August 7, 2015

10 fascinating facts about Lichen (trust us, it more interesting than you may think!)

  1.          Lichen is made up of an algae and a fungus living in perfect harmony.  Each needs each other to survive and forms a symbiotic relationship known as ‘obligatory mutualism’.  Such is depth of this relationship that neither party can survive without the other.
  2.         The algae is an autotroph and can thus supply the organism with food produced by photosynthesis, whilst the fungus envelops the algae in order to protect it from desiccation and also provides it with a means to attach to the substrate.
  3.          If the algal and fungal elements of lichen are grown separately, their structures are completely different from that of their combined lichen form.  It seems that when placed together, the fungus envelops the algae to protect it from desiccation, among other things, and creates a completely new, symbiotic structure
  4.          Such is the success of this union, lichen species are abundant and inhabit habitats ranging from sea level to alpine regions, from the Arctic tundra to dry deserts.  In fact, lichen covers 6% of the entire surface of the planet and is considered to be amongst the oldest living things on Earth.
  5.          Lichen is considered an agent of mechanical and chemical weathering.  Whilst the process is exceptionally slow, it is still effective and is an important factor in producing soil over long periods of time.  Man-made structures can also be affected and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the USA has to be routinely cleaned by a group of mountain climbers to avoid irreparable damage being done!
  6.          Lichen grows very slowly but regularly depending on the species.  It grows at about 1mm a year and has been used as a technique to age exposed rocks, although it is only accurate up to about 1000 years of age.  It is particularly helpful in aging rocks of less than 500 years are carbon dating techniques are ineffectual at such young ages.
  7.          Lichens do not have a root system and thus get all of the nutrients they need from the atmosphere.  This means that they also absorb a variety of pollutants and many environmental studies with lichen emphasize their role as a feasible biomonitor of air quality
  8.          The pH indicators in the litmus test (to measure acidity and alkalinity) is extracted from the lichen Roccella tinctoria by boiling it
  9.          A selection of Lichen were exposed to the vacuum of space and the full force of the Sun’s radiation for a period of 15 days as passengers on a European Space Agency mission in 2009.  Amazingly, some species continued to grow as normal upon their return, fuelling interest from cosmetic companies looking to develop new sunscreens for human use.
  10.          With the search for new worlds to accommodate Mankind’s relentless population growth, some lichens were exposed to Martian atmospheric conditions in the lab for a period of over 3 weeks in 2012.  Amazingly, despite the weak atmospheric pressure, lack of protection from cosmic radiation, bitter cold and alien atmospheric composition, some species not only survived, but continued to grow and function with relative normality!  Evidence like this has given the scientific community renewed hope of find life on other planets!

Facts and photos by Ben Coley

August 6, 2015

Do a course that suits you best!

Mike Kirby has started off as a Professional Field Guide student earlier this year. Little did he know that he would end up working as a back-up guide at our camps during his Lodge placement programme. Mike shares some great insider tips to those who are not too sure about what course to book!

"Doing an EcoTraining short course, a 55 day FGASA Field Guide Level 1 course or even a one year Professional Field Guide course is, in my opinion, the best experience Southern Africa has to offer.
It caters for a complete African novice to guides who want to further their knowledge. EcoTraining has a course catered for you!
During my FGASA Level 1 training, you got to understand how the environment works around you, from mammals to arthropods to trees.  Your knowledge and general understanding of nature in Southern Africa and any other place will grow tremendously.
I would also highly recommend the 7 or 14 day Tracking course, held in one of the four wilderness camps in South Africa and Botswana.  I was astounded at how much this course taught me and how much I can apply the knowledge and read the ‘stories in the sand’.
If you only have a month to spare, then 28 day Trails Guide course is on the top of my list.  You will be ttaying in the remote wilderness camps of either Makuleke, Kruger National Park or Mashatu, Botswana. The art of guiding on foot is learnt, as well as accessing places that no vehicle or tourist has even seen.
All of the courses can be done without pursuing a career in guiding. You can look at it as an educational holiday in some of the best areas Africa has to offer.
Personal highlights during the One year PFG course was: 
  •           The remoteness of all the camps
  •          Walking with elephant and lion
  •          Opening my eyes to the little things that are quite often overlooked
The more you know, the more you appreciate nature and are breath-taken by what is going on around you in any environment."

