Ulovane Update: April Field Guides and May Marines

11 Jun

Field Guides: Week 9

We have reached week nine of our Field Guide Course! It has gone so quickly, but it is amazing what can be achieved in nine weeks!

Our week started off with conservation activities on Ulovane Reserve; the hard work of road maintenance and repair! It was tiring and quite a challenge for us who are not accustomed to this work back home, but it was a good lesson learnt as being a Guide does not only involve game drives or walks, it includes upkeep and constant maintenance of your workplace, and for us, that’s a game reserve!

The last half of the week consisted of our final practical assessments – our two game drives with real guests on Amakhala Game Reserve. During the assessment drives, our aim is to give our guests an amazing day out on the reserve using a wholesome amount of knowledge gained here at Ulovane over the last eight weeks. Something really great we all felt we recognised during these assessment drives was just how MUCH we have actually learned, and how much more we have come to know and understand since our first week here. Luckily the weather was really very pleasant, although we had a few very cold mornings and evenings, but our guests and assessors then got to come home to Ulovane to a cosy and warm fire.

When conducting a guided experience, your first goal is to have fun with your guests and provide sightings of animals that are to their interest. The challenge here is that you only have a few minutes before the drive to find this information out! So it is very important to listen carefully and ask the right questions. I found this very difficult but I think it is a skill that comes with time, and already by my second drive I felt better about how I handled it than on the first drive.

Personally, I found the two assessment drives an amazing experience. I felt really lucky with the animal sightings I was able to show my guests, which they all thoroughly enjoyed.  The absolute highlight of this week for me was the sighting of the HIPPOS during my second drive. I was overjoyed, and it was an even more rewarding experience as my guests hadn‘t seen them before!

All in all, I can say that I learned a lot this week. Even though the week was quite exhausting and I was a bit nervous about the assessment drives (which is quite normal I think!) I enjoyed it very much.


Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience. Paulo Coelho

Farwell to Sue and Clare the Savannah Guides!

On Saturday evening, we said goodbye to our two Savannah Guides from Australia, Sue & Clare, who have been with us for four weeks here at Ulovane. The Savannah Guides come to Ulovane to experience a little bit of everything in their time here, from walking on Amakhala Game Reserve with the back-up trails guide students, to exploring the coastline with the marine students, and being a very big part of our field guide course as well, especially during the assessment game drives. They also engage in bird watching activities, which Sue and Clare experienced this time with the head instructor of our Field Guide course, Justin Barlow. He is knowledgable and passionate about his birds and took the ladies on a day trip to Woody Cape where they did a 7km hike through the forests, and then a fabulous day out to Addo National Park.

We were lucky enough to have Clare spend her birthday here with us during their stay! Clare and Sue treated themselves to a relaxing and rejuvenating day at a spa near Addo, and a fantastic day drive spent on the Amkhala Game Reserve with Melissa; the highlight of this day most certainly being able to sit with a herd of elephants with three young ones, one still just months old, for just over an hour.

We all here at Ulovane look so forward to the Savannah Guides visiting us, as they come with a dynamic and different point of view which they share so willingly to our students. It is a breath of fresh air and always a pleasure to learn about new and exciting things from “down under“!

We loved having Sue and Clare with us, and look forward to seeing them back here in future or most certainly when opportunities arise, one of us there in Australia!

  • Melissa

Marine Guides: Week 2

Week two of our marine guide course was busy and filled with exciting activities! We were incredibly fortunate to have been given the opportunity to embark on a practical activity with Professor Paul Cowley, Principal Aquatic Biologist working at SAIAB (South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity) on one of his projects on the Kowie River, working with Groovy Mullets. Professor Paul is the father of one of our marine students Lloyd, and the invite was extended to our marine group as Professor Paul’s student, Russell, is in the process of collecting evidence for his first thesis.

We went out on a small boat, armed with a big fishing net (as seen in the pictures). We got in the water, which was super cold, and Paul was driving the boat in a circle so that we could ‘herd’ the fish to make collection easier. Then we needed to pull the net so that the fishing bag with the caught fish came towards us, and the result……we only caught one mullet, with a target of forty!!

