Reflecting on a year of discovery and growth

By Manuel Weber

The day I decided that I would dedicate my life to the conservation of the superbly beautiful ecosystems that still cover a large part of the African continent, I was only a 6-year old boy that had just moved to Africa, without any understanding or knowledge about the complex world I was about to discover.

But this dream accompanied me over the next 13 years, motivated me every single day, shaped my way of doing things and caused me to collect every piece of information available to me, desperately hoping that it would eventually bring me a bit closer to that big goal. When I found Bhejane, I would never have thought that this would mean the ultimate break-through for me in achieving my dream. At the same time, the course gave me more than just a confirmation for what I always wanted to do: It opened a whole new world for me.

It was like looking for a sparrow and finding a twinspot (I have no issues with sparrows!). In fact, I didn’t even know that twinspots existed. Or what the difference between a sparrow and a starling is. This winter, not even a year after I left Bhejane, I returned and passed my regional birding.

This is only one example for how Bhejane changed my life, my way of thinking and my relationship with nature. The unbelievable perfection and creativity of evolution that Bhejane allowed me to discover still makes my heart beat faster every time I think about it, or realize how crazy it is that spiders can detect stress allelochemicals thanks to the lyriform organs on their legs (first example that comes to my mind). You never stop learning! And there is no bigger honor than working for nature and with nature.

The environment Bhejane is operating in would be more than enough to amaze every lucid-thinking human being. But additionally to that, I got to meet people that think like me. It may sound crazy, but I actually never had considered in the past that there might be other people that share my passion. I probably don’t have to mention that I got to know a large number of special persons that became some of my closest friends and my idols. I had the privilege to meet some people with phenomenal knowledge and skills, to watch them and to learn from them.

It was like coming home. And it will always be like coming home when returning to the places where all this started. Because it’s not going to end soon.

Elegant Grasshoper - Bhejane Gobandlovu Camp

Nature Guiding: Is It a Real Career Option?

The world is changing and so are our ideas of how to prepare for a career. University training has become irrelevant and outdated in many fields, especially one as dynamic as Wildlife Tourism. If you are interested in nature guiding this is great news.

The World is Your Classroom

Many young people are passionate and ready to take on the world. But who wants to spend years in a classroom before you are allowed to do the work? Nature guiding gives you the opportunity to have a hands-on learning experience.

“Like many young adults that loves an outdoor lifestyle, I was overwhelmed when thinking of how to find a professional job that allows me to be out in nature every day, without having to spend years sitting in a university classrooms or being prepared to volunteer or work for free!”

Nature Guiding
How about the green hills of Zululand for a different perspective on life!

“I have always known that I belong outdoors but finding a good -career – one that allows me to help care for wildlife, snorkel along coral reefs, drive through the African bush in an open Landrover or walk in the tracks of Africa’s Big Game seemed like an impossible dream! One reserved just for a lucky few!”

This is the story most of Bhejane’s students tell. Until they attend one of our lifechanging career courses to become a Professional Nature Guide.

Nature Guiding is a Career with Purpose

Despite tourism being one of the fastest growing industries in Southern Africa, most people are unaware of the many exciting career opportunities this industry offers.

Nature guiding is an excellent career choice for outdoor loving young adults who are eager to play their part as the next guardians of our natural wildlife heritage.

People who choose a nature guiding career cannot see themselves in an office job, feeling it would be meaningless to their life. This career choice is for people who are determined to find a bigger purpose in life through their career.

Click here to have a glimpse of what being Trails Guide is all about

or a Marine Guide

Is Nature Guiding a real career option?

Even when learning of all the opportunities, many people still feel uncertain and have many questions like

  • Is nature guiding a proper career?
  • Will I earn enough money to have a decent life?
  • I am not the most confident person – will I be able to do this?
  • Courses can be expensive, will the return on my investment be worthwhile?

How Pierre’s Life Changed

Pierre arrived at Bhejane Nature Training frustrated with life. He struggling through school and was unsure about his future options. He did not fit the usual mould of those set to work in traditional careers.

