Our students recently enjoyed a highly educational birding day out in the St Lucia section of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park, where they recorded numerous species in a variety of habitats.
Highly diverse, St Lucia offers some of the best sightings of birds in coastal, estuary, grassland and forest habitats, making it ideal for training purposes.
Paul Jossop was a Bhejane Nature Training student some 13 years ago, and was on the first advanced course we ever ran.
Now a renowned birding guide who works all over South Africa and further into Africa, Paul helps us out with training and lectures.
During the birding field trip to St Lucia, Paul showed the students how to use spotting sights to catch the various birds in their different habitats, and they were rewarded with some incredible sightings, including African Finfoot and Green Twinspots.
With the abundance of wildlife in South Africa, our birdlife is often overlooked, including by prospective nature guides.
But a knowledge of birds, their habitats and their behaviour is crucial for guides, as birding tours have, in recent years, become very popular.
There has been a surge of birders since the Covid-related lockdown when people had time on their hands to sit in their gardens – they started noticing and taking an interest in birds, and now they want industry professionals to teach them more.
At Bhejane we have always gone above and beyond, and offered fully-comprehensive nature guiding courses that train guides up to be knowledgeable about our whole ecosystem.
We keep to our mandate of providing only the best training for guides coming through our ranks, by making sure birding is covered in both our long and short courses. Students on the Bhejane Advanced Nature Guiding and Wildlife Conservation Course spend time each year, exploring some of Southern Africa’s most exciting birding hotspots.
The Regional Birding Specialist Course is a specialist short course that can be done on its own or completed as one of the modules on the longer career courses.
The Bhejane Nature Training pride has grown with the new appointment of Phillip Wessels as Principal Trainer and Assessor.
Adding Skill and Experience to the Bhejane Team
Phillip brings with him a wealth of experience and qualifications. Having taught at, and headed up, numerous prestigious wildlife education institutions. He is particularly looking forward to working with the Bhejane students on our three-year Advanced Nature Guiding and Wildlife Conservation course. Bhejane is the only nature training school that offers this intensive course which ensures a well-rounded education for the student.
Phillip is well aware of the limitations with shorter courses, in getting the students industry-ready. He is keen to impart his knowledge to those students looking to make a life-long career in the guiding industry.
With origins in Zambia, Phillip’s lineage has strong links with wildlife. His almost weekly trips to Kruger National Park as a child served to strengthen his connection with the environment.
Phillip’s career in the wildlife industry was launched through a chance encounter with a field guide. More than 20 years later, he has achieved professional status in the industry through the Field Guide’s Association of Southern Africa (FGASA). He is a registered Professional Field Guide, with Specialised Knowledge & Skills (SKS) accreditation in dangerous game and birding, Professional Tracker qualification and proficiency as a Firearms Trainer.
He is also proficient in Wilderness First Aid, well versed in Hospitality and Big 5 Walking Safaris, and intimately involved in Anti-Poaching Conservation.
As a FGASA Specialist Training Provider, assessor and trails guide mentor qualified to conduct training, Phillip has a burning desire to share this passion and knowledge with learners.
“I am enthusiastic about sharing my vast knowledge with this new generation of nature ambassadors who stand to gain an in-depth understanding of the environment and a passion for guiding,” says Phillip.
Bhejane tailor made the course specifically because of the demanding nature of the wildlife guiding industry. The course meets the highest standards possible when it comes to training field guides.
Ideal for school leavers, by the time the student has graduated from the three-year course, they will be 21 years old . This is thee required age to obtain a professional driver’s permit (PDP), which is a necessity for working in the industry.
This opens the student to employment immediately after graduating.
“Over the last 10 to 15 years, we have seen the majority of students who have completed this advanced course remain in the industry and advancing to senior positions.
“Our guides who graduate from the advanced course really stick out above the rest,” said Dylan Panos, Bhejane Nature Training co-founder.
One of the many questions we get asked at Bhejane Nature Training, is does being a really Nature Guide really with wildlife conservation?
Here are the top 5 ways you can make a difference as a nature guide.
Guides are Dreamweavers
One experience at a time opening a door to new realms, new worlds and new ways of experiencing the natural world.
When we change the way we look at the world, the world starts to change dramatically. Almost everyone that loves nature has seen a David Attenborough documentary. His narration brings so much magic, insight and depth to the film. Can you imagine what that documentary would be like without his narration? Guides bring this magic to their guests when they show them where to look, share little bits of information, at just the right time and leave their guests awe inspired about the wonders of nature.
Just like the creative craft of David Attenborough and his team has inspired so many young people to follow a career devoted to nature, skilled guides turn “average Joe’s” into naturalists ready for their next learning experience every day.
