African governments doing more to stop poaching of endangered species

poaching, rhinoThis year in Africa, the fight between law enforcement and poachers of endangered species has flared into a war.

In the first two months of 2011, nine poachers were shot dead in South Africa. Despite this, poaching is up. In that nation alone, 333 rhinos were killed in 2010, and there have been 309 rhinos poached so far this year. It looks like the illegal hunters are set to break a grisly record.

Now South Africa is holding talks with Vietnam to reduce the demand for rhino horn, which some Asians use as an aphrodisiac and as a cure for cancer. Sometimes the horns are kept whole as curios or for religious rituals, as this 1930s photo of a Tibetan monk from the Bundesarchiv shows. The two governments are working on a plan to fight organized syndicates that trade in animal parts.

South Africa isn’t the only country seeing trouble, and isn’t the only country fighting back. In Zimbabwe, poachers have been poisoning water holes so they can kill animals silently and avoid detection by park guards. At least nine elephants, five lions, two buffaloes, and several vultures are known to have died.

Meanwhile, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are going to sign a treaty to cooperate across their borders to stop poaching of mountain gorillas and other species. The treaty also sets up joint research and education about the region’s diverse flora and fauna.

So You Want To Be A Safari Guide?

Ecotraining prepares students to become safari guides across AfricaWanted: Able bodied men and women who have a passion for the outdoors and a thirst for adventure. Must be well organized, have an attention for detail, and enjoy working with animals. Positive attitude, a flair for the dramatic, and good people skills a big plus. Plenty of positions available, no experience necessary. Will train for the job.

If the above job description sounds like something you’d be interested in, than perhaps you’re a candidate to become a safari guide in Africa. But be warned, it is a job with long hours, little pay, and plenty of demands. It is also an occupation that offers a fantastic job site, daily surprises, and plenty of adventure.

The demand for experienced and well trained safari guides continues to grow as more and more African nations build an infrastructure to support tourism. Countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa are well known, and popular, safari destinations. But other nations, such as Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe are quickly becoming popular alternatives to those classic places.

Of course, not just anyone can be a safari guide. It requires a unique set of skills that is not always obvious to the outside observer. Building those skills is no easy task either, and it can take years in the field to develop them fully. But, for those hoping to join the ranks of the African bush guides, there is an option for job training that is as unique and adventurous as the work itself.
A South African company by the name of EcoTraining has established itself as the top provider of quality safari guides on the entire African continent. EcoTraining offers a number of training course that are designed to give potential guides the skills they need to lead their guests into the field in search of Africa’s amazing wild game.

Ecotrain has camps like this one where potential safari guides are trainedI recently had the opportunity to visit EcoTraining’s Makuleke Camp, located inside the Makuleke Concession of Kruger National Park in South Africa. There I had the unique opportunity to witness first hand the training process and watch as students worked hard on a daily basis to hone the skills necessary in the profession they all hoped to enter. Those students came from all over Africa, Europe, and even the United States, and ranged in age from 19 to late-50’s.

In the week that I was in the camp, I watched the prospective guides practice some of the more obvious skills that they would need on the job. For instance, there were daily game drives, both on foot and in vehicles, with students taking turns playing the role of the lead guide, while another served as the all-important back-up. Their remaining classmates played the part of the clients, eagerly asking questions and putting the guides to the test.

Learning to lead a game drive was just the beginning however, as the students also practiced operating a 4×4 safari vehicle, while spotting wild animals on the move, and entertaining their clients with all sorts of fun facts, at the same time. They also learned how to identify, and track, the wide variety of creatures that inhabit Kruger National Park, while polishing their first aid skills, and learning to handle a rifle as well. The students are taught basic bush survival techniques, how to handle encounters with dangerous game while on foot, and how to navigate in the bush too. Nightly post-dinner briefings give them the opportunity to hone their public speaking abilities as they outlined the itinerary for the following morning’s game drive much same way as they will when they go to work as a guide.

The standard Eco-Training course is 28 days in length at the end of which, students who pass their evaluations will be given a rank of a level 1 Field Guide. That will mean that they have demonstrated the basic skills necessary to serve as a safari guide, although they will still lack experience that only comes from working in the field. From there, they’ll receive placements in a variety of lodges and camps throughout Africa, where they can begin to acquire that necessary experience. A few of the more promising students will even be allowed to stay on in the Eco-Training camps to help instruct the next crop of recruits.

