October 18, 2013

FIELD NOTES: OCTOBER 2013



"The earth has music for those who listen.” (George Santayana)

It is less than three months till Christmas, where did 2013 go? Fear not however, as summer is already sizzling and the last stretch of the year is going to be hot! The call of the African wilderness is louder than ever and EcoTraining is ready with an array of courses to suit all preferences. 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!
Basic Birding: 28 October-3 November – Karongwe           
Survival Course: 3-9 November – Selati
Tracking Course: 17 November – Karongwe
Family Ecoquest: 22 -28 December – Makuleke


BEHIND THE KHAKI: Mark Gunn
From taking care of and looking after animals when he started out as a zookeeper, to encountering the big and hairies in true wilderness areas for the 15+years, Mark Gunn has many years’ experience working in the bush and has an enormous interest in all creatures great and small.


His years of experience is backed up by a list of qualifications – Level 3 FGASA Field and Trails Guide, VPDA (Viewing Potentially Dangerous Animals), Level 2 Tracker, Level 3 track and sign interpretation, registered FGASA assessor. 
Mark has been an EcoTraining instructor for more than five years, the last couple as a roving instructor in South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia. He has shared and imparted his wealth of knowledge with hundreds of students from all over the world.  Taking his instructing seriously, he has been able to use his teaching techniques to create exceptional fun for all participants. Catching insects and picking up stones is just part of everyday life, spending hours analysing the complexity in each subject of fascination.
A glimpse of Mark’s travels through his EcoTraining diary entries from teaching all across this magnificent continent…
Makuleke, Kruger National Park: “We tried to go frogging this evening followed by a star session. Plans were made and the cooler box packed for a drink afterwards. Upon arrival at the chosen site we were greeted by a herd of buffalo. While waiting for the buffalo to move off a leopard came walking down the road and passed within two meters of the vehicle. We followed the leopard and when it walked off into the bush we went back to try for the frogs. The pan was too far from the road though and the grass too long. We went to the water trough instead, but there were only tadpoles and mosquito larvae. The next option was to do a star talk. This was about the only thing that went to plan. The sky was clear, the moon had set and there was no light pollution. Lesson learned – when an interesting distraction happens, adapt to the new situation. Can you imagine the reaction if I had ignored the leopard just because we were on a frogging trip?”


Pongola, KwaZulu Natal: Tracked a black rhino for an hour and a half. The birding is good. New tree species for the tree fundi. Fantastic scenery of the dam and mountains.  Stories around the fire at night. ‎​Two dung beetles fighting over a dung ball with such vigour that they broke the ball in half. The stars are fantastic.”
Lewa, Kenya: “Two buffalo, two or three rhino encounters interspersed with lion and elephant on a single game walk, was not out of the ordinary. It would seem as if the game roosted in the numerous fever trees around the camp site for the night and then just dropped out in the morning as we walked past. The day trip to the Ngare Ndare forest was an absolute pleasure. The trees and scenery on the steep slopes was amazing. The road (if it can be called that) follows the contours and makes it way toward the raised canopy walk-way, 450 metres of cables stretching through the trees. And then a feast for the eyes as the Hartlaub’s turacos run and jump among the trees flashing their iridescent green and red plumage as they flit through the dappled light, wow, flying Christmas trees! A strangler fig in the background with a trunk thicker than what an elephant is long was the ideal setting for lunch. And then an impromptu lesson on vehicle recovery as a Kenyan maintained Landy conked in the forest because of faulty electrics. What can I say, TIA. And all that is left to say is ‘Asante sana Lewa’ (Thank you very much Lewa)”


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! 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…

Selati: When the sun sets, and the daily activities slowly grind to a halt, that’s when the real action starts. Well, in nature at least. It’s such a pity then that we humans are dwelling bound at this time, counting sheep in another world…
Lucky then some are light sleepers. Like Margaux le Roux, assistant-instructor at EcoTraining’s wilderness camp in the Selati Game Reserve. And just see what we could have missed if she didn’t sleep with one ear open.
This is exactly what transpired a couple of nights ago.


