Apprentice Field Guides
Week 5 of the Apprentice Field Guide course already! Jörg and Lucian are here to share all about their week! Lucian is with us for both the Apprentice Field and Trails Guide courses, and Jörg has joined us for the 10-week Apprentice Field Guide course. Lucian is South African and has chosen to do this course as he would like a complete career change, and Jörg, from Germany, would like to enrich his own personal knowledge and continue promoting conservation back home and wherever he goes.
Our mock tracking assessment was my most interesting part of this week. It was a challenging and very long day. We drove around both Ulovane Reserve and Amakhala Game Reserve, and Schalk and Justin would look for tracks or signs left behind by animals for us to identify. This was a practice round in preparation for our final practical tracking activity coming up in week eight of our course. When I made my own guesses on what was asked, then to have Schalk and Justin explain after we all had a chance to answer on our own, what animals left the track or sign behind, was really intriguing and an eye-opener for me.
One of my favourite parts of this day was by a waterhole called ‘Donkerhoek Crossing’ on Amakhala. Here, we were asked to identify a giraffe track. At first, I couldn’t decide what it was. That track really made me think a lot… At first, I saw NOTHING remotely associated with a giraffe, so I took a walk up the road and thought a bit, had a look at what else was in the area. I came upon a different giraffe track, and VOILA! I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment and went back to the track in question to correctly I.D it! I was very proud of myself for figuring it out. What this taught me is that I need to spend more time and not rush so much.
We had our Hospitality evening with Candice this week; which included a fun food and wine pairing; turns out I don’t like wine with food!! Brandy remains my favourite! I also really enjoyed learning about reptiles and amphibians this week. I found it more practical and interesting now as compared to earlier topics that seemed a bit less tangible for myself.
We had a fun activity one day this week on a game drive when we stopped at a waterhole to try our luck at finding some frogs or other reptiles to identify. Sadly, we didn’t have much luck here as it was a really cold day, but we had a ‘Bokdrol spoeg’ competition! Translated, we literally put a small, very dried up, antelope pellet in our mouths, and see who can spit it the furthest! I am very pleased to say I won this with a 10m spit!
A fun week, ending on a superb note with our country winning the Rugby World Cup!
My outstanding moment of this week had to be watching two elephant bulls sparring (play fighting) each other on a game drive on Monday afternoon. What a start to the week! It was a magnificent sighting, not only seeing them in the falling sun with the dust swirling around them but also to hear the scuff of their feet on the dusty roads and the clash of their ivory as they tried to outsmart each other with each blow using their tusks and trunks. Soon after this, we were treated yet again, to a beautiful sighting of some young Yellow Mongooses, who were so relaxed sunning themselves outside their burrow with their parents. Another fantastic sighting we had this week whilst out on a game drive on Amakhala, was an adult giraffe lying down, watching us with a gentle gaze as we drove passed. A first for many of us. Notably, Melissa seems to be a really good luck charm when it comes to finding game!
It was a tight week as we had our usual Sunday exam on Friday morning as we have this weekend off. It is great to have halfway through the course to allow us to recharge and complete the rest of the course energized and recharged. I got quite a miserable score at the mock tracking assessment, but I was the only one from our group who got the Spring Hare track right – it reminded me of looking after my Grandpa’s rabbits when I was a kid. The track was a tricky question as it was left behind by a Springhare who sat down on its haunches.
My most interesting theoretical aspect of this week was learning why a toad is not a frog! I also really enjoyed learning about the different types of fires used as a tool for conservation. I discovered there are many useful apps to have in this industry, and so I installed an app for tracking, and I am slowly starting to get my head around this tracking thing. There are so many different patterns to look for; lots to learn still!
There is still much to learn and the pressure on, but I know we will succeed!
“Never stop dreaming, never stop believing, never give up, never stop trying, and never stop learning.” ―
Apprentice Trails Guides
The Ulovane Apprentice Trails guides observed a lone bull elephant about two and a half kilometres away, deep in some riverine thicket vegetation on the opposite bank of a drainage line. He was feeding occasionally, slowly moving in the direction of a favourite drinking hole on Amakhala Game Reserve, called ‘Woodbury Weir’. Here is how the sighting unfolded……
We found a perfect elevated position from which we could sit and watch him drink without disturbing him with our presence. We got there before him, and settled down to wait, occasionally getting sight of him making his way towards us.
And so we waited.
Eventually, he ambled ever so leisurely in that way these gentle giants do and got to his ‘new’ favourite tree, which he decided to eat from – One. Leaf. At. A. Time.
And we waited.
Fortunately, there was Amakhala spread out before us and we had time and peace to think our thoughts, enjoy our surroundings and, amongst other things, watch a Leopard tortoise have a swim! They form part of what is called the ‘Little 5’ and are the only tortoise that can swim! That was really a treat.
And we waited.
He decided to leave his tree and slowly moved onto the path that would take him to the waterhole directly below us.
And we waited.
We slowly moved into a bit of an open area, so that our course instructor Pieter, could identify him by name, and then referred to him as ‘My old friend’!!
Well… he kept coming, ever so gracefully, in his time, and we kept waiting. Imagining how worthwhile the sighting would be. A beautiful bull elephant in his prime, drinking, unaware of us 50 metres away. Maybe he would squirt water out of his trunk, maybe he would have a mud wallow, maybe even a swim!
So we waited.
After over an hours’ wait, he rounded the corner giving us the most spectacular, unimpeded, view of him, front on. As elephants will have it, now he decided to engage 5th gear and strode straight past the water, lengthening his stride, and made straight for our position!
Piet’s ‘Old Buddy’ had caught sight of him and decided he just had to come say hello! “Okay, bags on we have to move now”, says his old friend Piet. And so we did!
An hour and a half wait all over in 45 seconds. But MAN was it worth it!! What a fantastic sighting, definitely one of our favourites so far during our last few weeks of walking. A lot of what you learn during Trails is patience, with each other, with nature, with yourself – a rather important skill to master!
For our sustainable living on Saturday, we got to spend the morning at the aquaponics system at one of the lodges here on Amakhala Game Reserve, Leeuwenbosch Country House. It was such a great experience to learn and work a bit in something different; it’s quite a marvel to see how beautiful everything grows, and there’s no soil!! We all really enjoyed seeing it.
A great end – with the Springboks winning the World Cup too – to a wonderful week!