The training doesn’t end after the 28-day course comes to an end however, as there are a number of short courses that the Field Guides can take to boost their skills. For instance, there is a weeklong birding course that helps identify the hundreds of avian species in Kruger. Similarly, there is a four-day course on identifying trees and other plant life and another that focuses on spider and scorpions, both of which are common throughout Africa.

The most comprehensive course however is Eco-Training’s yearlong program that not only prepares students for all of their official Field Guide accreditation tests, but also offers advanced bushcraft skills, while also training them in wilderness medicine, and high level tracking . They’ll also receive further instruction on navigation and orientation, handling of firearms, and much more. The yearlong course is designed to turn out the very best guides possible, who can immediately go to work in the field.

Ecotraining prepares future safari guides for work in the fieldTrue to their name, Eco-Training also instills a healthy respect for the environment in their students as well. They are taught to protect the wilderness that they will be working in and to understand how each of the creatures, from the smallest insects to the largest herbivores, plays a vital role in keeping it healthy. In fact, that respect runs so deep, that on one walk into the bush we were advised to not step in the elephant dung that was common throughout the Makuleke Concession. Normally, this would seem like good common sense, as none of us likes to carry that scent around on our boots all day. But in this case, we were told to avoid the smelly landmines because each of them is a self-contained ecosystem, with all manner of insects taking up residence. By walking around them, those ecosystems were allowed to flourish and continue playing their role in the much larger environment of the bush.

This eco-conscious approach extends to the Makuleke Camp, where the students, guides, and visitors, such as myself, stay as well. Occupants of the camp sleep in large, comfortable tents that are elevated above the ground to allow for the passing of animals through the area, something that is not at all uncommon. One evening I was awoken from sleep by the distinctive sounds of a warthog passing beneath me, and on several occasions the sunrise was greeted by the not-so-distant roar of a lion.

Our tents had running water, but no electricity, and in the evening the paths, as well as the common dining area, were lit with lanterns. There were no fans, no air conditioning, and certainly no televisions. It is a five-mile drive just to get cell service. The evening ends early, with occupants of the camp crawling into their cots not long after nightfall. The morning is announced with the beating of a drum, which signals the start of a new day and calls students to their daily meals.

For adventurous travelers, the camp no doubt sounds like a fantastic escape, and a wonderful place to experience Africa’s bush in all of its glory. But it is also a classroom without equal for the potential safari guides, who need only walk a dozen yards in any direction to enhance their instruction. EcoTraining operates two other training camps, one in South Africa’s Selati Game Reserve, not far from Kruger, and another at the Karongwe Reserve in Botswana. Both of those camps offer similar training to those that I observed on my visit to the Makuleke Concession.

The company has gotten so good at training field guides that their students are now in demand across all of Africa. Eco-Training students serve in a variety of capacities in Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and of course South Africa. Tour operators know that when they hire a graduate of the EcoTraining courses, they get someone who is well trained, highly knowledgeable, and prepared to inform and entertain their guests.

For us, as travelers, that means that we are able to visit the wondrous landscapes of Africa in a manner that is both more rewarding and safe. Something that makes an already great travel experience even more satisfying.

African safari: then and now

The African safari has evolved over timeAfrican safaris are one of the most enduring travel experiences ever. For decades the safari has remained at the top of the “must do” list for many travelers. Such a trip is often seen as the ultimate escape, giving them a chance to visit a wild and untamed place, encounter amazing wildlife, and add a bit of adventure to their lives. Over the years, the traditional African safari has evolved greatly, and today it is still a fantastic experience with options for nearly every type of traveler, under nearly any budget.

The word safari traces its origins back to the Arabic word of “safara,” which when translated means “to go on a journey.” It was originally used by merchants traveling long distances trade routes throughout the Middle-East and Africa. As late as the 18th centuries, the term continued to refer to those traveling caravans that roamed the continent selling all kinds of goods, which was a profitable, yet dangerous, venture during that era.

During the 19th century, the writings of a number of prominent naturalists and explorers, such as Henry Morton Stanley, kept the public enthralled. They told tales of Africa that included vast herds of wild animals, deadly predators, primitive cultures, and dark, unexplored jungles. Those stories sparked the imagination and painted the continent in an almost mythic light. Many readers wished to travel to Africa themselves, and see these wonders with their own eyes, but in that age, few could make such a journey for a variety of reasons.The modern safari as we know it had its origins early in the 20th century, when larger than life figures such as Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway made frequent visits to Africa on big game hunts. Tales of their daring exploits were popular with the public as well, and soon the safari became synonymous with bagging big game on the wildest continent.

