Category Archives: Bhejane Pride

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)

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

Field News July & August 2020

Angasi Updates

The Angasi is the 2nd year group of the Bhejane 3 Year Advanced Course. They returned late in June to resume their fragmented second year! The months over April, May and June are usually when the students assist in various reserve and conservation management tasks. This year the Isimangaliso Whale Monitoring Project was unfortunately cancelled due to COvid 19, however the students were very fortunate to have still been able to participate in the KZN Wildlife Game Count project at Mkuze Game Reserve. This was an intensive two week period with many hours spent in the field every day! This is also an unsupervised practical, meaning the students are required to cook for themselves and with so many hours out in the field, and then having very limited time to plan, cook and clean, this practical is often a real test of character for students and often a great learning experienced in many ways. The EKZN WIldlife Team supervises all field activities so this is well supervised.

In addition to Game Counts, we are also very grateful to Somkhanda Reserve Manager Meiring Prinsloo, that allowed our group to participate in and learn from the reserve;s field staff on a variety of activities. Most notably road and fence maintenance. These are two high priority tasks on any game reserve, that need constant attention and we hope the students were able to contribute positively in the few weeks that they assisted.

In what was an extremely practical 2nd term, the students also managed to get in a good amount of field hours with their instructors, and also were lucky to be able to gain quite a few very valuable mentored guest hours as well. The group got the opportunity to host Wildlands Trust CEO – Roelie Kloppers, and Somkhanda Reserve Manager Meiring Prinsloo on a sleepout as part of a fundraising project. They also managed to join as 2nd rifle guides on many guest walks with instructors Dylan Panos and Stephen Ingram, and walked a variety of interesting guest groups. The opportunity to gain mentored guest hours in the second year of the course, is one of the key advantages of doing the longer 3 year course. For many guides in industry, it is the lack of opportunity to do this – since it often has to be done during off days at an extra expense – that prevents them from progressing to Lead Trails Guide. We still have a few months to go, and hopefully many guests to take out to help our current 2nd year group get the most out of their time with us.

Tommy with guests on a mentored walk.
Hosting the Wildlands and Somkhanda Group
Warwick and Jess with a guest group, getting ready for a mentored walk.
Tegan, Kayla and Rikus hard at work on the Sleepout.
Warrick and Jess with their Guests
Christiaan on the sleepout walk.

Ukuhlukile Year 1

The First Year group – Ukuhlukile started their post lockdown training with completion of their NQF 2 Practical assessments. The full group managed to pass all theory and practical assessments! Well done Ukuhlukile! They then joined forces with the Imvubu 1 year PNG Group and completed their Apprentice Trails Guide Course. Trails Guiding starts with 2-3 weeks of Rifle Training during which the students complete their PFTC (Professional Firearm Trainers Council) qualifications. The PFTC Qualifications form the legal basis for firearm training and must be done first before we can proceed with FGASA Advanced Rifle Handling, known in short as ARH. PFTC and ARH Training is a lot of fun, but also quite serious business. It requires focussed attention, awareness, good physical strength and fitness and the ability to perform under pressure.

Connor and Tyler demonstrate one of the firearm drills

The Trails practical was very successful with students walking on average 8 hours a day and getting some really good encounters. Students must walk for a minimum prescribed amount of hours and log at least 10 encounters as participants in the group in order to qualify for Apprentice Trails Guide evaluation.

Connor helping Daphne to gear up!
Ukuhlukile / Imvubu Apprentice Trails Guides
Sicelo, Piet, David and Jordan

Ingulule Updates

The Ingulule Group was supposed to start their Course in May this year and finally got going in July after the lockdown regulations lifted! The last two months saw them doing their NQF 2 Apprentice Field Guide Course. We still have practical assessments ahead but they all recently passed their theory examinations! Well done Ukuhlukile. As soon as the practical assessments are done, they group will start with their Apprentice Trails Guide Course.

