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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.

Student News (July & August 2020)

By far the highlight of student camp life is the amazing amount of leopard activity we are still lucky enough to see in and around camp on a regular basis. Career Development Course Student 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

The Angasi has been getting busy running the activity centre again, and are in charge of planning and running early morning activities for all students in camp. 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!

With local guests starting to show up again on Kuleni Game Park, we hope to see these guides showcase their skills with some of the local guests as well!

Team News July & August 2020

Like many other business, we have also suffered substantial losses due to Covid 19, and have had to reduce our team substantially. Only a small essential staff compliment was allowed back at work in July and August and we are very grateful for the valuable contribution of the intern team over this period as well.

Interns jumping in to assist with meal prep
Student Kitchen got cleaned and repacked – hoping it will stay like this for a while.
Activity Centre got rearranged and library moved over.

July saw the start of an unusually small Professional Field GUide Course, due to the many cancellations enforced by travel restrictions. This however provided an early opportunity for our two newest interns, Thando from Kosi Bay and Nosipho from Ermelo, to join the group and complete their NQF 2 Apprentice Field Guide Qualification. Both have worked really hard to earn their places, and have successfully written their FGASA Theory Exams. With only the practical assessment ahead of them, we look forward to announcing them soon as fully qualified guides.

Thando’s dream is to join in the footsteps of her late father who worked as a guide in the Kosi Bay area. She will be staying with us for the foreseeable future in order to complete her Marine Qualification, after which we hope to see her start a successful career in Kosi Bay.

Nosipho’s passion is for the dusty ground! After her second work period she will proceed with the Apprentice Trails Qualification.

Nosipho and Thando having some coffee to warm up a cold winters morning on practical.
The Ingulule Group with instructor Stephen Ingram and guest and ex Bhejane Intern Ncgebo Mhlambo

We look forward to welcoming more staff back in September / October!

Bhejane Fortuner is not so fortunate!

Certainly one of the most reliable “members” of the Bhejane Team is the Fortuner doing many of the supply runs and transfer trips. The Fortuner however is currently out of action after real Bhejane encounter! Whilst helping with a Rhino dehorning operation at Somkhanda, Dylan and the Angasi returned to the spot where the vehicle was left – only to find this sight! It seems the vehicle ended up in the path of the rhino as it was being pursued by the helicopter, and it it took some time out to leave its mark! We hope to have the Fortuner back in operation as soon as possible!

Dylan with the defaced Fortuner.

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 industrie 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

Gobandlovu Camp Life

It has been quite some time since the camp has been so quiet, for this long! While everyone rushed off to catch flights and get home before the lockdown, a group of 9 students stayed behind in camp, having to wait out the lockdown here. Interns Stephan and Misae was keeping watch at the Bhejane Outpost on Somkhanda – blissfully unaware of the chaos of the outside world – and we managed to get them back to base camp, and to evacuate the Outpost just in time.

While we are all sad, stressed and uncertain about what happens next, we are also enormously privileged to have been able to spend the lockdown on Kuleni. 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, read more on this below. 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 that they are and are doing an amazing job sharing kitchen space, and keeping their spaces clean and tidy!

All Bhejane Staff has 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 through 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!

The Curious Case of The 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 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 nation-wide lockdown was announced and I had the choice to go back home, but for a traveler each stop feels like home and I felt at home here in a camp we call Gobandlovu, 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 you just want to stay back for one more night and Bhejane Nature Training happens to be one such place for me, not just by one night either. I have been here for a few months now learning about the bush and the ways of life in the bush and 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, and like how there are two sides to every story if not more, here is my side of the story to what the lockdown got me into. The  lockdown was unexpected, was not heard of before, not even in the wildest of jokes, so when the lockdown was announced on a noon of Thursday, the camp that was bubbling with 60 or 70 odd people was reduced to a mere 10, and 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 the birds. The sudden change in mood in a camp that is around 200ha was noticeable, it’s just not about the silence in the camp, even the highways had lesser vehicles going past, the music played outside quickly faded away. At first it seemed like there were more birds, but quickly I understood that it was the same everyday but these beautiful songs were muted by manmade sounds (call it music if you want to), now the stage was set for the birds to sing and be noted too. My walk began around 5:45 met another friend on the way and we walked listening to songs and sounds the birds made, like humans they too have a party (Bird Party), birds of various species come together in what looks like a bird get together, a meet of some kind to discuss something – certainly they were not discussing social distancing, you could stand and watch until your legs supported you, or until the stomach reminded you that the direction you should be heading next is towards the kitchen. The winter birds are here, my first sighting of the Easter Nicator was now, did you know that they had a winter call, that was so cool, a beautiful bubbly call is 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 are gone now, so are the European bee-eaters, the cuckoos too have gone but they will be back by September. At the same time, I heard of a lockdown birding challenge and actively began listening and looking for birds, as I type this I have recorded 107 birds in the last 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 even spotted the Southern White-faced owl and the Thick-tailed bush baby and by the end of the walk we clearly heard the Spotted Hyena call too, certainly the call wasn’t from inside the property but it was very close and felt absolutely fantastic, to be watching the full moon deep into the night and to hear the hyena call at a distance was just what the bushman likes.    

When you go on a walk in the mornings, apart from looking for the birds you also obviously look for the signs left back by the nocturnal creatures or by the ones who were here last night, you must consider yourself blessed when the substrate in the reserve is primarily sand, which means that there is enough evidence left behind by the night creatures, of course if didn’t rain. If you are one of them who 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, seems like the white-tailed mongoose is a compulsive walker, he would take the same path every single day, the other regular tracks were of the millipede and the dung beetle always leaves back a artistic patterns behind, the frogs and the tortoise leave back a beautiful trail too, and then there are those which I don’t understand from any which angle I see and then I blame it on the inability of the animals to leave back a good track.

A Surprise Visitor

One morning on our walks, while we were busy looking at the tracks, we stop at something that 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, recently a few days back when I was on a walk I was so excited when I saw the tracks of Spotted Hyena in the reserve, I was so excited and thrilled and went and quickly reported to another person who hurried to see the tracks and in a second confirmed that it belonged to a dog, please don’t judge me on my tracking skills now, every dog has its day and today belong to a domestic dog and not a Hyena.

Well the tracks that we were looking at, they belonged to a cat, a big cat at that, and we were sure it belonged to a Leopard. Only the previous night I thought I heard a leopard but felt it was in a distance and 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 the leopard wasn’t far but these tracks confirmed they were well inside the reserve, the next few days we noticed the tracks everywhere, they had begun walking in the usual paths that we take, lions and leopards during the night would take the pathways to move from one place to another, soon we saw two sets of tracks walking side by side, when you see the tracks of an animal, you actually with experience can paint the picture of what might have happened here. So we had different versions, while one said that it’s the same leopard that walked in circles another said it was may be two sub adults walking together, or could be two different leopards walking in the same area at two different time of the night, none of which could be wrong coz we don’t know for sure.

Trap Cameras

We then decided to set up few trap cameras hoping we could get some pictures, but then seems like the leopards always avoided the path where we set up the trap cameras, it was frustrating to see the tracks going close to the cameras but not walking in front of the camera, may be they are technology aware or shy. One morning on our routine walk we see tracks going in front of the camera and when we eagerly looked into if anything was captured, lo and behold there we saw our first glimpse of the owners of those two sets of tracks, 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.

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.

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.