Guides Training 2019, Hwange

Guides Training 2019, Hwange

Gavin was recently in Zimbabwe, Hwange running his annual guides training. Hosted by Wilderness Safaris this is always an exciting week for the guides.
Gavin’s vast experience takes the guides through an intense week of practical training such as walking in the bush, tracking, identification and even camp/table etiquette and some of the more domestic aspects of the job.

Gavin takes a broad encompassing look at Africa as a continent, birds, mammals, biomes and reasons for vegetation diversity as many guests have traveled to Africa previously, particularly East Africa.

Here are some of the highlights of the week.  We had a fantastic turnout with guides from Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia all training.

Another sunrise, another day. We spent the first 3 to 4 hours of each morning out walking and driving to find elephant and lion primarily. We would find spoor, stop and discuss the spoor, then either track the animals or move on again to find better spoor.

 

Brilliant flower of Striga asiatica. A peculiarity of the Striga genus is their hemi-parasitic lifestyle! Their roots invade their hosts roots system very successfully, and draw some nutrients directly from them.

 

Data on African Savanna elephant . A short lecture was given to us by an elephant researcher who has been working on elephant dynamics in the park.

 

Dave Carson, briefing students on requirements for Proficiency Tests. Dave is a fellow professional guide, who actively participates in training guides in Zimbabwe, and is also one of the nominated ZPHGA examiners at the bi-annual Proficiency Tests held in conjunction with National Parks.

Discussing a Camel Thorn Tree. Sstudents would be selected to lead walks in the morning, discussing whatever subjects took their fancy on the walk, as a way of developing their ability to talk sensibly with guests, to exchange information with their colleagues AND as a means of gauging their knowledge for the Professional Guide supervising the walk.

Discussing the material used in Red billed buffalo weavers nests!
Despite living with these birds for years none of the students had ever held a twig from a nest or given them more than a cursory interest! This is a typical conundrum with guides all over Zimbabwe, and probably other countries too!

Douglas trying to catch a catfish or barbel, as the fish disperse from the main pan (out of frame) across the flooded grassland to colonize new areas.

Students gather for an early …5.30am..breakfast before starting the day.

Early morning at Backpans…female hippo and young calf a large female hippo re-enters the pan with a very young calf, and a two to three year calf as well.

Elephant dung riddled with coprophagus ‘mushrooms’.
This is a common sight only during the rainy season, when conditions are good for the fungi to germinate and produce ‘mushrooms’.

Flooded plains of Ngamo. The recent heavy rains here have created these temporary flooded grasslands which benefit a large number of amphibians here, and of course give the grass a boost to grow. Being deep sandy soils, these conditions will not last long and the water will be lost to the below-ground water regime.

13. Gray crowned crane. These beautiful birds are not common here, and normally are seen in pairs or threesomes, including the most recent chick. Subject to some local movement, it is thought that the Zimbabwean western population move between central Botswana and western Zimbabwe, seasonally.

14. Great stormy sky. Some ferocious storms were daily occurrences either on the camp or in the immediate vicinity.

African foxglove. (Ceratotheca triloba). These lovely annuals are scattered throughout the grasslands and scrub, adding some contrast colour to the yellows and mauves of Hibiscus, merremia and Wild sesame plants.

17. It’s 5am and time to wake up. The summer sky lightens quickly, and sleeping in a waterproof tent with open sides ensures no one sleeps too late.

18. ‘Jewel beetles’. Mating bugs, creating another bundle of ‘gems’ to delight us! These iridescent insects abound in some areas of the bush, and make fine macro-photographic subjects.

19. On a walk…walking safely and informatively is a key part of a Field Guides’ skills. We practiced this daily.

21. Stingless bee entrance. This tiny waxen tube is all that indicates that a nest of stingless bees is here…often prized by local hunters for the extremely strong and dark honey they produce, although in tiny quantities.

22. ‘Stud’ or ‘Devil thorn’ flower. The seed pod has two short dorsal spines which embed themselves into boot soles, lending this plant the name,’ Stud thorn’. The flower is very attractive, and being a prostrate plant spreads these lovely blooms along lengthy lines in the grasslands.

