Report from Stephen Mortimer
School of Sport and Exercise Sciences
Ecotraining Trip in South Africa
Firstly, thank you once again for the prize, I had an exceptional time on the course. I used the money to help pay for a course in South Africa called Ecotraining, this is a 28 day residential course in a game park aimed at training people to become qualified game rangers/safari guides. This “Certificate in Game Ranging” course includes the following aspects: plant identification and medicinal uses of vegetation; identification, ecology and behaviour of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals; animal tracks and tracking; communication skills; rifle handling; approaching dangerous game on foot; and guide-client etiquette. The emphasis is on getting practical, in-the-field experience.
course was based at a wilderness camp in the Karongwe game reserve near
Hoedspruit, SA. The camp is in a big five area with numerous other species of
game, birds and plants. During our time there we had regular visits at night
from lions, hyenas and bush buck, as well as leopard and civet, at first this
was a little scary but soon became very exciting. There were six students, and
we had four different instructors during our time. This camp had no electricity
so everything was paraffin or gas powered. Our daily routine involved getting up
at around 5.30 am, having a hot drink before setting off on a 4 hour game walk
around sunrise. On these walks we learned over 150 trees and plant species as
well as their medicinal uses. We also used it to listen to bird calls and
identify over 100 bird species, as well as to track, view and approach game on
foot. This included approaching Lions and Elephant!! At around l0 am we would
arrive back at camp and cook breakfast and shower before starting lectures at
around 11.30 am. Lectures would often cover the theory of things we had come
across on the walk, but also advanced study into geology, soils, anatomy and
astronomy amongst other things. At around 2.30 pm we then had 1 hour of’free
time’, however this was normally filled with duties such as food orders and
collecting firewood, and if you were lucky you even got time to do some laundry!
At 3.30 pm we would get in our open top Land Rover and go for an evening
game drive, this would include a sundowner at a scenic spot followed by hooking
up a spot light for searching for animals after dark. At 7.30 pm we would arrive
back at camp, cook dinner, then sit around the camp-fire to discuss the day’s
events and speculate about what the next day would bring! Bedtime was usually at
about 9 pm. At first we took quite a passive role but as the days progressed,
and our confidence and knowledge increased, we started to take a more active
role to the point where; in the last week we led all the walks and planned and
took our own game drives. The instructor acted as a guest by this stage, just
giving feedback and guidance where necessary. At the end of the course there was
two days of assessments: A field observation test to test our recognition,
tracking and deduction skills, a written exam to test our theory knowledge and a
game drive assessment where we simulated taking a game drive for guests. I
passed the course with a mark of 77%, this was quite a high mark as the normal
average is around 59%.
This schedule meant that the course was very hard work both physically and mentally, however it was incredibly rewarding and great fun. Following the course, I have decided to look at guiding as a career, and have recently been offered a 10 week trial placement at a game lodge in South Africa commencing in July 2003.
Secretary to Prizes Committee
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