April 16, 2012

MEET YOU IN THE BUSH: NATASHA DE WORONIN – 16 APRIL 2012



From “Sandton doll” to being a trance DJ in Europe, Natasha de Woronin has certainly criss-crossed the globe before finally landing the perfect job. With help from EcoTraining along the way, Natasha now research leopards for the Global Leopard Project in Namibia. She credits her training with giving her the best chance to follow her dream of working with wildlife and inspiring her to help save the natural world.

Natasha shares her journey:

My first trip to the bush was to Londolozi as a four year old child and there I fell in love.  According to my mother, tears streamed down my face for the six hour journey home when we left.  It was a life’s dream for me to return to work there one day.

I had fun and wild times after dropping out of school and travelling through Africa and Europe as a trance DJ. But the call of the African bush soon took over as my dream to work at Londolozi never really left me.
I managed to secure a place on the guiding course EcoTraining was running in cooperation with the Allenby Campus (1996). With the theory part done and dusted, thanks to the world of knowledge and phenomenal training skills of Malcolm Douglas, our group headed to Elephant Plains Game Lodge in the Sabi Sands where we were met by Lex Hes, Anton Lategan and Kimbian Mnisi, our practical trainers.

Their passion and knowledge was infectious and the course was unbelievable to say the least. Lex was so willing to share everything with us as well as how to take photographs in the bush and he never missed a detail on leopard behaviour. From Kimbian, his tracker, we learnt that tracking were indeed a very important part of guiding, especially when it comes to the elusive spotted cats. Anton's passion and knowledge and his way of sharing this made us never want to leave.

I wasn’t the easiest of students and gave the trainers quiet a hard time. I remember the following incident that illustrates it really well - On a training drive one evening a leopard sighting was called in. Having no bush driving experience, Anton asked me politely to move over so he could drive and we could go into the sighting. Upon which I rudely replied something to the effect of "How will I learn anything if you drive?" I think he was completely shocked but he let me drive and was so brilliant that he managed to get me to do things right!

After finishing the course, I was very lucky to get a job as a guide at Elephant Plains, it was heaven! I did not sleep at night. After entertaining my guests at dinner each evening, I would take my game viewer out to search for leopards. EcoTraining still had their camp on the property and they had a new trainer, David, who was always willing to help. He would sit on the trackers seat often when he had no students, man the spotlight and tried to find leopards with me. He taught me more trees than we found leopards but I learnt so much from these nights out.

Londolozi was still my dream and I applied to CC Africa (now And Beyond) for a job every week. They turned me away and eventually Lex helped set up an interview for me. I did the stringent company guide training at Phinda and Londolozi and at first was told that I didn’t make it. But a lot of tears and challenges later, I eventually made it and worked at Londolozi and a couple of other CC Africa lodges on and off for 10 years.

During 2006/2007, while at Londolozi, I took manly leopard specialist trips and what an amazing experience it was, following only leopards day after day, night after night. I documented everything the leopards did and discovered that the information I had gathered was a gold mine. I also realised that this data was worth nothing if I kept it to myself and so I did a National Diploma in Nature Conservation with the future aim of a PHD to ensure that all the information becomes usable to leopard researchers working with disappearing leopard populations around the world. Dr Douw Grobler, a wildlife veterinarian, saw promise in the leopard work and he helped set up the Global Leopard Project (www.globalleopard.com) which now runs from Erindi Private Game Reserve in Namibia.

Although I now research leopards, I still use guiding skills daily to help train guides and take guests to see the leopards of the research project. We capture, collar, habituate and monitor the Erindi leopards and share their stories as much as possible to help create awareness of the species.
Natural leopard behaviour is used as a tool to help leopard hunters ensure sustainable hunting, farmers to work with these animals and to train local Namibians to give them a future in wildlife, the greatest resource that Namibia has that can ensure socio-economic benefits for all its residents and species.

EcoTraining, Lex, Anton and Kimbian gave me everything that has made me who I am today, made all my dreams a reality and ultimately ensured that my passion be used for the good of not only my life but hopefully all leopards worldwide. From my own fantastic training I have helped set up guide training in Namibia at Erindi which is breaking ground as nothing like this exists in the country yet. Today, EcoTraining students come to Erindi for their practical and many have stayed on as permanent guides. Thanks to EcoTraining’s standards and fantastic courses over so many years, Namibia is now developing a higher guiding standard.

EcoTraining will give you the very best chance you can wish for to follow any dream in wildlife, not only for guiding. It is the people of EcoTraining that are saving the world of wildlife by training and
inspiring their students.

If you are an ex EcoTraining student and have a story to share, we would like to hear from you! Send an email to liryndej@hotmail.com.

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