English was not his first language. This knocked his confidence and made him doubt his ability to finish a comprehensive education programme. What he DID know, was his love for living with purpose. He loves exploring nature and sharing his experience with others gave him joy and new found energy.

Pierre started a course at Bhejane and found himself surrounded with like-minded individuals. His confidence started growing, he learned to talk to people naturally and… he found his niche. Not just any niche. He found his passion in one of the more difficult fields namely trees. This niche instantly created respect from fellow students.

Today Pierre is a senior guide at a prestigious and award-winning game lodge – and the good news is that Pierre is not the exception. Rather his story is similar to about 90% of students who attend a full-time career course at Bhejane Nature Training.

Why Bhejane Nature Training?

Our courses are different.

  • You do not work towards one degree or one diploma – you get qualified across a wide range of fields. You will be certified with a range of skills and have knowledge certificates, licenses and permits all required in this dynamic industry!
  • Your ability to pass a test will NOT be the deciding factor for your success. Many people suffering from Dyslexia, Aspergers, and a range of learning differences reach phenomenal success on our programmes.

Success comes from your passion, commitment and learning with like-minded people.

Change your life, change our world, and join us to become a part of the Zululand Conservation Legacy.

Find purpose, confidence and adventure with a Career as a Professional Nature Guide.

Youth and Conservation WIN

Following the announcement of the 3-year partnership between Somkhanda Community Game Reserve and Bhejane Nature Training in June 2020, WILDLANDS, a programme of the WILDTRUST is excited to announce the first successful group of youth who have qualified as certified, FGASA (Field Guides Association of South Africa) Nature Guides.

Thembokuhle Majozi, Nomvelo Namandla, Lindiwe Nkosi, Bhejane Nature Training Assessor Dylan Panos and instructor Emilio van Dyk.

As South Africa gears up to celebrate Youth month, it is encouraging to witness positive stories which put youth empowerment, upskilling and employment at the forefront. South Africa has some of the highest youth unemployment rates globally with an estimated 58% of youth currently unemployed. This can be attributed to several factors including low education rates, lack of experience and a variety of socio-economic factors.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented challenges, Bhejane Nature Training took on local community youth from the surrounding communities of Pongola, KwaLubisi and Dlakusa who were part of the Youth Employment Services (YES) 2020 group into an intensive training course which included Track and Sign Interpretation, Wilderness First Aid, Weather and Climate, Geology, Astronomy, Ecology, Plant and Animal Studies as well as Guiding Skills.

The YES programme was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in March 2018 which was a collaboration between Nedbank and YES. The aim of the programme is to reduce youth unemployment levels across South Africa by providing one-year quality work-placements aimed at affording practical and meaningful work experiences for unemployed youth between the ages of 18 and 29.

“The process of getting the guides trained took just over a year due to the unfortunate interruption of COVID-19, however, we were very impressed with the commitment and the perseverance of the newly qualified guides. Even after being out of action for quite some time due to lockdown delays, it was clear that they developed a genuine interest in this field of study. This qualification means a lot to them and promises to open real employment opportunities for them in the conservation and Field Guide training sphere,” comments Christa Panos, Bhejane Nature Training College Principal. 

Lindiwe Nkosi, Nomvelo Ngamandla and Thembokhule Majozi on assessment with guests Keith and Michelle Dudgeon at Somkhanda Community Game Reserve.

The newly qualified guides, Nomvelo Ngamandla (aged 27), Celimpilo Gumede (aged 24), Thuli Nxumalo (aged 23), Lindiwe Nkosi (aged 27) and Thembokhule Majozi (aged 22) were awarded with their certificates at a low-key graduation event at Somkhanda Community Game Reserve this week. They received their NQF level 2 Apprentice Field Guide qualification and Wilderness First Aid certification.

Thembokuhle Majozi comments, “I would like to thank each and everyone who has had a hand in making this qualification possible. Thanks to Bhejane Nature Training, Somkhanda Game Reserve and WILDLANDS.”

Thembokuhle Majozi elated at receiving his certificates at Somkhanda Community Game Reserve.

