Apprentice Trails Guides
Lucian is here to share with you all something a little different for this week’s blog! He has chosen to share his personal diarised events of the Apprentice Trails guides walks on Amakhala Game reserve. What a journey this far!
My first bushwalk
I enjoyed this a lot! We got to identify new bird species by its call, a Red-throated wryneck! Our first walk on Amakhala Game Reserve for our Apprentice Trails guide course was 9 hours, and it was something amazing.
Except for my shoe hurting me!
We found a fresh set of elephant tracks, which we were able to follow through a valley. We didn’t get see the elephants but it was a special experience to follow the fresh tracks. I was confused about what a strap-leaved bulbine and a common or broadleaf bulbine (Bulbine latifolia) look like, until today, where Piet helped us identify the difference between them. I got quite sunburnt and so one of the medicinal uses of the strap leaved bulbine is to use the sap from the leaves to ease the pain from the burn. It was the first time I had used it and was surprised at how much it helped! The first day was long, but I enjoyed it very much.
Thank you, Piet.
Second day of our bush walks
Our day started with some Tenebrionid beetle tracks. We also identified some Thick-knee and scrub hare dung, and learned the difference between a male and female Angulate tortoise. We learned an interesting fact about White Rhinos; they feed in an almost circular pattern so when on foot, tracking their direction can be tricky. Our new bird call I.D’s for today were a Green Wood Hoopoe and a Karroo Prinia. The new flower we learnt was the Blue Bellflower.
After a quick break to refresh with water and some snacks for energy, we started walking in a thicker area of bush than we had been in before, and I really started to enjoy this as I so love the bush! We found a beautiful Giant African Land snail shell, and we learnt a lot about this gastropod! The slime they produce is used in the beauty and cosmetics industry as an incredible anti-aging agent. It is the largest land snail in South Africa, living up to an age of about 4 or 5 years. The record was 7 years, which is quite old if you think about it. We ended the day with an interesting fact on porcupine quills and that they have quills for two different purposes, defence or display, as well as how a quill actually works – fascinating!
Another extraordinary day in the bush. I had my first taste of coral aloe, and to me, it tastes like water. One needs to peel the skin off properly to expose the inner flesh of the leaf which is what you eat. In less than half an hour of our tasting lesson, we had the most beautiful sighting from a lookout point, of a male and female hippo. It was a perfect sighting as they were close to us, but we were able to observe them in their natural environment, in the river. We sat on the ridge for about an hour just watching and talking about them.
The next half of our walk took us upon some buffalo tracks, which I was not even aware of; Piet chose to see who was observant among us to notice how long we had been walking on them. It was a good exercise because when he did point them out, it made me realise how much sharper and more aware I have still to become when walking. There was another interesting thing we learned soon after this when looking at some dung! There are 4 different types of dung beetles, classed on the way in which they gather dung! Nature is full of surprises! This walk ended with a trek through a riverine crossing of the Bushman’s river to see an elephant herd, which we sat looking down on from a ridge that had the most beautiful view of the reserve. It was a great 10km walk!
Adventures of Day 4
This wasn’t a long day, but it was a great one! It was quite a windy day with the wind not being in our favour, but it is good to experience this as a student whilst we are learning still.
Going out onto Amakhala Game Reserve after the rains we have had, the reserve was so beautifully green! It gives quite a feeling of peace. We had some tracks to identify where I felt I did quite well. It’s a rewarding feeling once you start recognising the track with more ease as time goes by. This was an incredibly hot day, so on our walk home, we were lucky to catch a ride with some employees from the reserve!
My first time walking as back-up Rifle
I felt quite prepared for this day until I opened my mouth… The first hiccough was my pre-briefing before the walk. Then throughout the walk, there were numerous occasions where Piet made an example of what not to do when acting as back-up/second rifle. I made errors on where to stand to keep visual on surrounding areas when the lead guide is busy with the guests; errors on the radio, as I needed to hear it at all times in order to inform Piet of the whereabouts of the animals. After our debrief that day, I learned many lessons, the most valuable advice from Piet being to never, ever let your emotions get in the way of your work.
I am feeling like I am growing every time we come from the bush. I do feel different each day. It was not an easy walk, but it was an important learning experience.