On Game Drive – Ryan, Dylan, Nosipho and Thando
A head-scratcher on the Slide and Sound Challenge!
Spending some time with Ngcebo

Nature Guide Career Development Programme

We are excited to introduce the new Bhejane Nature Guide Career Development Programme (CDP). Whether you are just starting out, and have no prior training experience, or whether you are already qualified but need a further boost to launch your career, the unique phased approach of the programme allows you to hop on where it bests suits you!

3 Training Phases

The programme consist of 3 phases (Foundation, Development and Advanced Phase).  Students with no prior training or experience start at the Foundation Phase.

Students that are already qualified with basic guiding qualifications can start at Phase 2 – The Development Phase, while those that are looking for mentored workplace experience, and a headstart in specialist and advanced course modules can choose to stay on for Phase 3  – The Advanced Phase.

Career Development is Key

The programme is career focussed and aims to prepare students for active participation in the Wildlife Tourism industry, by developing competent guides, with well formulated career paths in the various specialist nature guiding and related wildlife tourism fields.

The course has been structured to include the national skills programmes as required by the South African Tourism Act, to be recognized and registered as a legal nature guide. These skills programmes are trained using the syllabus of the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA)

In addition to these skills programmes, we have added “soft skill” components and Practical Guiding Skills that address areas of essential knowledge. This includes various topics such as Your Guiding Career Path, Specialist modules such as Birding or Marine Guiding, Industry and Workplace skills, Research and Reference skills, and preparation for further study once out in the industry.  Contact us to get the information pack with fees and 2020 intake dates for this exciting new programme.

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

Whale out of Water by Laila Rouhani

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Waking up to the sound of the waves crashing, the wind rustling through the trees are the best sounds to wake up to.

This is the second year the Bhejane Nkonkoni group have been privileged to be assisting in the Mammal Research Institute with their whale monitoring in Cape Vidal. The aim of this research project is to track the Humpback Whales on their migratory paths from their cold feeding grounds in Antarctica to their breeding grounds up north in warmer tropical waters.

The walk to the whale watching towers definitely gets your heart pumping as it is a steep walk through dense forest, soft sand and torturous stairs. But all of that is worth it because once you get to the towers and see the most incredible view out over the sea through the canopy of the trees you forget about the walk up and how out of breath you are.

Stepping up into the towers and seeing the view is like seeing it for the first time every time no matter how many times you go up into the towers.

If you are doing the first shift of the day you have the pleasure of carrying up the theodolite to the towers which weighs about 10kg. You have to set up the tripod legs, mount the theodolite to the tripod and make it level. Once you have set all that up you are ready to track whales moving past.

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The main keys when spotting a whale are blows, breaching, fluking and lobtailing. If you spot anyone of these you pin point the whale in the cross hairs of the theodolite and call time. Once time has been called you read off the horizontal and vertical reading to the person scribing and they plot all that data down on a map. To make all the readings on that group more accurate we try to get five readings on each group with five-minute intervals between each reading before the group moves past.

On a clear day with perfect conditions you can see further than 15km out to sea. From that distance you can see these whales breaching out of the water with the naked eye. Sometimes if you are lucky, they will breach really close to the shore and that’s when you can see how big and strong, they are because they literally launch their whole body out of the water over and over again.

The best thing to do between shifts is to go down to the beach either to swim or to explore the shoreline.

One of the best memories I have from last years whale monitoring was seeing a mother and calf humpback whale swimming past the towers just beyond the breakers. This calf was still a new-born because it was so small and you could see that it was still testing out the waters.

As the last shift draws to an end it is time to start packing up the theodolite and all the data sheets from a bust day’s work. Before we head down, we take about five minutes to enjoy the sun getting ready to go down behind us over the dunes while enjoying the final view over the sea for the day.

Then it is time to face the stairs back down to where the bakkie is parked waiting to take us back home for the night only to start this all again tomorrow.

By Laila Rouhani

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