Dr Roelie Kloppers, WILDTRUST CEO added, “We are incredibly proud of these newly qualified guides as they shine a beacon of hope for the future of wildlife conservation and the empowerment of youth as the future custodians of community led conservation. We are watching their development with a very keen interest and wish them all the best for the future.”

Bhejane Nature Training aims to provide students with a training and education environment that promotes internal growth and development beyond the youths’ career goals which is directly aligned with the WILDTRUST’s vision of a thriving and resilient world. This is also linking in with the YES4YOUTH objectives of giving youth meaningful work experience which adequately prepares them for the real working world. The WILDTRUST team is grateful to Nedbank for making this possible.

Bhejane Nature Training and Somkhanda wish these youth well in their conservation careers ahead.

(L) Bhejane Nature Training Instructor Lauren Humphreys, Nomvelo Ngamandla (centre) and Emilio van Dyk (Bhejane Nature Training Instructor)

How to Become a Fgasa Nature Guide

Being a FGASA Nature Guide is a dream job, envied by many. And for good reason. While it is certainly hard work, the rewards are numerous. Nature Guiding as a professional career has evolved steadily over the last two decades. Today it is a much sought-after career option all over Southern Africa.

Fgasa Nature Guide: Find Your Purpose
Is Nature Guiding your future?

Why Become a Fgasa Nature Guide

Fgasa is the most widely recognised standard setting and certification body for nature guides. It is enjoys recognition in Southern Africa and many other parts of the world.

Fgasa Nature Guide qualifications provides the perfect platform to launch your nature guiding career.

Bhejane’s Advanced Flagship Course

The Bhejane Nature Training Advanced Nature Guiding and Wildlife Conservation programme is a unique and comprehensive 3-year programme.

As the first of a new generation of industry orientated learning programmes, you will love you much fun learning is on this course. The programme combines the intimately related fields of Professional Nature Guiding, Conservation/Wildlife Management, Monitoring and Research, and Tourism and Hospitality. 

This enables the student to get a quality academic qualification whilst at the same time living and training in the bush. The 3 year programme is a good alternative to short informal bush courses with little value, or a lengthy academic programme that still leaves you unemployable.  

At Bhejane our focus is broader than simply training guides for prestigious and upmarket lodge environments.

Wildlife Tourism products are diverse and exciting! It follows naturally that your options for guiding are equally diverse and exciting. Bhejane prepare you as a nature guide so you get to know yourself better and find the correct niche in the industry that suits your unique personal and professional profile.

Do our fun quiz to find out what type of guide you could be.

FGASA Trails Guide Candidates

The Bhejane Playground

Bhejane’s commitment to purposeful career training will ensure that you can now do all of this in one place, gain valuable practical experience and qualify for an industry placement at the same time.

In addition to the benefits stated above, this is the only programme of its kind that prepares the student to work in both terrestrial and marine protected areas. Learn more about our exciting camps and courses here.

Fgasa Nature Guide
Open Water Diving on the FGASA Marine Guide Course

Base in Northern Zululand and bordering the Isimangaliso Wetlands Park the college could hardly be in a better place.  Widely recognised as an area of unrivalled biodiversity, this offers the opportunity to live, study and work in one of the most diverse natural environments in Southern Africa.

The programme is suitable for anyone that is interested in working in Wildlife Tourism and Conservation, either as a Professional Nature Guide, Wildlife Monitor, Research Assistant, Conservation Volunteer Coordinator, Marine Guide or Conservation Entrepreneur. The course caters specifically for students that want more than an entry level guiding qualification, and is looking for a more practical training approach than what is available through traditional academic qualifications. Download our Career Fact Sheets here.

Fgasa Nature Guide

Bhejane Nature Training is a fully endorsed FGASA Training Provider. (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa)

Join us today, to become a part of the Zululand Conservation Legacy . . . 

