going to be hot!

Instructor Dale Geldenhuys managed to send through these pictures when the students on a 55 day FGASA Level One course encountered this cheetah, ON FOOT, feeding on a baby impala.  

And then Dale Hes, describes their group’s adventure at the end of last year when they attended a birding course, also at Karongwe.

“The birding course at Karongwe provided plenty of excellent sightings, both feathered and furry.
Getting within ten metres of two fully grown wild cheetahs on foot is an experience that not many people will ever get to encounter. But this is exactly what eight awestruck participants of a birding course at Karongwe were privileged enough to witness.

The students, all city slickers from Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Germany, departed from the camp just a few hours after their arrival and never expected their first game drive to yield the treasures that it did.

After spotting the usual suspects (giraffe, zebra, impala, wildebeest and kudu) the crackling radio of the game viewer relayed news to instructor Johann Jurgens that two cheetahs had been spotted close by. After arriving at the location where they were last seen, the students all climbed off the vehicle to search for the magnificent cats on foot.

The cheetahs were found resting under a tree and for the next ten minutes the lucky students watched as the cats groomed each other and rolled around on the ground, completely relaxed in the presence of humans.
Everyone departed from the sighting smiling from ear to ear and after ten minutes of driving stumbled across a small pride of lions, doing what lions do for up to 20 hours a day: sleeping.

After arriving back at camp and excitedly reliving the first drive over dinner, the satisfied group headed for their tents, falling asleep to the grunting of a hippo in the river and the haunting cries of a hyena close to camp.

The next morning’s drive yielded a great sighting of the rare African wildcat as well as elephant, but, being a birding course, the main emphasis was on avian species. The birding proved to be a steep learning curve for the students, most of whom had spent little time in the bush and even less time focusing on birds.
Johann’s knowledge proved to be indispensable as he identified a number of birds, pointing out their distinguishing characteristics and calls. Over 60 species were notched up for the day, including the beautiful white fronted bee eater, the duet-singing black-collared barbet and the lovely emerald spotted wood dove.

Mid-morning lectures conducted by Johan highlighted many interesting facts about our feathered friends, with the students absorbing as much knowledge as possible in preparation for the theoretical and practical assessments which would take place at the end of the course.

Slowly the students picked up the nuances of birding and a passion for birds was ignited in all of them. Unfortunately the cloudy weather that prevailed for most of the week meant the birds were not as active as usual, but over 100 species were still spotted, a testament to the incredible biodiversity of Karongwe.  
Some memorable sightings for the trip included broad billed roller, pygmy kingfisher, Jacobin cuckoo, lizard buzzard and African hawk eagle.

Walks and drives turned out to be very successful on the mammal and reptile front too, with crocodiles, hippos and rhinos all encountered on foot and leopard tortoise, nyala, water monitor, duiker, waterbuck, genet and bush baby spotted on drives.  

The highlight of the trip (apart from the cheetahs) was undoubtedly a fleeting sighting of leopard on foot, followed by an exciting search for the elusive cat, giving its distinctive rasping call as it glided through the bush.  

Johann and his assistant, Mark, kept spirits high with humorous anecdotes and unwavering positivity, and uniquely African games such as ‘bokdrol spoeg’ provided plenty of laughter.

Time flew by far too quickly for the students, who left Karongwe with a new found respect for the African wild, some unforgettable memories, stunning photographs and a desire to return again as soon as possible.

I’m glad to say that everyone passed their assessments with flying (excuse the pun…) colours, and I’m sure they will all be walking around with binoculars around their necks searching for birds in their suburban gardens.”

(Thank you both Dales for the updates and photos, also Agnes van der Heijde for the beautiful scenic pics!)


JP and Margaux le Roux are the respective head and assistant instructors at our wilderness camp 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 the latest:

“Humans and animals are forever in conflict with each other, especially when resources are scarce, and where we live in close proximity to the wild beasts. Be it elephants, hippos or baboons raiding local subsistence farmer’s crops, or predators killing livestock.

In most cases, especially when charismatic mega-fauna is involved, there would be an outcry to save the beasts, and various options and ‘solutions’ would be implemented to minimise further negative interaction. Could the same however be said for human-snake interactions?

Most people, including many aspiring field guide students, often cringe when one mentions the word ‘snake’, and the reaction of many people would be to rather kill the animal than to go out of one’s way to catch and release a ‘problem snake’. But fortunately for some, there are still those people around who dedicate their lives to conservation of ALL beasts, whether great or small.

This was once again demonstrated when 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.

It just goes to show – man and beast can live in peace in close proximity to each other, and if anybody doubts in that statement I made, rest assured, the snake was only released less than 100 meters from our tent. Who knows, maybe we will see the Giant again…

(Thank you Margaux for the update! The photos were taken from a video courtesy of Paula Strickland, thank you!)