23. Taking a break. This happy mix of student guides are from Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and enjoyed the cross culture interaction both socially and professionally.

Fungi are particularly active in the wet season, and a wide variety of fruiting bodies were found, from this ‘brown gilled’ variety to Boletes and bracket fungi too. This gilled specimen was on the elephant dung….and the guide was careful to wash his hands thoroughly after this photo, to avoid being poisoned by any spores on his hand that might inadvertently be transferred to his mouth!

25. There are a huge selection of Ipomea species. In fact many look similar to Merremia species!

26. Trying to estimate the age of a Leopard tortoise. We found a surprising number of these reptiles, and they always raised interesting discussions on whether they should be picked up or not…(NOT) aging them by counting ridges (approximately), and their general ecology.

27. We saw 3 different prides of lion. It is always exciting finding lions on foot, as the guides track them to contact. Sometimes they are very demonstrative, and other times all one hears is a low growl and the lions run away into a thicket….not a place to follow them. It is nice to find them from the vehicle, and just enjoy them without any angst on both sides.

11. End of course, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambian student guides. At the end of the nine days, the students all dispersed to their respective safari camps in Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Embued with an enthusiasm and knowledge for their roles as guides, they were a very happy and vocal crew! Kudos to Wilderness Safaris, in those three countries for agreeing to send their guides away for the week for this collective training session. A very positive action.

The Last few Days…

Kings Pool was our final tented ‘home’, and no-one expressed disappointment at the choice of venue!  Landing in the middle of a dry, silent mopane woodland, one has had the benefit of at least catching sight of a ribbon of green some way away to the west.  Several small herds of zebra were drinking at two of the remaining pans in the mopane, their stripes at odds with the greens and yellows of the mopane leaves.

Zebra families were using the remaining pans

Zebra families were using the remaining pans

The fabulous views and calming ambience of the Linyanti river was magical. Namibia was just a horizon away, a line of dark trees a few kilometers away over waving reeds and grass. Hippo, crocodiles and elephants moved in the river and around the camp continually. Warthogs rested in the shade of the cabins and under the walkways during the heat of the day.

 

 

Game drives focused along the riverine belt, such as was left of it. Decades of years of elephant feeding effects had destroyed the riverine vegetation and the majority of the trees. A few massive jackal berry and fig trees remained among the dense, scarred Croton thickets. Impala were abundant providing an important food source for leopard and Painted dogs.

 

 

Calm and peaceful, the view over the Linyanti.

Calm and peaceful, the view over the Linyanti.

 

One afternoon we sat entranced as a herd of elephants crossed the river in front of us, coming over to Botswana. Fabulous! In all, we counted about 150 animals, and there was another stream crossing further downriver from us. That’s a LOT of elephant tummies that needed feeding that night!

 

Warthogs rested in the shade of the walkways and the cabins..unafraid of humans

Warthogs rested in the shade of the walkways and the cabins..unafraid of humans

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charging hippo before tea….what more, I asked myself.

The morning started with a spectacular sunrise over the lagoon…..hot oats porridge with amarula, a hot mocha-choca and the sound of a lion roaring somewhere in the distance, way away in the mopane. I stood watching the starlings as they flew over the lagoon, the wisps of smoke from the fire was heaven in my nostrils, and I absorbed every nuance of the moment. This was why I lived….to have these moments in my life.

The baboons were up to their usual antics of strife and screams, and a few impala were out collecting the few leaves drifting down from the jackal berry trees, a result of the baboons chasing each other around the fruiting trees. The vehicle followed the hyena spoor down the deep sandy track, and the cold wind bit into our faces and made our eyes weep. The radio warbled a bit, guides checking in for the mornings drive, and we snuggled into our seats, wrapped in blanket-lined ponchos. Giraffe and zebra, impala, leopard and hyena pups (cubs, kits?) we enjoyed them all, We tracked a lion for much of the morning…even following his roars until the mopane became too thick for comfort…..and we left the spoor of a whole female pride and cubs heading east on a mission. We gave up. Tea time is always fun…….normally both vehicles together. The chat and banter of competition between the cars was witty and rapier swift……..on some mornings anyway.

