Apprentice Field Guides
Wow, how times flies. This week we finished our last modules for the course and each got the opportunity to do a mock game drive. It can be quite an eye-opener to see everything one remembers from all we have learnt and absorbed the last seven weeks, and it helps a lot to hear feedback from our fellow ‘guests.’ I finally took some time putting my camera to work and because sometimes photos can express much more than words, I’ll share some of the experiences from the past few days.
This week was the first time that we really spent some time with an elephant herd out in the open, where we able to observe and watch with joy all the interactions between individuals, and the goings-on inside the family.
The little ones are extremely entertaining to watch. The way they’re still exploring themselves and their surroundings, flapping their ears and swinging their trunks is absolutely adorable. To be honest, this week I longed to have the life of one of them, eating all day and roaming the reserve, no worry about final exams and assessments, just follow mommy’s tail and everything is fine.
This week also allowed me to see changes within the other students. Such as those who wouldn’t have blinked when a bird flew in front of them at the beginning of the course, to now realizing how amazing each one is with their unique colours, sounds and traits.
And when there’s no sign of life at all, attention is simply directed to tracks. I find it mind-blowing how in one patch of sand or along the riverbank, you can look and be able to puzzle a story together of the comings and goings and who came for tea or who was the tea! Each day there’s more and more to learn, which is what keeps me going.
Other than animals and their tracks, we also had some human interactions and pieced together a beautifully hosted Thai themed dinner. It was great to see how we could actually work together smoothly from the décor and the delicious food to seeing all our guests off and cleaning everything up. Just shows how our group of monkeys can look presentable and act like a family when they want to.
On Saturday we had rhino Remembrance Day here on Amakhala Game Reserve. Each year on the 16th of November, members of the reserve, as well as guests who are on safari at the time, gather at a beautiful spot on the reserve, very aptly named, ‘God’s Window’. Here, we gather to pay tribute to the poached rhinos of Amakhala. There was a fantastic turn out this year of guides and their guests, landowners, students, and as many of the reserve team as was possible!
It was really incredible to be apart of this!
The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which it lives, because there’s a mutual dependency between it and millions of other species of both animals and plants. David Attenborough
Apprentice Trails Guides
Chiracq is from South Africa and he has been with us since the Apprentice Field Guide course in July. He will also complete the marine guide course and afterwards wishes to remain in the industry. He has a wonderful story of his time and experiences here at Ulovane Environmental Training as an Apprentice Trails guide.
Let’s start off by this saying this was HECTIC!!!
Lesson after lesson, not only in the conventional sense of learning from a book, or learning a fact but experiencing new and exciting things each day. Our introduction and focus at the beginning of this course was to get our A.R.H (Advanced Rifle Handling) and firearm competency out of the way – this was our first challenge. Writing exams and learning all the ins and outs were a breeze, but then came the actual shooting. The first few days were full of struggles but then with the help and encouragement of Pieter (our course instructor) we all started feeling a lot more comfortable with our equipment and we were finally ready to go out there and experience the bush on foot.
Our first walk was almost overwhelming with all the pretty little flowers and bugs you don’t see from a game drive vehicle, and our lead guides (Piet, Shani & Schalk) always having an explanation for what we saw, always blowing our minds with how things work and operate. We started seeing places and signs that were totally foreign for us but the more we walked, the more we saw and became familiar with. Like the Stone nest spider for example! These are medium-sized spiders that construct a spiral-like cornucopia. This consists of super-tough strands of silk they use to weave sand grains and even the exoskeletons of the prey to keep themselves hidden and protected. Isn’t this just recycling at its best!!!
All of this in our back yard…
After a few comfortable walks, we went out with Shani on THE hottest day we have had yet this year. Naturally, the goal of sightings and encounters this day flew out the window, as we were on the hunt for shady spots instead! The animals had the same goal as we did, as most shady spots we made for were taken either by antelope or murders of Cape Crows (did you know that is the collective noun used for a flock of crows??). I guess we had our primal instinct of survival in full swing this day, just the way all animals live day in and day out.
The thing that changed the most between this course and Field Guides is that we weren’t in search of Big 5 and all the other larger animals alone; we wanted to see where plants, birds and bugs lived! But we can’t forget about Jo’s Aardvark – we promised to send her pictures if we were ever lucky enough to see one.
As the walks went on, we all had a chance to walk as 2nd (back-up) rifle to the lead guide giving us the chance to use our skills we had obtained over the past few weeks. We were all tested to the max the night of our sleepout on Amakhala Game Reserve; we had no fences around us, only rifles carried by Piet and Schalk, only ourselves and each other, and animals all around!
The bonds created in these few weeks won’t be able to be made anywhere else; we aren’t fellow students anymore, we are family. A family of chameleons adapting and blending into our environment, adapting to personalities, situations and observing everything going on around us. As we built up hours and encounters on our walks on Amakhala, we noticed that our time together was becoming less and less. We began spending time at waterholes and in valley’s, simply watching, appreciating and listening to all the animals coming and going without interfering or placing a negative impact upon their daily routines.
We had many people joining us on our course, coming and going but leaving a permanent impression in our hearts and thoughts. Jo, the librarian, who made us all push past what we thought was our limits! Then we had Chris, who is a guide from a lodge called Hilsnek on Amkahla, who came along on our 3-day, 2 night sleep out on the reserve. He showed us how things must be done and taught all of us a lot. We then had Lachlan and Rosie joining us for the one-month Nature Experience here at Ulovane. Lachlan is a guide from Australia, who taught us all about the animals and plants and history of his home, as well as the ‘correct’ terminology “it’s a Koala, NOT a Koala-Bear!!”. And Rosie is a returning student to Ulovane, from the United Kingdom – she helped us along the way with life and the situations it throws at us.
This course has been life-changing, showing us that our limits are way more than what we think they are and that we need to lower our impact on the environment and increase our impact on people to make a change for the better. A lesson from Adriaan Louw, not only for tracking but for life as well, is that “If all the evidence points to something, then that’s what it is!!!” Don’t over complicate things, keep it simple and then everything will fall into place.
The American writer Kurt Vonnegut taught me that anything can make you stop, look, wonder and sometimes learn, but ONLY if you are willing to grow.
The only source of knowledge is experience. Albert Einstein