For more information contact Bhejane Nature Training at info@bhejanenaturetraining.com or go to our website, https://www.bhejanenaturetraining.com/

Michelle Garforth-Venter on her Bhejane Experience

This is a bit of a throwback to 2010, when husband and wife team Michelle and Riaan Garforth Venter , and sidekick Nicola completed their FGASA Field guide training course with us at Bhejane Nature Training. We really enjoyed having them on the course -it was a blast start to finish! Very entertaining bunch.

This is what Michelle had to say about her experience.

It’s 5:30 in the morning and there’s a knock on my door. The sun is just starting to warm the Acacia tops here in Zululand.  It’s time for another 5km walk and I still can’t believe that I am six months pregnant and my feet barely fit into my boots.  The motivation of knowing that I’m almost a FGASA level one qualified ‘Dangerous Game Field’ guide is what propels me from my bed and into the shower.  It’s what I’ve been working towards for almost two years.

When I started the tv show Wild Ltd 1 in 2004, I never knew the profound impact it would have on my life and before long we were knee deep in production for Bush Radar, our children’s series.  The culmination of these two series has meant that I spend almost two weeks a month in the bush.

Wild Ltd has grown from strength to strength, with our viewership now sitting at a staggering 1.4 million people per week.  That is more than a million people each week listening to our conservation message, and this is what sparked the original idea that I needed to become qualified.  As a media figure, I need to speak from a place of knowledge, ensuring the information I’m presenting is factually correct.  We have a lot of researchers and journalists watching the show and it would be a tragedy if we were to give out the incorrect information, facts and figures.
I joined FGASA, as it is the regulating authority for nature guides in this country and the course makes practical experience mandatory, which for me was the deciding factor. We started with Mark Lowes who accompanied us on shoots and sat down for lectures after we had filmed and did practical walks whenever possible.  Unfortunately our shoot schedule was just too hectic to continue in this manner. 

My producer, Nicola, found an advertisement for Bhejane Nature Training in Zululand.  This suited me perfectly as I was pregnant and this is a low malaria area.  Riaan, my husband, myself and Nicola took time off work to complete the course. Dylan Panos is the head ranger and along with his team went out of their way to ensure my comfort.  We would start out with a morning walk with him and ended up never walking more than 3 km’s, because we were asking so many questions.  After breakfast we would have lectures and study time and boy – did we study – we were so nervous about the test.  Dylan and his wife Christa also had module specific lecturers join us for certain parts of the course. Herpetologists, geologists and ornithologists added to our fast growing knowledge of the South African bush.

Needless to say, the day before and the morning of the exam were very stressful but we passed it with flying colours.  I’m already seeing the benefits of the course in our everyday work.

We are now working on the new season of Bush Radar and are already implementing our new knowledge into the tv series.
It has been paramount for us to not only learn from the course and the incredible people who have shared their knowledge and talent with us but through these amazing people who fight the good fight of conservation, we are now able to send out an even stronger message to tv audiences.

Field Guide Student News (July & August 2020)

After a rough year due to the pandemic, camp life turned out to be far more than our field guide students expected. Although there are no dangerous animals in camp, you can never stop a leopard. They roam where they want to.

Field Guide Camp Life

Every day camp life is never boring. There is always something new to learn or see. But we weren’t expecting to see all this leopard activity.

Our students have been blessed with experiencing regular leopard activity in and around the Gobandlovu Base Camp. This has been one of the highlights for them this year.

One of our Career Development Course Students, Kyla Labuschagne, posted the updates below after finding fresh leopard tracks and dragmarks.

Leopard drag marks from an Impala kill the night before, at Gobandlovu Base Camp
Captured by one of the Camera Traps on Kuleni

With student life getting back into full swing, the Angasi group has been getting the Activity Center ready again. They are in charge of planning and running early morning activities for all students in camp. Ensuring we don’t miss out on any fun.

There has been a few highlights during the morning guided activities and the leopard activity has certainly made the Track and Sign activities more exciting.

Carmen, Kyla, Daniel, Warrick and Tyler after their morning walk, highlights were trailing the leopard and a great Gorgeous Bush Shrike sigting.
Piet, Misae, Alicia and Rikus after a successful morning trailing the leopard.