Blog written by Mike Kirby

August 3, 2015

SA’s leading Guide Training company acquires influential FGASA CEO

Grant Hine
EcoTraining, the oldest and most established of the safari guide and wildlife training institutions endorsed by FGASA, is thrilled to announce the appointment of their new General Manager, Grant Hine. Grant is the former CEO of The Field Guide Association of southern Africa so this amalgamation of experience and skill from both parties should prove to be a noteworthy boost to the safari circuit.
The appointment comes at a time when EcoTraining has significant intentions to reach new places and new heights. “We are building a dream team to bolster EcoTraining into a position of having an impact on the world’s natural places,” says Anton Lategan, director and owner of EcoTraining. “We aim to win over the hearts and minds of people all over the globe and encourage them to love and care for their environment. Our life-changing wilderness experiences on all of our courses connect participants to the earth, reawakening instinctive senses.”
EcoTraining’s mission is two-fold: to produce highly qualified local field guides for the ecotourism industry, and to educate travellers from all walks of life about wildlife and ecosystems through a unique learning safari. What better way to achieve the aforementioned mission than under the auspices of Grant Hine, the guru in Field Guide Training in South Africa. Grant worked as a field guide and lodge manager for 12 years at various prominent safari lodges including MalaMala, SabiSabi and at lodges in the Lapalala wilderness area. His knowledge and experience with the etiquette of guiding guests into the bush to reveal fascinating facts about wildlife to them, ensured the move to become FGASA’s CEO was seamless.  Over the past 14 years, Grant has been instrumental in building up FGASA to where it is today and developing the existing guiding qualifications.
Trainers have challenging jobs as they host, teach, care for, understand, empathise and lead learners for long periods at a time. What they teach has a direct effect on how future safari guides behave, which in turn has a direct effect on international and local safari guests’ experiences and impressions of that particular lodge, game reserve, country and continent. Guides influence the hearts and minds of the well-travelled world. The responsibility of our trainers is significant as they are the messengers to a global audience.
After 22 years of guide training excellence delivered in the Kruger Park, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and further afield, the inclusion of Grant to the EcoTraining team will further empower EcoTraining to deliver the best guide training and the most powerful wilderness experiences to all who seek them.

July 30, 2015

Tracking - an unforgettable experience

If you ever thought of joining a Tracking course, then this testimonial will surely persuade you to sign up! Terry Black joined EcoTraining on a recent Tracking course and sent us the most rewarding feedback:

"I very much enjoyed my time in Makuleke, I'd been travelling through East Africa for two months before arriving in South Africa, but I think my time with EcoTraining was probably the highlight of the whole trip - and you can tell Alex that I think Norman was a very important part in making that the case.

We identified and looked at nearly 100 different species over the two weeks, and many more signs if you include spoor/scenting etc, and despite this vast amount of information coming right at us, it was absorbed very easily thanks to the perfect pace of the instruction and the fact that we were having fun every minute of the day.

Norman was an exemplary instructor. I honestly couldn't praise him highly enough. I have no criticism or suggestions whatsoever. He was very keen to ensure we were learning what we wanted to learn, asking early on if we had any other interests in addition to the tracks (medicinal use of trees, bird calls etc), and he was very conscious to make sure that everyone was OK all the time; asking 'Everyone still, OK?', whenever on a long drive or walk. I felt safe, valued and important at every step. His tone, pace, (and patience!) made the learning experience easy and fun, but it was his unbridled enthusiasm that was absolutely infectious. His charisma and love for the bush was plain to see and made the whole two weeks an unforgettable experience. I'm enjoying his 'after-care' as well (emailing me pictures of tracks to identify) and I hope I will see him again next time I'm in South Africa, I felt like I made a good friend.
Norman Chauke in action
Walking in the wild outdoors
The other EcoTraining instructors were all absolutely relaxed in their approach and professional in their execution. I would like to make special mention of Alan, who brought another dimension of expertise and experience to the course - it isn't just the stuff on the 'tracking syllabus' which informed my time in the bush, but every anecdote and story of the flora and fauna, history, culture, geology, ecosystems and daily life, and I owe Alan a great deal for enriching the experience.
Elephant encounter a few meters away

I felt honoured to have met Alex when he came to visit the first few days. I had very high expectations from the Tracker Academy and EcoTraining, and I am very pleased to say they were all highly surpassed. The work of the Tracker Academy is fantastic, Norman is an incredible ambassador for both The Tracking Academy and EcoTraining. I will be telling everyone I know about the course. I can't thank you enough."