Just before midnight, Margaux was woken by a noise next to her tent. When she went outside to investigate she found an aardvark digging in the sand, less than five meters from where she was standing!
This was a really rare sighting for Selati – they are more common in Mashatu in Botswana – as these nocturnal animals are not often seen, so imagine Margaux’s surprise! Luckily her aardvark sightings count is now up to four.
When he (or maybe even she…) saw Margaux, he got a fright and ran away. So unfortunately, she didn’t get any pics. She says it was nonetheless an adrenalin rush to watch this great animal.
Other exciting sightings at Selati in the last week or so, include leopard and other members of the Big Five.
(Photos: www.arkive.org)

Mashatu: What a way to end the week on! Clinton Phillips sent through this exciting update from our wilderness camp in Mashatu, Botswana:
"Three leopard sightings, two on foot! One was above us in a Mashatu tree. 


We backed up and it growled, ran around the tree then took a six meter leap to ground and bounded off. Also two lion sightings, one was a a female on a wildebeest kill just one km up river from camp."
(Note on the picture: It's from the camera trap in camp a while back, still exciting though!)

Namibia: EcoTraining instructor Mark Gunn is continuing his travels through Namibia whilst sharing and imparting his knowledge. This of course is all part and parcel of our commitment to guiding excellence throughout Africa. And striking up partnership with various companies across the continent, is just one way we are doing it, thus widening the base of knowledge and ensuring the future of nature guiding.
Mark shares his diary:


Day 3: We went up to the main lodge this morning. A 21km game drive, lovely scenery. The students had a tour through the lodge to see front of house and back of house activities etc. We then headed back for lunch after a stop at the airstrip for an E.T. moment. (Phone home…)
We decided to try and find the lions. They are tracked by satellite, so we headed downstream. The Huab River is, well, not a river all the time. There is some water but only in places, very few places. We did some real 4X4 driving. This terrain lends itself to this activity, and what fun! All manoeuvres and techniques were explained. The extended Landy is not a joke to drive. Our expedition was thwarted by a section of road 50m long that was too angled for this huge vehicle. We did however get some good terrain crossing practice in.
It was a very good day. Everyone is highly motivated.
Day 4: Drove to the Slangkop farm this morning. This is an old farm that has a spring. We encountered a desert elephant and followed him for the trip to the spring. A slow approach and gentle manoeuvring got us really close. We had a great time watching him drink and then splash mud all over himself. A lonely patriarch of this harsh environment. Adjectives can never do justice to this land. The only way to appreciate it is to get yourself up here and see for yourself.


Day 5: A long drive this morning took us via Krone Pos to Springfontein. An exciting place for its trees, restiods and geology. While we were adding three more trees to our list we saw a flock of rosy faced parakeets, what a pretty sight. We scrambled about 80 meters down the slope into the canyon and back up to the vehicle. The Hartmann’s mountain zebra use this trail to get to the water up top from the valley floor below. We found rhino markings at the bottom. A long drive took us to the workshop at D camp to fix the bearings on the left front wheel and the break pins on the right front wheels. A good lesson all round for the students. The conversation around the fire is going strong while I write this. Dinner is under construction. The thick down duvet on my bed is getting more and more inviting. A good day.
Day 6: Hillary took us on a long drive to poacher’s camp via the village of Bergsig. Fantastic scenery, three black rhino, giraffe, oryx, kudu, steenbok and springbok all added up to make a great drive. One section of the road was too rough for Hillary’s style of driving so I took over and got the truck up the hill. We are all tired and looking forward to a good dinner.


“MEET YOU IN THE BUSH”
EcoTraining has been in the business of training field guides for 20 years now. And from those humble beginnings, we have gone from strength to strength. It is therefore always heart-warming to here from ex-students and the good work they do in the name of conservation.
Like Marnus Roodbol.
In his own words:
“If you have passion for something you will eventually find the pudding that makes all the other things disappear, so before you think this article is about pudding, you are mistaken. The heading originates from where ones passion comes from and how it makes you feel once you have achieved it. It is something that is deep down inside your soul and very rarely comes out in this world due to worldly pressures.


