Ulovane Update: Field and Backup Trails Guides Week 5

14 May

Field Guides

Monday is always a weird day of the week but it can honestly be one of the best at Ulovane.

Monday was a day that the Field Guides explored an area of Amakhala Game Reserve that we had not yet been to; the northern territory! We got to see a huge herd of buffalo that were hiding out in the grasslands. This awesome experience was then topped by a team building exercise when we ventured through the bush blindfolded. Some still have minor scratches to prove it! This exercise brought with it the need for great communication skills, and once the exercise had been achieved, a sense of real accomplishment! It was definitely a new personal skill I have acquired, and I think the whole group took something valuable away from it too. Many thanks to Koen & Justin for the outing!

This week had in store for us reptiles and amphibians. This subject interested most of us, but I was especially amazed at the Common Platanna! It was Therien’s birthday on Tuesday, so after our day in class learning about these fascinating cold-blooded creatures, we then celebrated her birthday and enjoyed a fun-filled braai.

The following day involved talks on Global Conservation topics. It was a little easier, as conservation is a part of our daily life at Ulovane.  It was then off into the night for a night drive. We had some extra astronomy lessons with Koen, with him specifically pointing out 6 constellations to us. We also learned first-hand that some roads are best left untraveled after the rains came down. Our main goal whilst on the night drive was trying to catch and release frogs but unfortunately, we only managed to catch a single Raucous toad, which involved a lot of fun with people slipping in the mud at the edges of the water body.

Finally, our week ended off in a short game drive to touch up on local knowledge of Amakhala. Weeks like these with

so many exciting events make it really hard to pick a favourite moment. I used to think I was quite decisive, but now I’m not so sure! 🙂

After we wrote our exam on Friday morning, the Field Guides had the chance to look forward to our weekend off! We were all very excited for it as most of us went home or used the opportunity to explore nearby attractions of this beautiful province.

We are very grateful for this midterm break so that we can fully recharge and prepare for the final stretch of our time here at Ulovane!


“Knowing Is Not Enough; We Must Apply. Wishing Is Not Enough; We Must Do.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Backup Trails Guides

As the week’s tick by, so our experience and confidence in the bush increases. Though it’s always worth remembering that no matter how confident one might feel out there, a blasé attitude is extremely dangerous.  Our instructor, Piet, takes every opportunity to prevent complacency from setting in.

This week brought about a step up in our back-up trails education. On our walks, instead of walking only back-up guide with Piet as lead, we performed the role of lead and back-up guides with Piet placing himself in the line behind us to be an observant (and sometimes difficult) guest.

At first, Piet would choose a moment when the guide’s concentration seemed to lull slightly and sneak behind a bush, allowing the group to continue on their way without him. He’d wait behind the bush until one of the guides realised he was missing. At first, he had to wait a long time. This was with the intention of ensuring that the guides don’t shirk their responsibility to check on the guests’ wellbeing and maintain their all-around awareness. Eventually, the guides began to realise that they had to do thorough guest checks throughout the duration of the walk. Piet’s game of hide-and-seek got shorter and shorter. But Piet had other tricks…

If I recall correctly, our walk on Tuesday was a personal highlight. We set out with our designated guides, now performing robust clients checks, with an initial plan. Though, as the walk progressed, we heard via the radio that there were lions in the area. We decided to modify our plan to check what these cats were up to. We waited for the vehicles to clear off before making our approach. As we got close, we hear the male make a very distinct sound.

‘They’re mating,’ Piet said.

Our FGASA manuals tells us that we should be very wary of approaching mating lions on foot as their behaviour can be aggressive and unpredictable, but wind and topography were in our favour, so we decided to proceed.

As we came over the hill, we saw the male lion 200m or so away. It was an amazing experience, as I had not seen lions on foot before. He was aware of our presence, but not too concerned. We approached a little closer and found that the three females where there too.

We sat and watched them for about 30 minutes. The male slowly made his way into the thicket and out of sight. At this time, a game viewer came into the sighting. We were amused by the driver’s attempts at vehicle positioning. It seemed that he eventually got the right position. They remained there for only a few minutes before heading off.

Very shortly after the viewer departed, the male emerged and proceeded to mate with one of the females, teaching us all that patience is important when in the bush (well, not the guide on the vehicle!).

Giving the bush time to do its ‘thing’ is often very rewarding.

From our vantage point on the top of the hill, we spotted a breeding herd of elephants and decided to make our way towards them. An elephant breeding herd is another situation the FGASA manual warns us about, though Piet was very familiar with these elephants and the topography, so we decided to approach with caution. As we approached, we recognised that they were walking in a valley, with a very safe route for us to walk running parallel to their path, just higher up in the valley. After some very interesting route selection from our guide involving some thick and thorny vegetation, we found our intended path with the elephants happily moving below us. This was another terrific sighting, as we were able to get quite close to the elephants without threatening them in any way. Again, they were aware of our presence, though behaved completely naturally.

We decided to call it a day. Our lead guide extracted us from the sighting, again with a very creative route selection, with his back-up constantly looking back, making sure Piet was still in the line. Piet was still in the line, though cooking up his next move.

As we were approaching the car, he noticed that all our heads started to focus on the ground right at our feet, and the guides were not paying as much attention to their wider surroundings as they should be.

‘Buffalo approaching from the right!!!!!!!’ Piet shouted.

The entire group looked up in terror and took a few steps to the left. The guides were caught off guard and slower in cocking their rifles than they perhaps should have been.

‘Congratulations,’ Piet said, ‘you’re all dead.’

We were able to giggle about it once we knew it was a drill, but the seriousness of our responsibilities towards our guests’ safety as back-up trails guides was not lost on any of us.

We heard Piet repeat, ‘confidence in the bush is important, but a blasé attitude can be very dangerous.’


“The Future Belongs To The Competent. Get Good, Get Better, Be The Best!” – Success Quote By Brian Tracy

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