Daphne, Daniel, Tommy, Pierre and Alica enjoyed a great and unique sighting of a nesting pair of Grey Sunbirds. The morning mission was to find Pink Throated Twinspot, which eluded them but they were rewarded with nice Purple Crested Turaco display on a Marula Tree – always such a beautiful bird to see!

Bhejane Nature training is situated in Kuleni Game Park and as tourism is slowly starting to pick up, our Bhejane students are excited to share their knowledge and skills with local guests. Surely the guests will be entertained with a few leopard stories in the conversations.

Industry News July & August 2020

Students in Industry

With most guides being at home over July and August – we look forward to the domestic travel industry slowly gaining some momentum and giving all our guides the opportunity to get back to work again! The current 3rd Year Group, has not seen much industry time at all yet due to the national lockdown, and we will postpone their graduation into 2021 to give everyone the opportunity to gain some meaningful industry experience first.

Since FGASA training providers were allowed to start training again in June, and most guides were not yet working, we also enjoyed having quite a few of the guides in industry from previous years and courses back in camp to renew shooting qualifications, gain mentored trails hours and assist with watching the camp over quiet times. It was a great opportunity to catch up with everyone.

Wildlands / Somkhanda Partnership

We have been fortunate in 2020 to build a really exciting working relationship with the Wildlands Trust and Somkhanda Game Reserve teams. As part of this partnership, we have been working with a group of guide trainee candidates from the local community. Somkhanda Game Reserve is a Community owned reserve, and Wildlands Trust is the managing partner that manages the reserve and ensures its successful conservation. From an initial group of 12, we currently have a group of 5 completing their NQF 2 FGASA Apprentice Field Guide Qualifications with Bhejane. The group has been very enthusiastic and we are looking forward to the upcoming assessment period for this group and wish them all the best in their preparation. The 2nd Year Angasi group as well as the Bhejane intern team has learned much from this group – being locally born and bred they come with some extra history on the area and its people. In turn the Angasi and Interns also had the opportunity to showcase their skills and was involved in organizing and running a number of skills challenges for the group to promote fun and interactive learning!

The Wildlands team has been working hard to make this training possible and we hope that this will be just the start of a successful career journey for all the candidates involved. We are also grateful to FGASA for contributing the Registration and Subscription fees for the candidates to make registration and NQF 2 assessments possible.

Bhejane Angasi with the Yes group after a skills challenge.

The WIldlands/ Somkhanda Yes Group with their FGASA Manuals, ready to start learning.
Working on Team Challenges

Camp News July / August 2020

The Khoffee Khaya Vision!

After a long and very uncertain lockdown period, the Bhejane camp slowly kicked into gear again as students started rejoining for courses! We have made a really big effort this year to take our little tuck shop to the next level – and that gave birth to what has now very proudly become Khoffee Khaya!

Khoffee Khaya is a concept that has been long in the making! It started simply as a desire to make camp life a little more colourful during off days and especially for those that could not get to town but it was soon identified as a really good tool to help us achieve our community training goals! After about 18 months of operation, Khoffee Khaya is now 100% run by our intern team, and the little bit of revenue generated here, goes toward supporting the learning programmes of the intern team. They are therefore truly working for themselves and gaining some entrepreneurial skills along the way! Even though it is still a baby, we are very excited to keep growing the Khoffee Khaya / Intern project and looking forward to writing about the amazing careers that started here.

Reading Night – with candles, smores and Hot Chocolate!

Khoffee Khaya had a bunch of first milestones achieved in the short period past lockdown! Student Katinka Soller took the lead in getting involved in the shop, and baked some brownies to sell in the shop! Part of the Khoffee Khaya goal is to be the platform for a mutually beneficial network of partnerships between Bhejane and the student community! All students are encouraged to use the shop to trade their products!

Another first, inspired by the suggestion from Student Prakash Kannan, was the very first Reading Night! This was a great success. While story-telling is a much needed guiding skill, this was more about connection and sharing what is important to you. All students were given the opportunity to contribute and simply share what they loved!

