November 12, 2013

FIELD NOTES: NOVEMBER 2013


“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy’”. (Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar)

The first proper summer rains have made the bush come alive and all things wild and wonderful are making their appearance. Get in on the action on any of EcoTraining’s courses on offer for the rest of 2013 and pencil in a few dates for 2014. Visit www.ecotraining.co.za or send an email to enquries@ecotraining.co.za ! To pique your interest and whet the appetite, read on and take a look what happened in the last month...


TAKE NOTE


REACHING ACROSS ANOTHER BORDER: NEW COURSE AT VIC FALLS, ZIMBABWE!

With the Smoke that Thunders as the backdrop, you couldn’t ask for a better classroom setting for digesting all that nature has to offer during this EcoTraining 55 Day Field Guide Level 1 course in a brand new location.

The first course will run from 17 February to 12 April 2014 at the Nakavango Conservation Centre in the 2500 hectare (6000 acre) Stanley and Livingstone Private Game Reserve in Zimbabwe. Just ten kilometres away are the Victoria Falls – one of the seven natural wonders of the world!



The Reserve is the only property in the Vic Falls region where the Big Five can be viewed, due to the presence and protection of black rhino in the reserve.

There is a great diversity of wildlife on the reserve, from invertebrates, frogs and reptiles to birds and mammals. Mammals are abundant - from small gerbils and other rodents, several species of smaller carnivores, as a well as antelope, right through to the large predators (lion, leopard, cheetah), the black rhino and the African elephant. The bird species in the region include “specials” such as the broad-billed roller, western-banded snake-eagle, schalow’s turaco, narina trogon and taita falcon.

This course is for you – whether you intend becoming a field guide (it is FGASA accredited) or purely has a deep and innate love for the bush. Every minute of this 55 day programme will be a learning experience, being submerged in nature and constantly exposed to the African bush. 

The course covers a broad spectrum of subjects in the form of daily lectures and practical activities, out in the field. These alternate between game walks and game drives. Midday lectures involve topical instruction and discussion, on the subject or game encounter of the day.

It is believed that Scottish explorer David Livingstone was the first to set eyes on the world’s largest sheet of falling water almost 160 years ago.

In this instance, be one of the first participants on this EcoTraining 55 Day Field Guide Level 1 course in its brand new location. Send an email to enquiries@ecotraining.co.za and book your place!


UPCOMING COURSES 

There are still some spaces left on the courses below in the next couple of months. Experience and gather knowledge about the wilderness that will blow you away. From a handful of days to one year, the choices are endless!

14 Day EcoQuest: 26 November-9 December – Makuleke
28 Day Safari Guide: 26 November-23 December – Mashatu, Karongwe, Selati
Wildlife Photography: 16-22 December - Karongwe


BEHIND THE KHAKI: Bruce Lawson

Imagine a place where elephants and buffalo congregate in numbers, impalas and nyalas skirt each other, bushpigs and aardvark put in brief appearances, lions and hyenas make their presence known, and Pel’s fising owls and wattle-eyed flycatchers delight in flight.
Such a magical and unspoilt place does indeed exist. In the far north of the Kruger National Park the Pafuri region stretches over 24 000 hectares between the Limpopo and Luvuvhu rivers. Within lies the Makuleke Concession, steeped in the folklore of early explorers, ancient civilizations and also the ancestral home of the Makuleke people.  
Only a fortunate few get to experience Makuleke as the aim is to keep the human footprint as light as possible and let the inhabitants of the natural world march to their own beat.. Just three commercial ventures operate in the concession.
And Bruce Lawson is very fortunate to call this piece of paradise ‘home’ for the better part of each year as head instructor for EcoTraining at Makuleke.


Bruce is a passionate naturalist who has spent over 15 years guiding in remote wilderness areas in many of Africa’s big game reserves and in the process has accumulated over 10 000 hours on foot. Bruce is equally at home leading walking safaris as he is leading specialist birding tours.
With a soft spot for elephants, Bruce devoted two years to leading elephant walking safaris in the Caprivi National Park in Namibia, for people who wanted to experience elephants in large numbers, uninhibited by international boundaries.
Bruce, a director of the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA), is one of only a handful of qualified SKS (Special Knowledge and Skills) dangerous game guides and a national SKS birding guide. He is also an advanced rifle handling trainer for FGASA and is also a THETA accredited national assessor.