The next 14 day Tracking course starts 10 August in the magical Botswana. Contact us at for to book your spot today!

July 27, 2015

Community spirit

Rarely in this day and age does a sequel top the first instalment, but a mere 2 weeks after the local school received a much needed lick of paint, the peaceful community of The Oaks was about to be shattered by a second rank of young, enthusiastic Americans.  Moondance had returned, and this time, with a vengeance.  Armed with nearly 200 litres of excessively bright and vibrant paint, the group surveyed its target: a 46 meter long stretch of marketplace; the focal point of the village.  The stakes had been raised and the pressure was on!
Marketplace before...
Youth however knows no fear, and within minutes of our arrival, the fa├žade of the building was under constant assault from flailing rollers and brushes.  The relentlessness of the attack soon brought the local residents to the scene, and before long, both young and old were helping us apply the initial layer of primer.  The entire expanse of market front was primed in less than 2 hours and after a brief stop to stock up on caffeine, the group (and in fact, the community) wasted no time in applying the colour.  With over 20 market stalls to liven up, the decision was made to adorn each in a repeating sequence of colour to rival that of the ripe fruit shining from their displays!  The market owners had also arrived by now with most of the women ecstatic with the new look and each took great pride in helping spruce up their livelihood!
Getting down and dirty
Who says you can't have fun while working?
Some owners joined in
With all the help at our disposal, the kids had more time to do what kids do best, and before long, their once clean clothes, not to mention any available exposed flesh, were transformed into a cacophony of colour that would rival the tie dye phenomenon of the swinging sixties!  It also allowed time for them to immerse themselves into the community and the whole scene was lit up with the infectious laughter and smiles of small children as they learnt new games ranging from ‘Simon Says’ to ‘Ninja’.  The day had taken on a carnival atmosphere.  It was a perfect cross section of the community, and for hours on end, all language and racial barriers were destroyed by the endearing innocence of youth.
Having some fun with some of the children from the community
Despite the best efforts of everybody involved, the massive project could not be finished in a day and by sunset it was time to pack up and head home for a well-earned shower before returning the following day to apply the finishing touches.

With the pressure off after a very productive day, the kids returned eager to enjoy their last involvement with the local community, and once again chaos ruled.  It was decided to put a few hand prints on to the end walls as a reminder of the collective effort of these remarkable and selfless decorators, but before long the local kids got wind of this new game.  A rainbow of digits now adorned the end wall and clothes become emblazoned with prints of all sizes as the bonds made over the last 36 hours were immortalized in paint on material.

The once dreary brick-faced market place had been transformed almost overnight into a bright, vibrant and fun epicentre of this typical South African rural village.  We even realised that some of the local wildlife had got involved when a goat walked past sporting a red stripe down its side after straying too close to the freshly painted wall!!  I have to be honest, when I saw the size of the task awaiting us I was not sure what we could achieve in such a short time, but thanks to a work ethic dwarfing their young age, and a huge community effort, all I could do was stand back and admire what had been achieved.  The delight on the faces of the market owners was evident as the ladies hugged and thanked us before showering us with free fruits before our departure!
The Marketplace after...
It is people that change lives, not policy or ideas, and the dedication, motivation and selfless nature of the Moondance organisation had now most certainly left its mark in this once dark corner of Africa.  I travel to and from work through this unassuming settlement but from now on I will be reminded of these 2 amazing days every time I see this dazzling stretch of colour.  Thanks to the hard work of a group of school children from America, The Oaks now shines like a beacon amongst its neighbours. 
Students from Moondance after a long day of painting.
Blog and photos by Ben Coley