Nicole is the Khoffee Khaya Manager – are you thinking of making your own weekend money? Get in touch with Nicole to brainstorm some ideas of what you can sell via the Khoffee Khaya Platform!

Contact Khoffee Khaya on Whatsapp to get involved!

079 510 8729

Follow Khoffee Khaya on Instagram!

News from The Bhejane Outpost Camp at Somkhanda

With many weeks of no activity at camp, we soon found out when we returned to normal operations, that we have to reclaim our space! The young and very curios lions on the reserve kept things very interesting at the Outpost on Somkhanda! If you have not seen it – watch 2nd year student Pierre Barauss meal time tussle with a female lion visitor!

Thats my Potjie! Video by Pierre Barau

We have spent every spare minute updating and making the Somkhanda camp feel more homely! Student Misae has done an excellent job adding some decorative elements to the central dining area, and the 2nd Year Angasi Team has put in enough blood, sweat and muscle to truly call this their camp! We hope they will leave Bhejane with many happy memories as the first senior group of the Bhejane Outpost! A big thanks also to Ncgebo Mhlambo – ex Bhejane Intern now guiding at Ndaka Game Lodge in Nambithi – who spent much of his lockdown time with us and showed us how to build a traditional Zulu fence in front of our birdbath at the dining area.

Students working in the dinning lapa at the Outpost.
Ncebo with instructor Stephen Ingram and the Ingulule Group
Leopard captured on a camera trap near the camp.

We have installed a few camera traps around camp to keep an eye on what is happening around us, and some of the highlights were Leopard, Brown Hyena, Serval and Bushpig. No traps are needed to observe the lions that have been hanging out around the camp, and it seems the elephants have now also discovered an additional source of water in the camp jojo tanks! We are grateful for all the volunteers, interns and ex-students that helped us keep an eye here over the quiet times to make sure everything stays in tact!

Gobandlovu Camp Life

It has been some time since the camp has been so quiet, for this long! As Covid hit South Africa, everyone had to rush to catch flights and get home before lockdown started. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) a group of 9 students had to stay behind Gobandlovu Camp while waiting for lockdown to end.

Staying Behind at Gobandlovu Camp

Our interns Stephan and Misae was keeping watch at the Bhejane Outpost on Somkhanda. They were blissfully unaware of the chaos of the outside world. Thankfully we managed to evacuate them from the Outpost and they got back to base camp just in time.

While we were all sad, stressed and uncertain about what would happen next, we weree also enormously privileged to spend the lockdown period at Gobandlovu Camp. Students have used the time to go on walks and add to their birding and tracking skills.

Student Prakash Kannan, more affectionately known by all as Paapi – has written a great blog about all the leopard activity in camp. We were fortunate to have some late summer rainfall in March and saw an explosion of Mushrooms and Butterflies in and around the Sand Forest.

Life has been strange – and very different to say the least. We all went about our own ways of keeping busy each day, and creating a new routine. The students in camp pulled together like the amazing team they are and are doing an amazing job sharing kitchen space and keeping their spaces clean and tidy!

Sticking to Lockdown Rules

All Bhejane staff have been sent home in accordance with lockdown rules, but those living on site at Kuleni has been working hard on getting content online and planning for what happens once the lockdown is lifted.

Dylan and a few of the lockdown crew got permission this week to go to the Somkhanda Bhejane Outpost Camp to maintain the camp and make sure everything is still standing there! They have had some amazing sightings on arrival – keep an eye on our Instagram and Facebook pages for updates from the Outpost!

We hope to see everyone back in camp soon!

Nature Guide Life: The Curious Case of Lockdown

Nobody ever expected a lockdown to happen. But it did and as some of our nature guide students had to stay behind at the Gobandlovu camp. In this article Paapi tells us about his lockdown experience in camp.

Life of a Nature Guide Student during Lockdown

My name is Paapi and I would call myself a simple citizen of the world. I do not believe in man made borders, however without a choice I hold a passport from India. I am an avid traveler and love to travel to the places my heart takes me. But this isn’t always true as my heart does not understand such a thing as visa requirements.

