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.