July 2, 2013

FIELD NOTES: JUNE 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)


The first half of 2013 is done and dusted, wow, how time flies when you are having fun! And the rest of the year is just as eager for you to attend an EcoTraining course at any of 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 pique your interest and whet the appetite, read and take a look what happened in the last month…


UPCOMING COURSES

There are 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!

21-27 July: Seven Day Birding – Karongwe  
25-31 July: Seven Day Tracking – Selati
28 July-10 August: EcoQuest – Kenya
10 August-6 September: 28 Day Kenya Safari Guide – Lewa Wildlife Conservancy


THROUGH THE BUSH TELEGRAPH

Office: The dedicated team at head office in Nelspruit is ready to answer all your questions and queries. Don’t hesitate to contact them!

They recently hosted a diverse media group at EcoTraining’s wilderness camp in Mashatu, Botswana where they got a brief, but all important glimpse into the traditional art of tracking. 


With the help of Alex van den Heever and his expert Shangaan tracker they unravelled the mysteries of the African wilderness even further by understanding and learning to interpret (or at least trying to…) more about the bush and wildlife as they searched for, tracked and eventually found some animals. They also got to know more about traditional hunter-gatherer techniques, medicinal purposes and ancient indigenous knowledge.
And of course no visit to this magical place that is called the Land of the Giants, can be complete without a sun downer-stop in this vast expanse, and dinner in the riverbed lit by the magical stars upon return to camp...
You too can experience an adventure like this on an EcoTraining Animal Tracks and Tracking course. For more information, visit www.ecotraining.co.za or send an email to enquiries@ecotraining.co.za.

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 in the last month, it sure is a good indication of what will probably happen in the months to follow…

Karongwe: Imagine almost a month of living and learning in nature at one of our wilderness camps and then using this knowledge to give your safari and bush holidays a whole new meaning. Then the EcoTraining 28 Day Safari Guide course from 28 July-24 August at our camp on the banks of the Karongwe River in the Karongwe Private Game Reserve, literally a stone’s throw from the Kruger National Park, is just for you!
This course is aimed at those wishing to experience a bush holiday in South Africa, whilst also learning about the environment they are in – it is for those that are passionate about nature, who would like a more in-depth experience and understanding of it.


And what a place Karongwe is for experiencing something like this. You are bound to have sightings of leopard, lion and cheetah as well as elephant and white rhino. As the camp itself is unfenced, we often have four-legged guests sniffling about, hyenas regularly doing their nightly patrols.
It is a learning experience from the minute you arrive with the days starting at first light, in the colder months around 06:00 and in summer as early as 04:30. Then a quick sip of coffee and some rusks before the different groups goes off – either on a vehicle or on own steam through the bush. For the next couple of hours nature is the classroom, with the instructors sharing their knowledge and wisdom. And heads are shook in amazement about how little we know and how much more still lies hidden.
As they say, there is no conservation without education.  So become a green warrior and join EcoTraining on the adventure of a lifetime! There are still some places left!

Makuleke (Kruger National Park): Those who’ve had the privilege to have set foot in our wilderness camp in Makuleke (KNP) will know exactly what Kevin Holroyd (28 Day Trails Guide course) is talking about.
“Makuleke… I heard about this mystical bush place whilst doing my FGASA Level 1 course at Karongwe and every time anyone spoke about it, they got a misty eyed, far-away look in their eyes – now I know why…
Around a ‘get to know each other fire’ we were greeted by two male lions booming their hello, a 100 metres from camp.
Imagine a place where you walk under baobabs and into fever tree forests, through mopani and onto floodplains.


Nyala, impala, kudu, eland, zebra, buffalo and elephant around, not to mention racket-tailed rollers, grey-headed parrots and lemon-breasted canaries to make every birder’s heart jump.
Names like Hulukulu, Nwambi and Mangeba are etched into my mind, together with the vivid images of encounters that I will replay in my mind when I’m back in civilisation.
The transformation from that first nervous buffalo or elephant encounter to feeling confident and relaxed 30m away from elephant bulls feeding, is why a trails guide course is a must for any field guide.
To top it all, you can draw on the experience of the best trails instructors in the industry: Bruce ‘Gandalf’ Lawson, Mark ‘the marcher’ Montgomery, Alan ‘the thinker’ McSmith, Marius ‘buffalo wrestler’ Swart and Wayne ‘the Makuleke wanderer’ TeBrake.
To all of them, we owe a ‘termite mound’ of gratitude.
My body unfortunately, had to leave this place, but my soul will always rest in the branches of a Baobab at Makuleke.”