As most days go when we walk, we started bright and early at 5 AM! Today was different, however, as the terrain was much different to walk on when wet compared to when it is dry. Everything becomes quite slippery beneath your feet, so you must be cautious of foot placement as you walk, like for example, using the vegetation as much as you can for better traction!
We came across a black wildebeest skull which kept us busy talking for a while! On the skull were many small cocoons, but before they were cocoons, an adult female Wood borer moth lays her eggs, the larva hatches and then starts boring holes into the horn of the skull, hence their name.
It was a wonderful walk, beautiful and cool – a difference from the previous heat we have had the last few walks!
My Second time on the rifle
This was a very different experience and much better than my first time! I listened to the advice given to me and chose to learn from my mistakes and improve on where I went wrong last time. I was back-up to Justin as lead guide, it was the first time I had walked with him; I really enjoyed it, we worked well together as a team. Walking in a thicket area, I feel like your senses must be heightened to 200%, like my first day, but this day I felt different as we walked in a more open area of the reserve. You still need to concentrate here too!! By the end of the day, I did feel quite tired from the concentration. I felt very accomplished this day for fulling my role as back-up by listening to the radio on a sighting of an elephant bull, relaying this to my lead guide and then being able to follow up and make a safe approach on him. I tried hard to amend my mistakes from my first-time round!
Another special day, thank you Justin and Schalk!
“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” ―Eleanor Roosevelt
Apprentice Field Guides
Liam and Anthony are with us for the 10-week Apprentice Field Guide course. Liam is from America and has recently spent some time volunteering in Africa before arriving at Ulovane. He wishes to pursue a career in conservation here in Africa. Anthony is from Addo National Park and is one of the candidates from our recent partnership with Wilderness Foundation Africa.
Liam and Anthony here, checking in after another exciting week at Ulovane! This week we focused on Ecology, Arthropods and Fish and learned some practical identifying skills that we will make use of when we take out guests on the reserve for game drives.
Here’s how our week went!
It started out with a field trip for some practical identifying of species! We stopped at some spots along the Bushman’s river where we conducted our fish survey. As you can see from the pictures, we used a long net and dragged it through the centre sections of the water bodies to get an idea of the fish populations in our area. We found a lot of Banded Tilapia, River Gobies, and Moggel a.k.a Mud Mullet – a good sign of a healthy water system. It was an exceptionally hot day; we were in the right place!! So, as the day heated up our productivity tapered off, and we found ourselves in a group-wide mud-fight. What a great way to start the week!
Tuesday, we picked up where we left off on Monday, with a trip to SAIAB (South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity) in Grahamstown. We met up with Dr Bills, a freshwater fish expert, who took us through the identification process of ‘mystery’ fish species. Then he led us through a quick lecture on the proper methods of collecting fish while in the field without harming them. Before we knew it was time for lunch, so we headed off for milkshakes and some food by the beach. For the rest of the afternoon, we had some well-deserved rest chilling on the beach.
Mid-week, Shani artfully described the intricate connections between every organism that support our life on Earth during her lesson on Ecology. We were really wowed by how we all are interconnected with the biotic and abiotic (non-living) aspects of the natural environment. Then Schalk flawlessly interwove our lessons from the morning into his lecture on fish species in Southern Africa. We had no idea how important fish are to the ecological backbone of our planet. For example, in some areas, people have eliminated the crocodile population. Crocodiles controlled the catfish populations, which boomed without their natural predator. This, in turn, led to the catfish decimating the tilapia. This eventually led to an increase in malaria-carrying mosquitoes because the tilapia fed on mosquito larvae that kept the population at bay.
The rest of the week we received some much-needed rain. This was great for the flora and fauna on Amakhala and Ulovane Reserves, but it meant that we were stuck indoors. This allowed us to focus on our studies and dive deep into the world of Arthropods. From the Green-banded Swallowtail Butterfly to the Garden Orb-web Spider, we were able to nail down our practical identifications while the rain poured down. The weather finally cleared on Saturday allowing us to go on a game drive. I (Anthony) drove Sullivan –the Landcruiser—and though it was quite a challenge due to the slippery conditions, nonetheless, all went well. I even got to get some 4×4 practice in by tearing through the mud and water in some of the rougher roads. It was the perfect end to a fantastic week!
Liam and Anthony Signing off
“Though nobody can go back and make a new beginning… Anyone can start over and make a new ending.”