January 7, 2013

FIELD NOTES: JANUARY 2013





"We pay too much attention to the surface of the earth. It presents itself so obviously to our eyes. We forget the layers above and below.” (Artist John Wolseley)


Knock, knock… Who’s there? Eco… Eco who? EcoTraining, adventure and excitement! There are 12 months ahead and we are ready to make 2013 a memorable year. The courses are stacked and lined up at all 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.za to join in the action! To peak your interest and whet the appetite, read and take a look what happened in the last month…


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!

10 February- 9 March: 28 Day Kenya Safari Guide (FGASA and Kenya Bronze) – Lewa
13 February-19 February: Seven day Birding – Mashatu
20 February-19 March: Trails Guide – Makuleke
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 (Selati Game Reserve): Sometimes you don’t even have to venture out of the confines an EcoTraining wilderness camp to experience nature at its finest. Things are happening thick and fast right there! The Selati camp played host to one of these events when a lioness bagged herself a meal right in front of the lecture hall when she got hold of a warthog.
The 26 year old Kassie Fallon, a FGASA Level One student, tells the story of the lioness and the warthog:
“We were in the classroom discussing our mini presentation on the history and culture of South Africa when suddenly we heard a loud squealing sound. We all stopped mid-sentence and stared at each other’s shocked faces. Just as we were all questioning our own ears, suddenly there it was again! This time there was no mistake, it was most definitely something screaming for its life and it was close. It was coming from the dry Selati Riverbed right in front of the classroom, which is nothing more than a concrete floor, four pillars and a roof.
Margaux, one of our instructors, told us to stay put while she went to investigate. Her husband JP, the head instructor at Selati, came running form their tent at the other end of camp. ‘Margi, what’s happening?’ he was shouting in his broad South African accent. They briefly spoke in Afrikaans then quickly but carefully went down to the river bed.
We all stood watching with eager faces, twitching, waiting for that sign that would let us know we could come closer and see what was making that awful noise that was exciting us so much!



Then finally it happened. JP twitched his finger which sent me sliding down the bank to see what was happening. I was crouched behind them, and then with a whisper as we were hiding behind some vegetation on the bank, he stretched out his finger and said ‘There, by the rocks, there is a lioness!’
We crawled along the sloping bank towards the lioness, but still remaining at a safe distance. She had pinned down a poor unsuspecting warthog by some rocks which held a small pool of water. The poor thing must have been taking an afternoon drink in the hot sun before 130kg of teeth and claws jumped on it…”

Makuleke (Kruger National Park): Nature just has its way to surprise us with the most unusual occurrences and the unexpected is sure to happen on any EcoTraining course. Like Judith van Heumen, a student on a 28 day Safari Guide course, explains.
“We heard the starlings going mad with alarm calls just past the water supply outside of camp and decided to go and investigate.
When we got closer to the noise, we saw this mangy looking squirrel also going kind of crazy, running up and down a tree. Then somebody observed a puff adder slowly going inside a log, looking like it had just eaten something. It was almost like the squirrel was yelling ‘snake, snake, snake!’



Even more amazing, the squirrel then seemed to have a death wish of sorts, as if it didn’t look half alive already with its fur not looking in good condition anyway! It jumped onto the log that the snake crept into, started running up and down the log and looking into every hole in the log while all the time just going crazy. It was actually really bizarre!
We didn’t stay to see what happened as the sun was baking down in the middle of the day. We can just imagine…”

Mashatu (Botswana): It sure is a far cry from the land of Stars and Stripes, but Zach Cooney says he’s going back to the USA with a new found appreciation for the wonders of nature. Zach and his twin brother, Morgan, finished a 28 day Trails Guide course in December, with instructors Brian Rode and Chantelle Venter sharing and imparting their knowledge.  
Zach shares his thoughts:



“The beautiful reserve of Mashatu in the Tuli block of Botswana is an area of rich biological diversity and boasts an impressive history of ancient human habitation. The seemingly endless boundaries stretch for as far as the eye can see with rows of ridges, forests of mashatus, plains of acacia and Mopani and rivers that cut through the park delivering the life-giving water that these animals are so reliant upon.
The camp itself is a rustic set of tents, lit at night by the warm glow of lanterns and the gentle white light of the moon. Oftentimes the sound of elephants, lions, leopards or hyenas can be heard. And with the ever-growing echoes in the koppies builds the anticipation of finding their spoor in the morning when the red African sun begins its arc across the horizon.
For breakfast, a meal of rusks and tea accompanies, if one is luck, a procession of elephants making their slow, graceful saunter across the dry river bed, making as little noise as a phantom, easily missed by all not aware of their presence.
Later the group begins training, walking the vast wilderness in search of game, preparing for our assessments at the end of the course.
It was an amazing experience that I will never forget!”

Segera (Kenya): Six local guides of the area underwent training in all aspects of field guiding under the guidance of EcoTraining’s highly experienced instructors towards the end of last year. This is the result of a partnership with the Wilderness Collection (Wilderness Safaris) to give guests the best possible guided experience in that part of Kenya.
It sure is a long way from our wilderness camp in the Makuleke concession in the north of the Kruger National Park where Bruce Lawson normally operates. But nonetheless, he clocked the hours, exploring Segera on foot with the guides. He sent through these updates.
“Sitting here watching a journey of reticulated giraffe crossing the grassland with the white snow peaks of Mount Kenya in the background makes writing a bit tough. I know all of you feel really sorry for me but I want to assure you that I'll hang tough and push through...



Yesterday and today we have been under the lead of Mohammid, who monitors the Patas monkeys. We have spent 8 hours and walked 22km in search of these beautiful and rare primates. Eventually today after walking 12km, with everybody’s heads down we finally found them. What a moment to see these straw coloured monkeys standing bi-pedal in the grass watching us. I was told by Mohammid that this troop had 20 individuals of which I am sure we saw most.
At first they were a bit skittish and moved off but we moved closer slowly and they tolerated us to such an extent that the youngsters started wrestling not 50m from us. I do not know what seeing the
gorillas are like as I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing them but today I felt as if I was in the presence of something special and likened it to the gorillas. The big male made his appearance and
watched us from his low perch. What an animal, thick back hair the colour of dark straw, snow-white underbelly and puffy white cheeks. Made all 22km worth it and I would walk them all over
again tomorrow to see these splendid primates again.”

The life of a field guide through the eyes of Margaux and JP le Roux: The bush tends to bring together like-minded people. And then they stick together, their love for nature and all her inhabitants being a shared passion, creating adventures par-none.  Like Margaux and JP, since the middle of 2012 the senior and assistant instructors respectively at Selati.

Together these two aim to enhance the safari experience for any visitors to the African bush, whether it be students or clients. Along the way they have collected many stories, some hair-raising and not for the faint hearted, but nevertheless entertaining.
Like when JP went over to EcoTraining’s Karongwe camp to do some instructing there. He picks up the story:
“An early start to our afternoon’s training made us decide to explore a few new areas on the Karongwe Private Game Reserve. Our plan was set on visiting a granitic outcrop known as Leopard Cove.

As we approached the top, a coat of shadows became evident behind a small shrub. No more than eight metres away from us was a female leopard staring at us through the vegetation. My immediate reaction was to break eye contact and at the same time informing the group with the words “Stop, leopard, stand still and don’t make eye contact”.
We started slowly backing off sideways, while I kept her in view by not making eye contact. She glanced back once more and then silently slipped away behind a rock. Once we have gained enough personal space we returned to the vehicle and shared the excitement of such a special encounter. We then attempted to relocate her by obtaining a visual from the vehicle, unfortunately with no luck.”


“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.za and 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!)
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