Ulovane Update: Field Guides
Ever since I saw the first Jurassic Park movie in the cinema in 1991 as a kid I have had a ‘small’ obsession with reptiles. It even got so out of hand that during the past years I have owned quite a lot of lizards myself. So you might imagine I was looking forward to the reptile lectures, and finally during this week we got to the chapter reptiles. However, not only reptiles was on the schedule, so was birds. And if there was one thing I wasn’t looking forward to it was birds. While reptiles has always fascinated me, birds have done the opposite. My knowledge with birds as someone who has lived his whole live in a major city, did not go much further then being able to separate the sound of a crow, from that of a pigeon. And by previous never paying much attention to the different sounds the different species make, I was afraid this could become quite a challenge.
So the week started with one of the topics I was looking forward to the most and the one I was looking forward to the least. However, you notice soon enough when you come to Ulovane that pretty much every teacher and guide has a certain respect and even passion regarding the birds. Even during our first week we regular stopped just to listen to the different birds sounds.
During this week they took it one step further. During multiple hikes and game drives in the reserve, we just to listen to the birds sounds and looked for the birds using your binoculars or camera’s. As a not native English speaking person, remembering the different bird’s names can sometimes be quite a challenge. But during these hikes and drives the teachers frequently told amazing stories about the behaviour of these animals and how some of these birds got their name, which certainly helped a lot in trying to learn their names and sounds. And those few spare moments in which you did not hear a bird sound we could just enjoy the scenery or ask pretty much anything regarding the birds.
The same walks and drives we also used to get more knowledge of reptiles. As it its currently winter in the Eastern Cape, many reptiles are in hibernation. But even with the lack of visually observing many reptiles, we obtained a lot of knowledge by discussing these creatures and looking at certain terrain features in which you find certain reptiles frequently. Luckily during our last game drive of the week the weather was kind to us, and even during mid-winter we were able to observe multiple species of tortoises being active in the Amakhala Game Reserve. It’s amazing to realise that some of the creatures that are walking there so gracefully and sometimes also a bit clumsy, might be a century old.
Now that the week has come to a closure, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I became passionate about birds in the same way I am with reptiles during this week. But I certainly got a whole new form of respect and interests for these ‘flying dinosaurs’, and their extreme diversity. Not the least thanks to the enthusiasm and passion from our teachers. And I must admit, recognizing certain birds just based on their sounds is actually more fun then I could imagine.
An understanding of the natural world and what’s in it is a source of not only a great curiosity but great fulfillment. David Attenborough
Ulovane Update: Backup Trails Guides
The week started off with a new yet old face joining Ulovane. Dylan Webb a previous student joined us to complete his back up trails guide assessment with us as his guests. Well done Dylan, you rocked it!
An interesting subject, How to approach dangerous game on foot was our first lecture of the day. Followed by a visit and lecture from veterinarian Dr Emily Baxter to talk about animal diseases. The slides were very interesting, and it was a lot more special to learn about all this with someone that deals with it daily. We all sat in awe as we were shown how scary and quick some of these diseases can take control. In the end we found the subject a lot easier to learn and understand. To end off the day and be a bit active we ran through a few scenarios in which we had people with animal targets jump out at random parts of the thicket. We then had to deal with the situation and make sure everything ran smoothly. It was very interesting and seeing a previous student from Ulovane show us different ways of doing certain things was great.
Tuesday came with a storm of new things to learn. We headed onto Amakhala for a walk, however not just to approach animals but to learn survival techniques, such as finding water and making a water catchment system. We spent most of our time walking in the thicket which is most of our happy places. We saw a lot of awesome game, though one of our favourites were all the gemsbok. During the walk we had a bit of a break and decided to do some mapwork skills without using any roads just landmarks, we also worked on our fire making skills and were showed how to make a fire by using a bow and stick. The walk all together was extremely interesting and exhilarating. There is so much to learn out here!
Wednesday was the day we all were looking forward to it, it was a full day on the shooting range. We did the ‘miss fire’ exercise in which we had to deal with a miss fire during shooting. We all did well, and handling the rifle is starting to become easier and more comfortable. The next exercise was a lot different instead of shooting at lines on paper we had to shoot animal pictures to simulate a charging animal. A hippo charge was simulated for us and it all becomes a lot more real when it looks, sounds and feels like an actual animal charging at you. We had to adjust our mindsets to this, it was frightening in the beginning, but we were coached and supported by the team and in the end we were all successful and we have all become a lot more confident with our ARH assessment drills.
That night we had to prepare for our sleep out on Amakhala, we had been instructed to build a box each but did not know what it was for. Most of our boxes did not look pretty yet they did what they were meant to and that is all that matters in the end. Thursday morning, we set out for a walk it was extremely misty at first, so the walk started off slow waiting for clarity, but we soon picked up the pace and breakfast with the elephants once the mist lifted was incredible! We had an amazing sighting with them less than 50 m below us, with even a clear view of the newest edition to the herd.
We slowly made our way to bush braai for our much anticipated sleep out. Once we had collected wood, unpacked, got a fire going and coffee on the brew, we had a visit from the Amakhala anti poaching unit. The talk included information on crime scene management, as well as a little more insight into what a day to day looks like when you are a part of an anti-poaching team and the sacrifices that they make every day to protect our wildlife. Hats off to these men and woman, it is not an easy job.
That night was filled with laughter and learning as we had to play challenges to win our food for the night (our very unpretty boxes were finally put to good use). They all had their own unique twist to each challenge, yet all were entertaining and exciting. When sleeping finally came to end a long day we decided on sleeping duty. Night shifts are super important to ensure the safety of the entire camp, you need keep the fire going, be aware of your surroundings, pay attention to sounds and look out for unwanted visits from Dagga boy or the elephants. The night went quicker then expected and camp was surprising very joyful on just a few hours of sleep. Our early morning walk was thrilling as we took long look at tracks in the area to find baby porcupines all the way to aardwolf tracks. The walk was cut short as we were unable to keep up but there was a beautiful ending to the walk with a lunch at Gods window.
I would like to give a special thanks to the whole Ulovane team for all their hard work to really make this place feel like home and to make every experience a once in a lifetime. The whole trails group would also like to give a huge thank you to all the Rangers out there fighting for the one thing we all love and sacrificing everything for the earth we all have huge respect for you and look up to you.
“The hope of the future lies not in curbing the influence of human occupancy – it is already too late for that – but in creating a better understanding of the extent of that influence and a new ethic for its governance.” – Also Leopold