Mashatu (Botswana): One of EcoTraining’s most popular courses is the professional field guide course. For one year you will be exposed to diverse ecological and geological terrains, landscapes, wildlife species and so much more at our wilderness camps in places like Makuleke, Karongwe, Selati (South Africa) and Mashatu (Botswana).
But don’t just take our word for it. From the horse’s mouth, or in this case, Nick Baker, who recently finished his yearlong adventure.
“I have finished my Ecotraining year course and I am still in the Bush. It is Shepherds Bush in London. I have survived African blasting heat, freezing cold, torrential rain, floods, tick bites, snakes under the bed, animal charges, getting lost, getting found again, blisters, broken down cars, broken down people. And that was just the first year.....


Last year, having retired from 30 years of corporate life, I decided on a second career move and decided to spend a year guide training in South Africa. South Africa was the choice due to attractions of the African bush and the structure of the guide training. It was a really good choice and I would recommend it to anyone prepared to leave behind the trappings of civilisation and immerse themselves in the ecology of Africa.
The beauty of Ecotraining’s year course is the extended time one spends out there, nothing is rushed and every day one learns something new, building a quite awesome knowledge base. However one thing you learn quickly is that however much you may think that you have learned, there are folk who know so much more and have deep years of bush experience.
This clearly manifests through the course instructors. I am not sure what I was expecting but each and every instructor is a well of knowledge and fascinating personality, each leaves a significant impression, all are different…
So my first people thank you is to all those instructors who spent time with us, showed patience, interest, passion... Dries, Shani, Les, Graeme, Chris, Mark, Dale, Bruce and Dee, Mark, JP and Margaux, Rhodes, Alan, Duncan, Brian and Chantelle and the list goes on… Forgive me if I have missed anyone, you know who you are and you are the backbone of Ecotraining, may you live long and prosper.
The second big people thank you goes to all the backups, kitchen staff and assorted support staff who make all the camps run. Again a rich set of individual personalities and a vital part of the camp machinery. Only the Selati kitchen staff can dance like that.
The third people thank you goes to my fellow students, a true miscellany of mixed age, nationality and ambition. We have now dispersed, many to pursue further careers in the industry. I will remember you for a long time. Success and happiness to you all.
Now I have not even got to the primary reason for setting off on this journey which was to build a deeper appreciation of the African bush. I miss it today and will miss it every day that I am not there. The experience is total and is built of a complicated set of components, animals, birds, trees, plants, insects, soil, water, weather, stars. Sights, sounds, smells, magic. I never thought that I would say the words Northern Fluffy Flowered Jackal Coffee, let alone find the plant.
The bush does funny things to your head. It has got inside mine, so I am going back to work there again, initially in Malawi, Wilderness Chelinda Lodge, thereafter who knows. I will meet you in the bush...”

Lewa (Kenya): If you think about Africa, you think of wide open spaces, teaming with an array of wildlife and sunsets par none. This magical continent just has its way with people, something that can’t be explained unless experienced, the ‘TIA’-feeling (This Is Africa) it has been described as.
It’s the lure of these wild and wonderful places that draw people time and again to EcoTraining’s 28 Day Kenya Safari Guide Course in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. The next one is around the corner…
And EcoTraining instructor Mark Gunn explains just why you have to make THAT booking.