When a nationwide lockdown was announced, I had the choice to go back home, but for a traveler each stop feels like home. I felt at home here in a camp we call Gobandlovu.

Gobandlovu is a Zulu name for a species of tree commonly known around Africa as the Torchwood. The best decision I have made in 2020 has been to call this camp my lockdown home. As a traveler you are bound to have a few favorite places and Bhejane Nature Training happens to be one such place for me.

Nature Guide Students Staying Behind

I have been here for a few months. Learning about the bush and the ways of life in the bush as well as to respect the gentle and the mighty creatures. I am not a master of any specific field at the moment but I do know I am a ‘jack of all’ for sure. If I had to pick one area of interest it would have to be birds. I would pick birds in a heartbeat!

While a lot has been said and done about the lockdown, there are two sides to every story if not more, so here is my side of the story about lockdown. The  lockdown was unexpected, was not heard of before and not even in the wildest of jokes would anyone imagine it to happen.

So when the lockdown was announced on a noon of Thursday, the camp that was bubbling with 60 or 70 odd nature guide students, was reduced to a mere 10. For the last month or so we have seen just these 10 faces and like the phases of the moon and along with the moon we too changed what we did.

The Bhejane Base Camp

The Birder

My first love is birds, well food is my first but apart from that it is birds. The sudden change in the mood in the about 200ha camp was intensely noticeable. It’s not only the silence in the camp, even the highways had lesser vehicles going past and the music played outside quickly faded away.

At first it seemed like there were more birds, but I quickly understood that it was the same as every other day before lockdown. These beautiful songs were muted by manmade sounds (call it music if you want to). With manmade sounds put on hold, the stage was set for the birds to sing and be noted too.

Bird Party

I met a fellow nature guide student and our walk began around 5:45. We walked listening to the songs and sounds from the birds. Just like humans, they too have a party (Bird Party).

Birds of various species come together in what looks like a bird get together. It almost looks like a meeting where they discuss something – they were certainly not discussing social distancing. It was a sight you did not want to leave but somewhere your legs gave you a nudge that it is time to move on. Or was it the rumble in my stomach reminding me that the direction we should be heading next is towards the kitchen?

The winter birds are here and I had my first sighting of the Easter Nicator. Did you know that they had a winter call? It is a beautiful bubbly call, replaced by a short chirp during winter, how wonderful.

The Red-backed shirks are gone. I did see a few in the first few days of the lockdown but they left and so did the European bee-eaters, and the cuckoos. They will all be back by September.

At the same time, I heard of a lockdown birding challenge and actively began listening and looking for birds. So far I have recorded 107 birds in 2 weeks, all inside this 200ha.

A Forest Specila – The Narina Trogon

Tracks and Signs

While the morning walks were already exciting and interesting, the nights turned into something special quickly. We did a few night walks and were lucky to spot the Southern White-faced owl and the Thick-tailed bush baby.

During one of our walks we clearly heard the Spotted Hyena call. The call wasn’t from inside the property but it was very close and felt absolutely fantastic. It is a privilege to watch the full moon deep into the night and to hear the hyena call at a distance, just like the bushman did.    

Going on a morning walk means looking for the birds but you also look for the signs left by nocturnal creatures. You must consider yourself blessed when the substrate in the reserve is primarily sand, which means there is enough evidence left behind by the night creatures. Well, except when it rains.

If you love to look at tracks and signs, then this is where you must be. Among others one of the prominent tracks you see in the morning belong to the White-tailed Mongoose.

It seems like the white-tailed mongoose is a compulsive walker. He takes the same path every single day. The other regular tracks were those of the millipede and the dung beetle. They always leave artistic patterns. The frogs and the tortoise leave a beautiful trail too.

And then there are those which I don’t understand, no matter what angle I look from. May I blame it on the inability of the animals to leave a good track?

A Surprise Visitor

One morning, while looking at the tracks, we stopped at something I have never seen before in this reserve, nor have I seen it in the recent past. I knew who the track belonged to, but didn’t want to call it.

