October 9, 2015

Survival 101: What to do when you get lost in the bush

What do you do when things go wrong and you get lost while out in the bush? In a nutshell: Stop, stay calm and plan. Keep warm. Drink plenty of water and ration your food. Conserve your energy. 
Be determined to survive. Get help.

Actually there are a number of things, so let’s tackle this systematically.

The first and most important thing to do is to remain calm and THINK. Then make tea, tea and not coffee. Making tea requires a certain ceremony and if you can take your time and make tea, then you are in charge of the situation. Then take stock of your situation.  

The first option is to turn around and track yourself out of there. Your shoes have left marks on the trail; the tires of the vehicle have left two long lines behind the vehicle. The vehicle will not leave tracks on a tar road but if you are on a tar road then you are probably not lost.

If this still does not work then settle down and make a camp. Take out you little survival pack. What, don’t you have one? You should have packed it before the rest of your kit. Inside should be the following: a small bag or pouch with a lighter, some strong string, a knife and/or a machete; a small pot for cooking and boiling water; soap and a lightweight towel; water sterilizing tablets and coffee filters, to filter water not coffee; insect repellent; a proper first aid kit, not just a packet with first aid written on it.

The weather conditions will determine what type of protection you will need. Do a good job of keeping yourself warm and dry. Find and purify water or ration the water you have. Find fire-wood before it gets dark but use it sparingly. Have a pile of small sticks that you can throw on if there is a threat from animals. Feed the fire slowly, do not heap it up and then let it die down to almost nothing.

Stay near the vehicle if you are using one. The vehicle is easier to see than people on foot. You should have left a rout plan and return date with someone. Stick to the plan. Do not ever deviate from your plan. If you do not return by the set day then they will send people out to find you. You should know your equipment; know how to use it when it works properly as well as when it is not functioning properly. The boy scouts motto of “be prepared” says it all.

Look around you as you travel, look back at any junctions that you pass, see them from the return journey’s perspective. Learn to use your equipment properly and then practice regularly. Learn some skills and practice them regularly; learned skills are lighter to carry than a book. And very importantly – NEVER over-estimate your capabilities but be positive about what you can do.

Courtesy of EcoTraining instructor Mark Gunn - article written by Liryn de Jager

October 1, 2015

Top 10 tips on how to cope on an EcoTraining course

Being in a group setting isn't always easy, especially if you are surrounded by strange people in a brand new environment.  

We have asked a few of our former students to give some advise on how to cope with the training period, especially living in such a close community with fellow students. If you keep the below step in the back of your mind at all times, you will have an amazing time on course and walk away with a lifetime of memories. This is what they had to say:
  1. Be friendly and humble
  2. Take advise and set boundaries and know your boundaries and know when to give people space
  3. It can be tough. Especially at the start. So much to take in, but if you keep going and enjoy it, then everything comes naturally. As for the people you are with, whether you like them at the time or not, they become family!
  4. Work Hard and Take notes always! Do not leave any paperwork until the last minute.
  5. Focus on why you are here, and not everything else.
  6. Stay motivated and push through it. It is worth it in the end.
  7. Respect the instructors and fellow students and enjoy learning about every aspect of the bush.
  8. Get clarity on deliverables at the start of the course.
  9. Don’t get into the bottleneck of assessments.
  10. Try not to get involved in petty rows. Be patient.
The most important is to make the best of your time in the bush. Staying in camp, surrounded by nature 24/7 is a huge privilege that a lot of people have never experienced. Make every second count! 

September 24, 2015

What the students have to say: FGASA Level 1 course in Zimbabwe

EcoTraining in collaboration with Nakavango Conservation programme runs FGASA Level 1 courses from the Stanley and Livingstone reserve in Zimbabwe twice a year. This venue proofs to offer amazing learning opportunities and beautiful sightings. The current course started on 17 August, and are just about halfway through and with Mark Gunn as an instructor, you can only have an amazing time. One of the students shares her experience on the course thus far:

Ruth Westrick, Switzerland
"I just want to send you a quick note to let you know how much fun I have got doing the FGASA level 1 course at Nakavango. It is intense and I am thoroughly enjoying every aspect of it. We've had some awesome sightings where we could observe animals for a very long time, whilst learning a lot of interesting facts about everything that the bush is offering. Mark, our instructor has got an impressive knowledge and I like his holistic approach. I am sad to say that we are over half way already and will continue to enjoy my great time here.
Our short trip into Chobe was awesome as well. You are running a great programme and I am so glad that I enrolled for it."
For more information on the FGASA Level 1 course in Zimbabwe, contact our enquiries department at enquiries@ecotraining.co.za or call us +27 (0)13 752 2532