Bruce is just pure passion in the bush! With a dry sense of humour and a stickler for getting it right, he passes on his enthusiasm, knowledge and years of experience wholeheartedly to participants and guests on EcoTraining courses. 
And all this surrounded by the diversity of the animal and bird life and flora in Makuleke. It forms but a very small percentage of the park, but holds about 75 % of the biodiversity of this paradise. It is certainly the wildest and most remote part of the park, making for an experience par none when it comes to wildlife viewing and even better birding, all amidst varied vegetation.
A walk through Makuleke’s famed fever tree forest, and then venturing out onto the open floodplains with century old baobabs dotting the skyline and the breathtakingly Lanner Gorge, palm-fringed wetlands and rocky outcrops, is something to be treasured on any given day.
Something which Dee, Bruce’s other half and camp coordinator at Makuleke, gets to experience as well. Dee also manages all the EcoTraining camps operations and administration. Hailing from Australia, Dee has grown to love the African bush. How could she not, being married to Bruce and living in the bush day in and day out!


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: The concrete jungle is worlds apart from the real one, really! Recently a group of 55 Day FGASA Level 1 students got a proper welcome at our wilderness camp in the Selati Game Reserve. Instructor Margaux le Roux sent through this update:
“The group arrived, and to welcome them to the bush, a herd of elephants moved into camp too. A young bull decided he wanted to join us whilst we had our dinner, and he stood feeding undeterred by our presence, less than 10 meters from the dining area. Once we all went to bed, he even left us a little ‘gift’ by ripping out a tap out of the ground (leaving the camp without water for a couple of hours.) Luckily the tap could be fixed, but part of the camp was flooded and muddy elephant tracks were a sure sign of who the culprit was. A clear indication to all new arrivals that ‘Now, you are in the WILDERNESS’!”

And then just a couple of days later, this was reported…
“Yesterday morning ears perked up when the very distinctive grasping sound of a leopard was heard just across the dry river bed. The sound seemed to move up and down, closer and farther away. What could this spotted cat be doing?
Margaux switched on the telemetry as there is a collared female leopard on the reserve and sure enough, a signal was picked up. 
Binoculars were firmly focused on the opposite bank of the river, cameras at the ready, to just press that button should there be a sighting. No such luck though...
The sound would come and go, come and go. Margaux remarked that there is a high possibility that there could be a male leopard in the area, hence the movement of the sound.
Then JP (le Roux, head instructor) and the walking group returned with the news that they've been tracking a pair of leopards, in that exact direction.
The leopards made their presence known every so often for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. And then finally, one of the students managed to get a brief glimpse of one of the cats, but alas, no photo to go with.”

Karongwe: Nothing can brighten up a day in the bush like an unexpected surprise. The camp coordinator at Karongwe sent through this exciting update not too long ago:
“What a wonderful morning after a rainy yesterday. One of our one year students, Steve, was sleeping on one of the open air upper decks. Soundly asleep, he was woken by my footsteps.  Hearing branches crack, he turned around as it could only mean one thing – we have elephants in camp! He turned around again and looked directly into the elephant’s face, and a big one at that! The big grey beast was barely five meters away from us. What a wonderful start to a new day after a stressful assessment week!”

And barely a day later, this was sent through:
“It seems the big grey beasts can’t get enough of our wilderness camp in the Karongwe Game Reserve. The elephants have put in numerous visits during the last week or so. After waking us up this morning, the elephants went to the GVI dam to chill-out and enjoy a cool bath. They decided to pass our camp again in the late afternoon. It is still exiting to see them so close and so relaxed! They love the berries from the jackal berry tree above the fire place where we enjoyed the last evening with our 'Boy group' having a braai and a nice cool drink under the clear southern sky. Venus, the first bright object in the night sky, joined us too! PS: Our 'Boy group’, became men and learned a lot in the five weeks they stayed with us for basic birding, tracking, navigation and orientation as well as wilderness first aid and finally their assessment week!”
Namibia: EcoTraining is a passionate environmentally-conscious company specialising in the training of nature-guides. As part of our commitment to up the standards of guiding throughout Africa, we've struck up partnerships with various entities. 
As a result, a rural skills development project funded by the Amarula Trust has now seen eight Namibians completing a FGASA Level 1 Field Guide training course aimed at creating jobs in the eco-tourism industry. This is the second group to complete the course at Erindi Private Game Reserve and Wilderness Safari’s Damaraland Adventure with the help of the Amarula Field Guide Scholarship Program.
EcoTraining instructor Mark Gunn shared and imparted his knowledge for more than a month and upon completion of the course remarked: "They all gained in knowledge, skills and understanding of the environment and the benefits tourism could hold for the communities that live with wildlife."
Congratulations!