Tranquil moments

Tranquil moments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other vehicle was away from us when we decided to stop at a lonely pan deep in the mopane. The stark back of a lone hippo lay unmoving at the far end. Bohdy asked if he could go around there to see if it was still alive…’NO..’.I growled. ‘Under no circumstances…..they can outrun you.’ He looked skeptical…as young boys do when challenged by something that looks harmless. The guide, Ona and I climbed out, stretched our legs, and stared at the hippo’s form. The assistant started putting the tea things on the wire fold-out table, part of the vehicle front screen. The hippo woke up and the eyes and ears appeared, stared at us briefly. It started moving towards us, the dark water swirling a little behind it. I watched it as it moved, ears forward, eyes fixed and intent. My ‘warning lights’ came on. It was still far away. ‘Bohdy, please get in the car. Now.’ He paused in play, and looked at the hippo…..and climbed into the back. The assistant had the thermos flask in his hand, looked at the approaching hippo, put the flask down, walked to the other side of the car. Amy (still in the truck) and I took pictures of the hippo moving towards us. Ona and I stood side by side watching.

The hippo charged.

Hippo charge 1

Hippo charge 1

Hippo charge.2

Hippo charge.2

 

 

 

 

 

 

A series of bounding leaps, starting about 50 yards away, with water foaming about his neck as he came through deep, and then progressively shallow water. I took pictures at each stage.

 

Closer and still coming!

Closer and still coming!

 

Committed!

Committed!

 

 

 

 

 

 

On he came. I took pictures….and then realized he was not going to stop. In fact Ona and I realized this at the same time, and went to my door…we both tried to open my door……but I was standing on the side rail! Ona took off around the car, and I stepped back, opened the door, stepped in and closed it and moved onto the centre console, in case the hippo bit the door! The hippo came thundering out of the water straight towards the car, and swerved…..a stride from the vehicle side, and carried on past us, circled around the tree next to us and went back into the water. He paused at the edge of the water to look at us once more, before disappearing into the pan.  A close run thing.

Amy was shaking….everybody was talking…….and so we changed venues for tea, and joined the other vehicle.

We joined the other vehicle for tea...somewhere safer!

We joined the other vehicle for tea…somewhere safer!

 

 

 

 

 

Another First from Greenville!

“After two nights in Jo’burg, we managed a major culture shock, when we sat in a open vehicle watching a pride of lions from a scant 25 yards!” or so the journal entry said. My ‘Family’ had never been to Africa before, bar the Matriarch, and I sat watching the awe and wonder on their fresh faces as they absorbed the presence of the lions. It is a great privilege to take folk on their first ever safari! I never tire of it.   The one very large and scarred lioness sat up, yawned prodigiously which evoked a rapid-fire of camera shutters and then stalked over to pee casually just behind our vehicle. Under my seat, in fact. Large eyes all round.  This was before we were even halfway to camp!

Afternoon lions.

Afternoon lions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The afternoon drive produced another treat…..a leopardess with two 3month old cubs!   Not only that, but she allowed the cubs to suckle within 30 feet of our vehicle, watchful but at ease with our presence. We watched as she played with the little spotted things, batting them so gently as they ran at her on unsure legs and squinty eyes. They would stalk her white-tipped tail and roll over it hugging it with their front paws, biting at the furry length, until she would snarl quietly and gently bite them with her whiskered jaws agape. Once they took fright at something and bolted for a small slit in the base of an old lead wood tree  into which they squirmed and hid for a few moments before peeking out, and seeing their mother relaxed, they reappeared.

She allowed the cubs to chase and catch her tail.

She allowed the cubs to chase and catch her tail.

 

Contentment

Contentment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunset that evening was a first for the Family, and as the last light deepened into burnt reds we packed up and headed back to camp.  Dinner was on the verandah, and the frogs (very few at this time due to low winter temperatures) squeaked and chirped in the reed bed along the edge of the lagoon.

Early night, for an early start and a whole new day!

 

 

 

The Trance Dance… under the skies of the Kalahari

The rhythmic hand clapping and nasal singing of the seven women almost mesmerized me, as we sat just outside the circle that had been stamped into the sand. Three other men were part of the dance, and they followed the circle around the women and the fire. The fire burned effortlessly, the darting flames leapt and Read more…