Nature Guides are Trendsetters
How cool is it to have an appreciation for the outdoors – a reconnection with nature – as the trend you are setting! Nature guides work in such amazing places and do so many exciting things. Almost everyone enjoys reading, watching or hearing about the amazing encounters guides have every day. Thanks to Social media platforms like Tiktok, Instagram and Youtube, these experiences become accessible to millions more people and not only the lucky 9 on the back of your game viewer for this morning’s drive. Click through to some of the social media links below to share in some of our recent experiences.
Nature Guides help to shape the future
There is a popular saying in conservation – “if it pays, it stays”. Enlightened guests that had unforgettable life experiences with guides, and a newly inspired online community eager to also come out and experience this refreshing trend to be in close to nature -is how guides ensure day by day to keep the demand for nature based experiences growing ,outcompeting other industries.
Nature Guides are Wildlife Monitors
Eyes in the field and feet on the ground makes for an enormous amount of patterns, and sighting information that makes its way to valuable research efforts on a daily basis. Guides contribute to the development of databases that help researchers learn more about so many wildlife populations and behaviours. Nature Guides help wildlife conservation projects in this way.
Nature Guides are Next-level Educators
Although many guides were probably the “cant sit still, cant focus and always in trouble” schoolkids that hated school, having the opportunity to touch so many lives by just sharing and living their passion – those same “always in trouble” kids from school become inspirational heroes to the next generation of kids.
There are many other ways that Nature Guides help Wildlife Conservation – can you think of any more?
Bhejane Nature Training is a FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) Endorsed Training Provider based in northern KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. We provide professional career training for nature guides, trails guides, marine guides, and conservation entrepreneurs! We also offer nature based, career development gap year programmes and a variety of short courses. Click through to our website to join us in Bhejane Territory.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Running the first marine course post lockdown was a daunting task! Our usual practical camp sites were not yet open for business, and with no real news on when we will be allowed access to beaches for beach and rocky shore practicals as well as the water based activities, it was a daunting task to plan for this course. We are extremely grateful to Heinrich and team at Isibindi Africa Lodges and in particular Thonga Beach Lodge for their assistance in making sure our Beach Practical Camp can happen! We were also fortunate to have Sthembiso – one of the Thonga Guides, attend the course with our group, and it was great to get some of the local stories and information from him.
Well done to all students that passed both Theory and Practical assessments on this one of a kind course!
We are also grateful to Adventure Mania from Sodwana Bay that was able to assist us with the Diving Component of the course. We have been exploring more options in Sodwana and have really enjoyed working with Reef Teach and the Adventure Mania Crews and look forward to many dives with them both going forward. The Bhejane Dive crew has also been working on putting all the pieces in place to start offering the full PADI Dive Master Qualification to our 2nd Year Students as an option for those specialising in Marine. We hope to run the first pilot now in 2020 and go full steam ahead in 2021 qualifying Bhejane Dive Masters!
The whole Bhejane student community also had the opportunity to get involved in a large scale beach cleanup with the Isimangaliso Wetland Park authority, and the dive operators in Sodwana. Pollution of our oceans is a very real concern and one that needs constant care and attention! We took part in two beach clean-ups in the last two months and hope to fit in a few more for 2020!
What is a PADI Dive Master?
Becoming a PADI Dive Master is the first step towards a career as a Marine and Dive Professional. A Dive Master is able to plan and lead a group of divers on a dive. If you are registered on the Bhejane 3 year Course, you will already have the opportunity to qualify as a Rescue Diver. Become a Dive Master is the next step from there, but while you can progress swiftly from Open Water, to Advanced to Rescue, Dive Master is a step towards becoming professional and taking responsibility for others, so experience is key! To start your training as a Dive Master you must have already logged a minimum of 50 dives. It is good as a pro tip to remember that when a standard requires a certain amount of minimum hours, it is exactly that – the bare minimum! Your personal goal should always be to aim for more, and to qualify with far more than the minimum required. To this end we have started a Bhejane Dive Club, to enable students to make good use of weekends and off days to log some extra dives! Nicole – our in house PADI instructor, supervises the Dive Club, with the help of the 2nd Year Group in the Activity Centre, and work hard to get good rates to make this an affordable way to get your required experience dives!
Once you have logged the required experience, you can commence with Dive Master Training. It is an intensive but fun course with no shortcuts! When we assume leadership roles in any activity, a new level of personal commitment is required and the Dive Master Training programme will require you to step up to showcase your commitment and professionalism on a new level.
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.
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.