“MEET YOU IN THE BUSH”

There is no better place than to meet like-minded people, those with a deep appreciation for nature, than somewhere out in the wilderness, around the campfire, and on an EcoTraining course.
Therefore the 28 Day Safari Guide course from 26 November-23 December is just the right place to “Meet you in the bush” and make 2013 a year to remember.
From three of our wilderness camps – Mashatu (Botswana), Karongwe, Selati (South Africa) – you will experience an unrivalled bush holiday whilst learning about the environment in a unique and exciting way. It is for those that are passionate about nature, who would like a more in-depth experience and understanding of it. The knowledge you gain on this course will take your safaris and bush holidays to the next level and give them a whole new meaning.
You will also get to immerse yourself in the unique animal and plant life of three different reserves on this specific course – each with its own allure.
And experiences like this, described by a course participant, won’t be out of the ordinary…


“We were about to sit down for dinner when we heard a lion roaring just outside of camp. We hopped into the Land Rover… It was a lone lioness and she called several more times while walking past the camp, attracting the attention of several spotted hyenas. 
Continuing a feud as old as time, three hyenas came looking for her and found her, while five more circled around behind.  She held her ground until the hyenas attacked, and then she let out a ferocious snarl and swiped at one of them before running for the nearest nyala tree. The hyenas followed in pursuit and stalked around the tree. 
The next morning, tracks showed that two male lions eventually joined the fray, probably dispersing the hyenas, allowing the lioness to come down.”
Here’s a diary snippet from another fortunate participant to whet the appetite…
“Lions were spotted just across camp! We followed the tracks and found five lions after one hour of walking. What a great experience! The cubs were playing around but at the same time also very alert. The female started growling at us, swishing her tail. Eventually they all started growling at us. We had an awesome sighting and had to back out because of the alertness, growls and warning signs. We continued the walk away from them. And then, to top it all, we also saw a bat eared fox! Not to mention the many kudu and impala in the riverbed and the vultures in the sky. It was a lovely walk in the cool breeze.”
And if that wasn’t enough…
The sun was setting rapidly, and as darkness descended the radio call came in: ‘There are lions in camp! They are close to Tent 13!’ We raced off back to camp after I instructed all the guys in camp to gather in the main lecture area or to stay in their tents. As we approached the camp, we decided to go and see exactly where the lions were, and how many there were so that we could make a judgement call as to what the next plan of action would be.
As we came around the corner, there they were; 3 of them, sprawled out in the middle of the pathway leading from the instructor’s tent to tent 13. It was a lioness and her sub-adult nephew and niece. They were quite relaxed before the young male got up and walked to tent 12. As he disappeared out of view we kept on looking at the older lioness who was very relaxed with in our company.”
So come on, what are you waiting for? Get in touch and book your place – 26 November-23 December – Mashatu, Karongwe, Selati – Email enquiries@ecotraining.co.za.

GREEN SPOTLIGHT: Wilderness Wildlife Trust

The Wilderness Wildlife Trust supports a wide variety of projects in southern Africa, within the categories of wildlife management, research and education. These projects address the needs of existing wildlife populations, seek solutions to save endangered species and provide education and training for local people and their communities.


The goal of the Trust is to make a difference to Africa, her wildlife and her people. 
Since its formation more than 20 years ago, the Wilderness Trust has supported a wide variety of wildlife management, research and education projects in southern Africa, making use of a number of methods and types of projects to do so.
One project studies and monitors a particular species in its natural environment and in  doing so also contributes to its protection. The long-run Human-Elephant Conflict in the Okavango Delta, Botswana and the Wild Dog Research Project in Zimbabwe are cases in point. Ecosystem and vegetation research is one variation on this theme, with hands-on management and aerial censuses another.
The Trust is financially involved in a number of such projects, supporting research, habitat management, and practical conservation measures such as anti-poaching projects, while Wilderness Safaris contributes logistically in terms of human resources and equipment.
But conservation of flora and fauna is limited as long as the people who live in the vicinity are unconvinced or left out of the process. Financial and educational empowerment of local communities so that they benefit from the wildlife on their doorsteps is therefore vital, and as such broad-based and comprehensive initiatives are in fact the bedrock of the Trust, providing skills knowledge and education necessary to communities to value and manage their wildlife populations.
Rounding off this educational goal, the Trust supports students, schools via grants and bursaries, along with the support of Wilderness Safaris as an acknowledged leader in innovative formal and informal education projects. It also assists in funding the Children in the Wilderness programme, thus supporting its aim of educating the youth of Africa, inspiring and assisting them in preserving their magnificent natural heritage.
The Wilderness Trust was nominated for a Safari Award in 2012.
For more on the Trust, go to www.wildernesstrust.com.

CONTACT INFORMATION

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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 photos and information!)
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