Apprentice Field Guides
Since I arrived at Ulovane, I have enjoyed every minute of my time here. Every week is full of new experiences and
packed full of knowledge. This was the fifth week of our course, already halfway through! It was quite a busy week learning about amphibians, reptiles, conservation management, amongst other amazing things!
We continued practising our driving skills of the 4 x 4 game viewers, orientating ourselves on the roads of the reserve, practising how to plan and carry out a game drive for our upcoming game drive assessments. We also had our mock tracking assessment this week where we spent a whole day with Justin and Schalk doing tracking on Amakhala Game Reserve. It’s thrilling and quite an experience to have lectures in our classroom and then be able to go in the bush to see and observe what we have learned. I love it!
This week we also went frogging with our nets on Amakhala to see what we could find and observe. Being winter still, it is difficult to spot reptiles and amphibians this time of year, but we did manage to find a common river frog and something similar to a horseshoe crab. We were also treated to a special find of small spotted thick-toed gecko this week!
Our we started off with a bang as we had an incredible opportunity to attend the release of a blind black rhino. This black rhino, called Munu, is about twenty years old. He is blind due to territorial fights he had with other bulls, because of this, he was intended to be euthanised. Thanks to the Brett Barlow, the ‘White Lion Foundation’ and ‘Mantis’, he was rescued and given an opportunity to safely adapt to a life without sight. For the moment, he is in a boma, a special enclosure to help him to adapt progressively to his new environment. When he is ready, his boma will gradually increase in size to accommodate and suit his needs. When we arrived, we could see him through the enclosure. He was so peaceful! After a while, although he was aware of all the presence around him, they opened the gate and he went gently into the bigger area of the boma. It was an incredibly emotional moment, especially knowing that black rhinos are endangered creatures. I felt so grateful to be a part of it, and for all these people that are involved in wildlife conservation. If you’d like to follow Munu’s journey, please follow the link to his Facebook page!
Halfway through our week, we were invited to go to the FGASA (Field Guide Association of South Africa) annual Eastern Cape meeting. We had a multitude of guest speakers to address the audience on the theme of the meeting –‘Global Conservation’. The talks were all very interesting and included speakers like Grant Fowlds, who shared his experience of his ‘Project Rhino Foundation’; Stacy Webb from SST, ‘Sustainable Sea Trust ‘, presented about the impact of plastic in the sea and André Klussmann, Ulovane alumni, spoke about the environment, the pollution and animals kept in circuses.
During this meeting, various guides from different reserves in the province were acknowledged and awarded for their outstanding achievement. I was so proud that Shani Preller, one of our lovely instructors from Ulovane, won ‘The Karoha award for Tracking Excellence’. She is only the third woman in Africa to receive this kind of award. Indeed, in this guiding industry, the majority are males and it’s encouraging for me and all the women in the community to see that women are starting to occupy more space professionally, especially in this week where we celebrated ‘Woman’s day’. It’s inspiring me to continue to trust in my dreams and to live them! I definitely wish it to every woman out there too!
It was a short but jam-packed week! We had our weekly exam on Friday morning and after a short discussion with Justin to give feedback of the past 5 weeks, we all had the weekend off. I decided to stay at camp to enjoy the peace and quiet, and to walk around in nature and study.
“Nature has been for me, for as long as I remember, a source of solace, inspiration, adventure, and delight; a home, a teacher, a companion.” ―
Apprentice Trails Guides
Communication and human relationships are definitely the most complex and beautiful subjects of all. For the last few years, I realized that we do not only need relationships between human beings, but we need relationships with nature too. And nature is one hell of a big thing!
I have travelled to about 100 countries for different reasons. Sometimes for filming, sometimes for expeditions, sometimes just for my personal interests. But for the last few years, it was more and more obvious to me that I lacked knowledge of nature.
I decided to do the Apprentice Trails Guide course because I thought this would teach me how to be in a position where I can have a better relationship and be constantly aware of my surroundings while being in the African bush, as well as inspiring my clients to do the same. More specifically, I wanted to learn how to walk in the African bush, interact respectfully with animals, know and understand their behaviour, so that we can share this common space.
For me, this was a long shot. I did not really know Ulovane, the instructors, their level of expertise or their philosophy of teaching. And when it comes to teaching skills, I am very demanding! Stuck between two film shootings in Thailand and Kirghystan, I decided to go for it. I must admit that I nearly cancelled my participation to the course because I had not been home for three months already, I was tired and I was wondering if this course would really give me the experience that I am looking for. But I couldn’t not do it…
I am now at week five of seven. It is hard to sum up what I have learned so far, but here are a few important elements.
First, I am grateful to have Pieter Dunn as an instructor. He is very impressive on so many levels. His high level of empathy mixed with extremely strong leadership abilities and extensive knowledge about nature creates the whole experience. Not only does he know facts, but he knows how to transmit his passion. I strongly believe that the person in a leadership position creates the atmosphere and the tone of what students will experience. I was impressed from the start.
On a practical level, this course definitely taught me how to better understand the animals of the African bush. I would even say, I have learnt empathy for the animals. But I feel like what I get out of the course is deeper than animal knowledge. The course teaches you how to listen. To me, it is now obvious that we can’t enjoy nature, protect nature, care about the environment without re-learning how to listen to every signal your environment is sending you. These signals, we need to learn them one by one. The wind sends messages, birds send messages, the tracks send messages. Every message from the environment is in close interaction with signals inside yourself. Your thoughts, your emotions, your attention, your imagination, your memory. While walking in the bush, every part of you is in constant relationship with every part of the environment. Relationship is a science. It’s also an art that needs investment and work. Listening and awareness is probably the most important key to be able to enjoy the world.
Guillaume Dulude PhD
“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” ―