“It is with great admiration that I read the stories of the exploration of Africa by the likes of Livingstone, Baynes, Burton and Speke. What was it like to walk across the plains with these men of men? They chose to leave a sheltered Victorian, gentleman’s life and head off into the “dark continent”. They struggled with adversity, disease and danger from the local population. Some of them died and never came home. However, what did they see? Great open spaces and herds of the most incredible animals on earth. Amazing vistas and a fantastic kaleidoscope of cultures were the order of the day, every day. We can do the same today without the same threats and dangers that they faced.
The modern urban world does not have the denizens of the plains to contend with, urban people have transferred their admiration onto sports stars, music divas and the odd dictator. Escape from this artificial world of artificial heroes is surprisingly easy.
A walk with the wildlife on Lewa is so easy to do and after the initiates first two or three encounters with the big and hairies, easy to enjoy.
Appreciate is not the word to do justice to the feelings you get when you are walking so close to elephants that you can hear their feet rustle through the grass and hear them chewing the food that they tirelessly stuff into their great maws, enjoyment, absolute pleasure, is an emotion that surges to the fore whenever I am in the presence of these great, peaceful colossi. Sharing a few minutes in the life of these behemoths of the African savannah is a pleasure that needs to be experienced.
No amount of eloquence, no matter how well the author can extract adjectives from our beloved dictionaries, will ever do justice to the act of being there.
Following a lion across the grassland while avoiding getting too close to rhino and buffalo, skirting around a group of reticulated giraffe and intercepting the lion just before he move between two herds of elephant, this being there.
Returning from an encounter with such majesty is not a simple task, there are herds to be passed and circumvented so as not to disturb them and ensure our safe return to the culinary delights that have been prepared by our camp staff.
Experiences that defy description are not relived around the campfire. We were all there; we all felt the wonder and admiration for our fellow earthlings. We felt our insignificance; our perspectives were rearranged, put in order.
A great sense of peace pervades me every time I encounter any animal, especially when I am on foot. It might seem as if we are intruding in their world, this plain of Africa but no, we belong here.
This is the place where we started out, this is our Garden of Eden.”


“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!
Like Nadia Alalul.
For the last three years EcoTraining, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan and Tetra Tech, a consultancy firm, have been working together to transform the conservation and guiding sectors in Jordan.


An opportunity like this, for conservation bodies and training facilities across the globe to strike up partnerships, resulted in the graduation of four young Jordanians after they successfully completed EcoTraining's yearlong professional field guide course.
Nadia was one of the fortunate four.
Apart from being amazed at the amount of knowledge they accumulated, Nadia said she is fully aware of the huge responsibility now resting on their shoulders, to transform and help shape the guiding industry in a different part of the world.
“We have had the privilege of living in an environment that few people nowadays get to experience, living among wild animals in their natural environment, and being able to study and observe from only a short distance away.
All in all this has been an amazing adventure and I had the time of my life! Make no mistake, it has been gruelling and the amount of information that I have absorbed has been enormous but I have learnt so much and everything has been interesting. I can recognize hundreds of bird calls, achieved a track-and-sign level 1, can tell the difference between a black and white rhino by looking at their dung, which way a leopard is moving and whether it’s a female or male by looking at its tracks in the dirt, and I know which tree can ease my pain and which one could kill me.
But most importantly, I have an appreciation and deep respect for all creatures like I have never had before. I wouldn’t have realized all this if it weren’t for those special people we have had the honour and great privilege to meet along the way. The dedication and knowledge of these highly experienced instructors in promoting conservation and helping to educate others on why our environment and everything in it is so important, has made a big impression.”


GREEN SPOTLIGHT: WESSA Lowveld

Founded in 1926, WESSA (The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) is one of South Africa's oldest and largest non-government environmental organisations.

WESSA's vision is to be a highly effective and well-supported champion of the environment.
WESSA implements high impact environmental and conservation projects which promote public participation in caring for the Earth.
WESSA is a Section 21 company registered as an Incorporated Association not for gain.
WESSA Lowveld reinvented itself in 2003 and on specific request, was granted regional status. Justified on the basis of its keen committee, its unique location and the special environmental issues it has to deal with, this youngest and smallest of WESSA’s regions has more than its fair share of challenges.
WESSA Lowveld has long supported Kruger NP, hosting a well-publicised Elephant Management Debate and channelling Gower Trust funding towards radio-telemetry studies by researchers working with the Save the Elephants Trust.
The Lowveld’s place in South Africa’s landscape provides unique opportunities and insights around vulnerable people and resource depletion. Its inability to finance even a minimum set of outreach functions deserves high priority nationally and locally.
Contact Details: PO Box 150, White River 1240, South Africa
Tel: 083 630 1782
Email: lowveldchair@wessa.co.za
Secretary: lowveldadmin@wessa.co.za
Regional Chairperson: Ricky Potts


CONTACT INFORMATION

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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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