September 17, 2015

Chinese Whispers

EcoTraining is pioneering a new venture with partners in China to try and educate curious travellers in the delights of the natural world. We hope that by enlightening about 8 groups per year, hopefully some being potentially influential people, the knock-on effect may have a huge impact on the future of our once spacious and green planet.
The science of ‘conservation management’ is a fast growing discipline with new methods and ideas being tested continually. However, most of these ideas are reactive, trying to combat problems that are already rife.  To save our wilderness areas and their species, we need proactive measures.  The simplest of these measures is education, and more importantly, who is educated about the importance of the environment for our survival.   The root of our environmental crisis is the over-population of our fast-vanishing home. 
Asia is perceived by many to be the root of the population boom and thus a huge cause of habitat loss and over utilisation of natural resources as people use them to survive.  The continent itself holds two thirds of the world’s population!  A proactive measure therefore is to educate this vast population so that they understand what the relentless spread of Man is doing to our planet.  Using the bush as a natural catalyst to experience the wonders of the natural world will hopefully increase the chances of us all working together to save her.
The EcoTraining EcoQuest 7 day course is designed to immerse its participants in the wilderness and whilst time is limited, we try to cram in as much information as possible - concentrating specifically with reconnecting to nature, ecology and of course, conservation initiatives.  Activities are tailored around such topics as symbiotic relationships, ecological roles, poaching issues and survival, and the inter-relationships between all aspects of the ecosystem, especially our own.
The last Chinese EcoQuest students recently a week with EcoTraining at their Karongwe tented camp. What better classroom in the world?  Days were spent exploring the reserve and many great sightings were witnessed, including lions feeding on a giraffe kill and various encounters with white rhino.  Situations like these do not need much interpretation as the subject matters themselves speak volumes.  For many eastern visitors, rhino and lion are just words and pictures or are associated with medicinal resources. Transformation should take place as seeing is believing and nothing beats spending up close and personal time with these iconic beasts. 
Our focus is not only on giving them a taster of what may not be around for their children to experience, but also the essential roles they all play in maintaining the stability of this now fragile ecosystem. 
The best way to learn something and appreciate it fully to actively experience it, and this is where we exert much of our energy when educating people.  This last group’s senses were tantalized on a daily basis as they tasted the sweet leaves of the buffalo thorn, chewed the moisture rich roots of the aptly named mother in law’s tongue, sampled tea brewed from russet bushwillow samaras and attempted to make friction fires.  The latter exercise is always a favourite with young and old, and the addition of some children on the last course made for a moving experience as they delighted in their efforts.  Although we achieved smoke and a blackened baseplate, fire was not forthcoming despite the blisters on our hands! 
Making fire
The group exercise was enjoyed by all and their renewed fascination of how the bush can be sustainably used was incited further when Norman Chauke, a local Shangaan tracker and instructor, fashioned some traditional traps used by the tribes people to procure food in survival situations.  For demonstrative purposes rope was used but the group also learned about which trees and plants can provide fibrous material if nothing artificial is on hand.  Norman made perfectly clear that these traps should only be used when necessary: for a man to catch an antelope to feed his family is one thing, but the relentless capture of millions of animals to fuel an organisation’s financial gain, be it through nutritive demand or medicinal belief, is not condonable. 
Norman demonstrates how the snare works
Discussions also revolve around energy flows, symbiotic relations between them and other organisms but there is also time for reflection and tranquillity.  A favourite among many is to sleep out under the twinkling blanket of the night’s sky.  The world we live in is three dimensional and for people who spent their lives in a concrete jungle of office blocks, traffic, noise and pollution, many have never witnessed the infinite beauty of what lies above us all.  It is easy to lose yourself in the stars.  It is a time to let your imagination extend to the furthest reaches of the universe and to consider our insignificant role in eternity. 
Sleep out under the stars
Waking up to the beating heart of Africa as the cerise sun shows its face above the horizon is a primal experience and for many, can ignite the blue-touch paper of environmental awareness. We hope that by the end of this short exposure to the wonders of the natural world, the eyes of these ordinary people will open up to the extraordinary environment in which they live, one that they did not know existed.  We hope that when they return to their homeland, the experiences and knowledge gained will percolate through their social and business circles like a snowball rolling down a mountain. 
The whispers of a few can influence the many, and the whispers of many can influence the masses.  This has always been EcoTraining’s philosophy and with the current state of our fragile environment, we need all the buy-in that we can get.

Educational Game Drive
 Blog and photos by Ben Coley

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