Just like so many other passionate people out there, my passion for conservation also dated back before I was actually born most likely. When the time came to step up and start fighting for my passion, I had great support from friends and family to continue my dream and that dream was to learn as much as one can about wildlife and actually walk away one day from the planet leaving green footprints.
Taking on the role as a conservationist is an honour but has to be earned and respected. It is very similar to being a policeman or a soldier. These people also dedicate their lives to protect and serve other humans (society) and their country. So to take on the role of a field guide, researcher, ranger or even lodge manager is a commitment that has to be respected. Most conservationists know that there is very little money involved for what we are doing, but to exchange money for what we see, experience and live, no gold can purchase.
As the time came to leave school, it was time to go and follow my passion and I found a young company (at the time) called EcoTraining. The course I did was at this time the one mouth course as EcoTraining did not offer the year courses then, but that month was still something I will never forget. At the same time, the group I was with was also studying at college for our diplomas so it was a nice relief to be in the bush and learning from the masters themselves.
To be honest, our first year we did have a few late nights around the fire and concentration during the hot days were hard, but when we did the second year (advanced EcoTraining) we were well prepared; or so we thought. Some of our mentors from the first year, met up with us again the second year and knew us a little better than what we had hoped for, thus testing our weaknesses to a fine hair.
I remember there was a test where one of our mentors told us to go and sit on this huge flat rock and be by ourselves to just enjoy the sunset. Once we all split up and found our positions, we heard the Landrover start and off he was. Dumbstruck we all looked confused at each other and basically asking the blind to lead the blind.
We were in no major threats from game as the reserve has a few wildlife but we were not aware of this at the time. So we all huddled together, saw the sun was almost gone and decided to walk back to camp. Maybe this is a test to see how we can navigate at night? Maybe it’s a test to see how well we work together? Or maybe it’s a test to see how dumb (ignorant) we are as students. None the less, we made a group decision to walk back to camp, at night, with no torches or light (only little Nokia 3310 lights).
After an hour, we arrived with our mentor sitting at the deck, looking at us and smiling. Yes, we thought, this is a good sign and we will pass. The smile turned away quickly with a harsh talk around the camp fire about how and where we went wrong.
Ever since then, I have never really made ignorant decisions like this. It shows you that not only do you learn wildlife skills from Ecotraining, but you also learn some very valuable tips that will save your life in the future.
The smell of the pudding came closer and closer for me, and after a few years of guiding in fantastic lodges, it was time to focus more on specialised large cat research.


It sounded very romantic and was for a few years but after that, you kind of wonder if you as a person cannot do more for wildlife. There are truly so many rehab and captive centres around Southern Africa and still you hear of the wild population dwindling.
So to cut a long story short, I decided to take my little knowledge, large passion and go for the animal that scares me the most in life and that is the majestic lion. A species that does not have to earn respect, it demands it. And a species that is declining so fast in the wild, some determine that by the time the rhino population has subsided, the last lions of several areas in Africa will be gone.
If you ask me now how the pudding tastes, I can tell you for a fact that I am getting closer and closer to it, but will most likely only taste it when my time is up.
A very good quote which I heard in a movie once is; ‘can a man change his destiny?’ and the reply was ‘a man does what he can and at the end, his destiny will reveal itself’.
On behalf of Walking for Lions, we would like to say many thanks to the owners and staff of EcoTraining for supporting our organisation, and we know that we will change the outcome together.”
For more on Walking for Lions, go to www.walkingforlions.org.


GREEN SPOTLIGHT: Distell Namibia/Amarula Field Guide Scholarship Programme
The Distell Namibia/Amarula Field Guide Scholarship Programme has once again joined hands with EcoTraining as it aims to preserve nature and wildlife, while creating employment and symbiotic relationships between local inhabitants and the environment.
Members of local communities are provided with bursaries to complete a 28 Day FGASA Level 1 field guide training course. With this financial assistance, people already employed in the tourism industry, are given the chance to progress further in their respective sectors and fields in Namibia. After completion of the course, students are monitored and opportunities identified for refresher and more advance courses.
The basis of the course is an EcoTraining 28 Day Level 1 curriculum adapted to the Namibian environment and norms and standards of the tourism industry in this country.
The aim is to take inspiring young individuals and give them a helpful step in the right direction and provide a good foundation towards a sustainable career.


CONTACT INFORMATION
Like our official fan page on Facebook at Ecotraining; and join our Twitter page @EcoTraining to get all the latest updates!
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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