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On the second day of the Bushwise Field Guide course, the class of January 2018 were deep into their discussions on game drive safety. It is very hard to appreciate, sat in a cool likely fanned classroom, the gravity of some of the situations one might find themselves in while guiding. As the lecture ended, the class bubbled with excitement at all the reward but also danger the bush had to offer. As the murmurs of anticipation and smiles of adventure spread through the classroom, a voice spoke from the back of the classroom, “This is why we do it guys…” exclaimed Trevor, “If you’re not living on the edge, you are taking up too much space!”

Fast forward 3 weeks to a Tuesday afternoon. The weeks lectures have been completed and it was time to put what we’ve learnt into practice. There is a slight scent of apprehension in the air as the three groups jumped into their respective vehicles. The weeks studies had been taxonomy, mammals and most importantly Ethology (animal behavior). What this translated to, was heading to the furthest corners of Makalali Private Game Reserve to seek the finest examples of mammal behavior predominantly from the biggest and boldest animals we could find. And the animals didn’t disappoint.

Photo by Ben Shapland

With a windy, cool, cloudy afternoon in progress, Vaughn the trainer of group C explained that this was the perfect weather for the carnivores to come out and play. The game drive was only in its infancy when a we struck gold with a pride of 13 lions. Watching there every twitch and pulse, for a change in relaxed behavior, the car was placed a nervy 3 metres from the pride. Once our heart beats had slowed a little and a few of the weeks learning points discussed, it was back to the chase for more examples of animal behavior.

Photo by David van der Meer

It took all of 3 meandering turns through the bush to bump into the largest resident of the reserve. There is only one noise a group of fresh faced trainee Field guides make when amongst a herd of 20+ elephants, and that is complete silence. Nothing will take the wind from your lungs like an adolescent bull elephant calmly reminding you your place in the pecking order, by having a little fiddle and sniff of your car front bumper. Another master class in reading animal behavior from the trainer and we managed to navigate our way out the elephant herd with minimal disturbance.

Photo by Ben Shapland

Photo by Ben Shapland

The stench of the Bull Elephant in musth had hardly left the air when the alarm cry of vervet monkeys led us off road into a river bank in search of leopard. Pushing car and driver to the very edge a glimpse of the Makalali’s most elusive member had finally taken place under dusky conditions during sunset in South Africa.

As group C reminisced over the fear, excitement and adrenaline-fueled joy of one afternoon drive. The class of Bushwise January 2018 had finally realized that living on the edge is exactly where they wanted to be!

Blog by Ben Shapland