For the hunter, the ultimate prize was to shoot one of the Big Five, which include elephants, rhinos, lions, buffalos, and leopards. Well heeled travelers came from around the world just to have the opportunity to stalk one of these creatures and take its pelt home to put on their wall. Roosevelt himself once spent weeks on the hunt with his son, and over the course of their expedition, the two men claimed more than 500 kills, including 17 lions, a dozen elephants, 20 rhinoceros, and much more.

The Afrian safari continues to evolve over time.In those days, travel was often done on foot or horseback, with dozens of porters carrying gear, food, and other supplies. Travelers stayed in tents, although they were often quite luxurious in nature, with plenty of comforts from home. Later, trucks would make travel easier, as they could carry the travelers and their gear over rough terrain much more quickly and efficiently. In those days, the vehicles were prone to frequent breakdowns however, and they were far from reliable in the field. Later, more durable and sophisticated trucks, jeeps, and SUV’s would hit the open savannas of Africa, allowing for even more travelers to experience the safari first hand. The Land Rover was just such a vehicle, and for decades it was seen as the only way to travel throughout the continent.

The advent of cheaper, more reliable, vehicles meant that people no longer needed to be rich to go on safari. That realization brought a more diverse, and discerning, traveler to the Serengeti. One that wasn’t all that interested in killing the creatures they saw, but would rather see them thriving in their natural habitat. Slowly, the safari evolved once again, this time away from shooting the animals with a gun, to shooting them with a camera instead.

Today, travelers can go on safari in a number of countries across Africa, each offering a unique and amazing experience. You can now have a safari experience that is expensive and luxurious or affordable and basic, with just about every option inbetween. For example, you can catch the Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania from a comfortable vehicle or go deep into the bush on foot in South Africa. You can glide across the Okavango Delta in dugout canoe in Botswana or sail above the African plains in a hot hair balloon in Zimbabwe. The options are nearly endless, and there is little to keep adventurous travelers from making the journey themselves.

The concept of the safari has come a long way in the past hundred years, and it is likley to continue to evolve in the future. No matter how it has changed however, the African safari remains a fantastic adventure that is unlike any other.

Zimbabwe safari parks, resorts seized by land invaders

Zimbabwe, zimbabwe, safari, safarisTourist sites are the latest targets for land seizures in Zimbabwe, reports SW Radio Africa.

A mob of about 150 people took over Lake Chivero Recreational Park, the Kumba Shiri resort, and several other sites around the lake, forbidding guests and employees from leaving.

This is one of a string of land grabs across the country committed by semi-legal mobs taking advantage of the Indigenisation Act, a law passed by President Robert Mugabe in which 51 percent of any foreign holding transfers into Zimbabwean hands. SW Radio Africa wryly noted that the mob promised several resorts to “ministers and other top officials”.

Things seem to have calmed down now. The Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee, a group set up by the new coalition government to stop this sort of thing, intervened and got the mob to leave. Mugabe was forced to make a coalition government after gross mismanagement of the country. The Indigenisation Act was widely seen as a populist move to divert attention from the economy by targeting foreigners and white Zimbabweans.

Ironically, the Zimbabwe’s tourism minister is currently in Madrid attending the travel expo Fitur, where he’s pushing the country as a tourist destination. Zimbabwe has a lot to offer the adventure traveler: safaris, wildlife, traditional societies, ancient monuments, and beautiful countryside. If the government could offer some stability the tourist industry could blossom.

[Photo of Lake Chivero courtesy user Gyron via Wikimedia Commons]

Mountain gorillas making a comeback

gorilla, gorillas, mountain gorilla, mountain gorillas
In the latest in a spate of good news about wildlife conservation in Africa, BBC Earth reports that mountain gorillas have increased their numbers on Virunga Massif, their core habitat stretching across Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From a population of only 250 thirty years ago, their population has almost doubled to 480 today. Another 302 live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park .

The rise is attributed to increased cooperation between the three countries to protect the gorillas and stop poachers.

Safaris to see mountain gorillas have become increasingly popular with adventure travelers. Uganda has expanded its gorilla safaris in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Rwanda is also offering safaris to see the gentle giants.

African nations are getting better at preserving their wildlife. Namibia and Zimbabwe are clamping down on poaching and last year we reported how Niger has pulled a unique subspecies of giraffe from extinction.

[Photo courtesy user KMRA via Wikimedia Commons]