A few days before, I was so excited when I saw the tracks of a Spotted Hyena in the reserve. I was excited and thrilled and quickly went to report it to a senior nature guide. He hurried to see the tracks and within a second confirmed that it belonged to a dog. Now please don’t judge me on my tracking skills, every dog has its day and today belonged to a domestic dog and not a Hyena.

Well the tracks that we were looking at now, belonged to a cat. A big cat at that. And we were sure it belonged to a leopard. The previous night I thought I heard a leopard but it felt like it was far way and I wasn’t sure. I know for a fact that the leopard’s call does not travel as far as that of the call of a lion.

So it seems the leopard wasn’t far and these tracks confirmed they were well inside the reserve. The next few days we noticed the tracks everywhere. They were walking in the paths we normally use.

Lions and leopards will take the set pathways to move around. Soon we saw two sets of tracks walking side by side. With a bit of experience, you learn to paint a picture of what happened based on the tracks of the animal.

So we had different versions of what happened. One of us said that it’s the same leopard that walked in circles. Another opinion was that it could be two sub adults walking together. Or it could be two different leopards walking in the same area at different times of the night.

None of which could be wrong because we don’t know for sure.

Trap Cameras

Hoping to find an image of the leopards, we decided to set up few trap cameras. These leopards were sneaky, it seemed like the leopards always avoided the path where we set up the trap cameras. It was frustrating to see the tracks going pass the cameras but no animal showing on the camera. Maybe they are technology aware or shy.

But luck was on our side and one morning we saw tracks passing in front of the camera. We eagerly looked to see if anything was captured and lo and behold, we saw our first glimpse of the owners of those two sets of tracks.

It was a male and a female leopard walking side by side. To know you are standing on the same piece of land that was visited by this massive male and his pretty partner was such a beautiful moment.

With all the activity during lockdown, I can tell you, I never regretted staying behind in camp at Bhejane Nature Training. Life as a nature guide student is never dull.

Veldgids Loopbaan Ontwikkelings-Program

Ons stel graag die Bhejane Loopbaan Ontwikkelings-Program bekend! n  Vars en visionêre benadering tot veldggids opleiding en opwindende byvoeging tot die Bhejane Kursus Portefeulje vir 2020.

Die program bevat 3 fases. n Fondasie fase, Ontwikkelings Fase en Goverderde Fase. Studente met geen vorige opleiding of ervaring begin by die Fondasie Fase.

Studente wat reeds basiese gidswerk of verwante kwalifikasies het kan begin by Fase 2 – die Ontwikkelingsfase. Die gevorderde fase is beskikbaar vir studente wat reeds fase 2 voltooi het, en verder in enige rigting wil spesialiseer, en ook  belangstel om werksondervinding te kry terwyl hulle onder mentorskap is.

Die program het n omvattende fokus en beoog om n diverse groep studente aan die industrie beskikbaar te stel. Studente het die geleentheid om in n verskeidenheid areas te spesialisser en gevolglik self te besluit hoe en waar hulle in die industrie inpas.

Die program sluit in as basis die syllabus en nasionale gids kwalifikasies van FGASA – die Veldgids Assosiasie van Suider Afrika.

Die FGASA komponente word verder gekomplimenteer deur n verskeidenheid spesialis en vaardigheids modules, wat die studente volledig voorberei vir n loopbaan in die Safari en Ekotoerisme industrieë.  Hierdie modules addreseer noodsaaklike werksgereedheid vaardighede soos  kommunkasie, konflikhantering, beplanning en organisasie in die werksplek, entrepreneurskap en die basiese diensvoorwaardes geldig in Suid Afrika.

Spesialis modules sluit in Natuurbewaring, Marienegids, Monitering en Veldnavorsings assistent, Spesialis stapgids, Spesialis voëlgids.

Die Spesialis modules kan ook as losstaande modules voltooi word buite die die konteks van die volle program vir gidse wat reeds voltyds werk.

Kontak ons vir die informasie paket en die 2020 registrasie datums, fooie en vorms.

We lead the way . . . follow us into Bhejane Territory!