The students’ first semester of their Bushwise adventure has almost drawn to an end. Their final week was actioned packed as always, adding more and more ammunition to their fast increasing knowledge. The honeymoon period is now over however and no more are the trainers chauffeuring them around. The students are now getting to grips driving a loaded Land Rover over various terrains and juggling this with deciding as and when to stop, as well as presenting information about the flora and fauna encountered. Guest involvement has been high on the list and their repertoire of techniques is growing by the day: eating leaves of the buffalo thorn, smelling burning elephant dung and even making a refreshing cup of tea from the seed pods of the Russet Bushwillow! Of course our trainers are there to offer suggestions and supervise, as well as topping up their knowledge on a daily basis.
This week’s focus was on Ecology and Taxonomy. Ecology is the big gun in any good guide’s arsenal. It is the study of the interactions of all the components of an ecosystem, from the smallest dew drop to an entire biome. These systems are not held together by random chance, but by a series of complex relationships that act like scaffolding to prevent it from collapsing. Every single organism on this planet interacts or has an impact on a myriad of others. Changing one thing can have a knock-on effect that could have disastrous consequences to the stability of an ecosystem. Over the coming months, the students will learn that a high quality guide will be able to link anything they see to a whole host of other factors and it is this blanket understanding that will take a guest’s experience to the next level.
We were also honoured to host representatives from K9 Conservation. The anti-poaching team responsible for protecting the inhabitants of The Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve. Questions were fired by the students, hungry for more information on how the ever present poaching threat is tackled and all of us were thoroughly appreciative to the team for taking time out of their busy schedule to help educate and spread awareness of the appalling plight that is ravaging our country’s great natural diversity. The real stars of the show however were the dogs themselves: 3 highly trained, loyal and heroic members of the K9 team were put through their paces by their handlers, proving their worth in tracking exercises, as well as capture and containment. K9 Conservation, and all of us, are honoured to have such resources on hand! After being put through their paces, the dogs were even treated to a dip in the dam on campus, reveling in the cool waters after a busy schedule!!
The final installment was a sleep out under the pristine African skies. Sleeping mats and bags were the extent of the luxuries afforded to the students as they busied themselves setting up camp for the night deep in the heart of the wilderness. The trainers imparted essential knowledge on survival and navigation should a guide even become lost in the bush, including a whole host of ways that both food and water could be found, as well as how to make fire without the 21st century aids of matches and firelighters. Despite their best efforts however, these skills eluded them and eventually the trainers relented and lit the fire the modern way so that dinner could be prepared (much to the delight of grumbling stomachs!!).
A fascinating insight into the magnificence that envelops us every night was then imparted to the eager crowd, aided by crystal clear skies and a total lack of light pollution. The latter is something that most guests are not privy too and a basic knowledge of the stars is an essential part of a guide’s repertoire. Orion, Gemini, Canis Major and Canis Minor were just some of the constellations pointed out to the students but after about half an hour, the mental exhaustion of trying to comprehend distances, sizes and temperatures so vast that they defy belief, took its toll. More and more knowledge of the tapestry of other worlds will be imparted as the course progresses and despite their obvious dismay, all are eager to continue exploring the heavens.
Students took turns in keeping watch for any nocturnal intruders but I am happy to report that despite the veritable buffet on offer, nothing untoward paid us a visit! Bleary eyed but oddly refreshed after a night in the bosom of Mother Nature, the students woke early and greeted the arrival of the Sun with quiet contemplation. It is nights like this that will instill an immutable passion amongst many and we look forward to seeing them blossom as the course progresses in February.
There is no higher honour in my opinion than to spend the night surrounded by nature. We are spending 6 months teaching the students the inner workings, interactions and relationships that make the bush what it is and what better way to understand it than to truly be a part of it.
Till next Semester, Ben & The Bushwise Team