On track with EcoTraining at their Mashatu camp, Botswana.

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The rolling African landscape that is the feature of this part of Botswana.

It turned out that I was really in need of the tracking course that I was about to attend at the EcoTraining camp at Mashatu in Botswana. Finding the border crossing was the easiest part of the trip, there was this signpost to guide me in the right direction. It was after I had crossed into Botswana that everything went ‘pear-shaped’. The directions that I had been given were sketchy and a gate that I thought was locked was, in fact, open. There is no Vodacom signal in the area, so I drove to and fro looking for connectivity and or my destination. Luckily I had snacks and water in my vehicle as I needed both! Eventually, I was able to make contact with the camp who sent out a vehicle to meet me. It turns out that the locked gate was not…locked that is…and I had wasted the better part of several hours as a result of me not getting out of my car to check it when I drove to it the first time. But all is well that ends well and the irony is that my being lost turns out to be the introduction to a tracking course.

The reverberating sound of the cow-hide drum calls the students to meals. Here at Mashatu, they found that the sound of a kudu horn being blown attracted lions, hence the drum being used as an alternative. The EcoTracker students on this course were from a variety of countries and continents. From as far afield as Ireland, America and Europe they came together at the EcoTraining camp in Mashatu, Botswana. Some, in their own words, were ‘repeat attenders’, having done more than one course with EcoTraining.

This is what they had come to learn about. The ancient art of tracking and trailing.One of the most basic, yet complicated bush skills to learn. In this image, there are elephant tracks, human footprints and vehicle tire imprints. As a whole, it tells a complete story. And one that the students would be questioned about before it was explained to us by the instructors.

The Tuli (Place of Dust) area in Botswana where the camp is situated, is well known for its vast herds of elephants. This EcoTraining Camp, like all their campsites unfenced, which made for some interesting interactions after dark. At least I could see THIS one…and it was on the South African side of the dry Motloutse River (River of Elephants) bed. The after-dark vocalizations of the herds close to the camp were the sounds that occur only in nightmares. For the uninitiated, they can be very frightening.

Just to prove that I was looking at an elephant track.”A Field Guide to the Tracks & Signs of Southern and East African Wildlife” by Chris & Tilde Stuart, published by Struik Nature, helped me confirm the sighting. This book was the veritable ‘bible’ for all the students and is recommended reading for the course. It is a fountain of knowledge for those who wish to turn this experience into a fully immersive one.

Insect tracks scurrying across the road that leads into the camp. My limited tracking skills were constantly put to the test, even in and around the camp buildings. It was as a result of being constantly vigilant, that I found Hyena tracks outside the kitchen one morning.

“Oi, where has everyone gone”?There were several troops of baboons that wandered through the camp on an almost constant basis.

Fun Fact #79: Male baboons have an impressive set of canines and have been known to fight off leopards when backed into a corner. Both the males and females will discipline the youngsters severely should they transgress. This can lead to lots of squealing and screaming that can be most disconcerting to the human ear.

 

Now I could see how well an Impala can camouflage itself. Walking in the dry and dusty river bed, it was almost invisible. In the dry season, this river bed, the border between South Africa and Botswana, becomes a highway for a variety of game species. Both prey and predators can warily watch each other and the elephant herds are able to dig here to find water to slake their thirst.

The EcoTracker students were constantly swotting. If they were not wandering around peering at the ground searching for new and exciting tracks, they were spending time with their textbooks.

The gentle giant, Adrian Ntombo Kholi.His manner of teaching is awesome to behold. Constantly questioning the students in order to make them think about what he is showing them and what story the tracks are telling. Standing quietly at the back of the student group, I learnt a lot from this passionate instructor.”Ke a Leboga”, Adrian.

Intense concentration is required in order to make certain that what the tracks are telling you is being understood. Notes and photographs were constantly being taken.

Simon, one of the ‘repeat attenders’, had even brought a ruler with him. Given all the modern digital equipment that the participants bring, from laser pointers to phone apps. it was interesting to see that old-school ‘technology’ still has a place. That being said, many of the books utilized by the students have rulers printed on the back covers.

This isolated Baobab stands atop the hill where the Mmamagwa Ruins can be found. The ruins here are the older sister ruins to those that can be found at Mapungubwe on the Southern side of the Limpopo River.

Looking at the shadow, you will see a cat on a horse. Look to the left and you will see that it is cast by a Dwarf Mongoose.

The longer we sat, the bolder these little creatures became. Eventually, they were within meters of our vehicle. As inquisitive about us as we were about them.

Fun fact #56: The collective noun for a group of mongoose is a ‘business’.

 

 

Toby, one of the EcoTraining back-up guides, scanning the distance for elephant herds.

The best part of any day in the African bush…sunset!

And it was full moon as well.

The sky was awash with stars and planets. Another event-filled day with the EcoTraining team.My thanks to both the staff and the students for making me feel welcome.

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This is the EcoTraining mission statement…1] Vision: To be the global leader in environmental education by reconnecting people with nature…For me, the most important part of that statement is the word *reconnecting.2] Mission: To provide inspirational & immersive learning experiences for professional safari guides and guardians of nature and finally…3] Values: Inspire. Professionalism. Caring and Accountability. Are you ready to make a commitment to yourself and your future? If so, then visit their website for more information:https://www.ecotraining.co.za/