I am often told, how lucky I am to live where I live, and do what it is I do for a living – I am sure people in similar positions, also often hear this and over time you really get use to being told how privileged you are from someone else’s point of view- so much so that I have developed a pretty standard response – I smile, and then agree with them not thinking about it too much.
After all it is what I do every day, if I had to articulate the way I really feel about this place called the Elephant Coast- I would not know how as it triggers an emotion so immensely strong I can barely control myself and in that moment words become meaningless and the only words I am left with, sound a little something like this..
“It left me speechless”
I write this today, although I have been writing this in my head for the past 5 years, forever letting it linger until I can find the perfect words to be able to formulate a sentence, never mind string them into a story for anyone else to share into this experience, and too be sincere I am not sure I would ever find the right words to describe the impact the Elephant Coast has had on me, this is one of those “see it to believe it” cases and I highly recommend that you do.
The Elephant Coast is a narrow stretch of land, touching home to the vast warm waters of the Indian Ocean & multi diverse Zululand (KwaZulu Natal, South Africa). It is here where you can come to feel the breath of the Sub tropical, it is here where my words become buried so deep beneath the history that these soils contain and spread so far across the floodplains and into the open ocean. The only place in the world where you can come to witness so many different ecosystems, vegetation structures, and climatic character variations flow together in perfect harmony earning the right to be classified under its own biome, namely the Indian Ocean Coastal Belt. A pure example of outstanding ecological processes, superlative natural phenomena and scenic beauty, and exceptional biodiversity and home so many threatened species.
How does one even begin to explain something so diverse, unique and endemic in simple forms?
It is in these sand forests where the last remaining herds of ‘Big tusker’ elephants roamed for centuries and left their mark on the very tips of our tongues. It is here where coral reefs have formed on remains of ancient sand dunes creating one of a kind reefs, home to over 1200 fish species, including the Coelacanth, a fish species thought to be extinct but still lurks in the depths of these waters – described as The Living Fossil. It is here where the largest estuarine system on the African continent, you can come to see the largest population of hippopotamus and crocodile share a space with the Bull Shark that follow the high tide in to feed on any juvenile life hiding among the aerial roots of mangrove trees that stand as guards along the edges of our coastline, giving chance for other habitats to develop, it is here where King Shaka’s right hand man fled to after fearing he too would suffer the same fate and be assassinated- found himself emerged deep in the beauty of the flat, vast and open land with many lakes in 1828– It was the home of the Tsonga people, then known as Tembeland – Upon arriving, the beauty that overwhelmed him set the core for the naming of this region, the name so perfectly chosen for this region ‘iSimangaliso’ meaning miracle and wonders remain as true today, as it did almost 200 years ago.
Once it lures you in, it has got you for life. I cannot recall the exact day I fully grasped the magnitude of the words “You are lucky” meant for me. I was raised in the guiding industry, both my parents are guides and passion driven people, passion not only for the natural surroundings, but for creating a community of like-minded people to create, spread and share more moments of magic.
A passion, I guess you can say it is in my blood.
I was born with it and so I will continue to grow with it every day being reminded through a series of moments- like the first time I got to witness a loggerhead turtle emerge from the comfort of her aquatic environment to lay eggs in the coastal dunes of Bhanga Nek, Kosi Bay. That moment upon realizing that this turtle has survived the odds, living through natures natural process and unpredictability, that realization of “Here I am, in her presence, watching her… what a rarity” , even walking back up the beach, with every step brighter than the next as my feet shuffle and awaken the bioluminesence hidden beneath the surface of the faintly wet sand. The first time I ever got to witness a Humpback Whale and her calf swim right by me while diving a spot called Pinnacles in Sodwana Bay, sharing a momentary glimpse of each other as one tail movement sent her meters ahead of me and within seconds they were gone again and just like that, an appreciation for these waters I find myself in. I am quickly reminded that these are not only the breeding waters for whales, but some of the most unique reefs dominated by soft coral and marine life so diverse, significant that with every breathe fueling your lungs as you sink down deeper you become almost instantaneously humbled.
It is in these moments when it becomes clear, how lucky I truly am.
The Elephant Coast captured my heart and became my home and my office – Privileged to share the stories of the past, determined to keep a sustainable present and looking forward to many more once in a lifetime experiences, never failing to appreciate any moment whether I find myself under a blanket of stars on a clear night or even just hearing the rumble of the ocean on a windy day.
Speechless is the only way to describe the feeling one gets upon realizing that every day you get to live and breathe in a place of miracles, a literal heaven on earth, a sacred place.
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.
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.
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!”
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We lead the way . . . follow us into Bhejane Territory!
You must be logged in to post a comment.