Besides the mullet, we caught other fish like Sole, Shaggy Sea Hare, Cuttlefish and Grunters but we released them from the net as we couldn’t use these for the research. We repeated this cycle many times and about five hours later, we had only caught seven mullets, as their size needed to be a minimum of 18 cm in order to implant the chips.

The research idea is to implant chips in the mullets for further research, but they first want to find out how the fish react to the chips, and that’s where we were able to assist in trying to catch the mullets with a net. After having caught sizeable fish, Professor Paul Cowley was implanting “fake” chips in order to follow the mullets over the next couple of weeks. The work was much more demanding than any of us expected! We are all curious what the result of the research will be!

This week we also went kayaking and fishing in Port Alfred. It was a lovely day with a lot of sunshine and it was very enjoyable to kayak, do some bird watching and fish! Most of us shared a twin kayak, but Lloyd and Francois had a one person kayak in order to take their fishing rods along to try to catch some fish for us to eat! It is incredible that after being here for two weeks, we still haven’t caught any fish to eat, and again, this wasn’t our lucky day… We saw the mullets jumping out of the water, but they just didn’t want to bite the hook. In the morning Lloyd and Damon pumped some sand prawns as bait for fishing, but the fish would eat the bait, and then quickly swim away again, keeping their freedom!

Lloyd and Francois’s kayaks were not streamlined at all, and they needed to use all their muscle power in order to catch up with us! We are sure they must have had quite sore muscles the next day 😉

We had some unstable weather this week so we maximised on the outdoor activities with beautiful weather when we could, and had Wednesday and Thursday as study days indoors. Topics studied included Mammals, Ethology, Fish, Birds and Sea Plants and algae. We started off in the morning with an interesting documentary, which I have found helps to make what we learn in the FGASA books, vivid in your mind.

Our week wrapped up with another collection and research day with Professor Paul Cowley. We then had a fantastic dinner of Fish & Chips on Saturday evening – a chance to have some quality time together before a good rest was needed to wake up refreshed for Sundays exam!

Josien & Damon

An insert from Koenraad who was with the marine students over the last week:

On Monday, Student Lloyd Cowley’s Dad Professor Paul Cowley invited our group of Marine students for help with Groovy Mullet collection for one of his students Russell, who is in progress with his first thesis.

Myself and Josien joined on Monday, with the other students joining on Friday. This was due to other students having interview obligations and research capacity limitations. We arrived in the morning on a small red boat, a little unsure of proceedings, but willing to help wherever we can. It was a beautiful day, with icy cold water! After doing some preparation getting the boat & equipment ready, we went to our first sand bank to get off, with vague instruction on what to do and little understanding of net use. Myself & Josien were then instructed to help Russel and his mentor, with Professor Cowley guiding us on what to do and how to do it. With a little bit of a struggle, we eventually got the net together and collected species; this sorting and collecting went on for 5 hours. According to the SAIAB group, it was a poor day for our targeted species, but man I was stunned by the number of species in the Kowie river. Species caught and seen included: Shaggy sea-hares, White Stumpose, Groovy mullet, Common Cuttlefish, Flounders, Soles, White Steenbrass and Spotted Grunter.

We ended the day off with our catches of Groovy Mullet needing to be a select size of larger than 17cm (preferred 18cm). They were placed in a tank which added to the previous research mullet collection. We then continued research proceedings on the pier jetty, where we got to help and witness first-hand how to anaesthetize fish (using phenoxyethanol) and then do a procedure adding dummy transmitters into the stomach cavity of the fish for tests. The dummy transmitters are used beforehand because the real transmitters cost up to R4000 per fish, and the ideal research sample size is about 50 individuals!

This has been an eye-opener into the hard work SAIAB does. A breathtaking experience for me to see the level of care taken when these fish are caught and tagged.


It’s wonderful to be grateful. To have that gratitude well out from deep within you and pour out in waves. Once you truly experience this, you will never want to give it up. Srikumar Rao

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