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The trip that lasted a year; ANT, correspondence course


Jochen
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ANT = Africa Nature Training

 

Not your average trip report, but nonetheless I feel I should share my experiences.

At about this time last year, we thought it would be cool to do their Correspondence Course. Something to keep us "connected" to our favorite continent while being in Europe. Plus the knowledge could surely be useful, whether simply for our next trip(s) or for when we decide to "make the switch" at a later stage in our lives (if it ever comes to that).

More info on Africa Nature training;
- The website is here; https://www.africanaturetraining.co.za/
- Info on their Correspondence Course is here; https://www.africanaturetraining.co.za/correspondence.htm

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I'll first start with describing the Correspondence Course.

There's also a 2 week practical part (which is the real reason for this trip report), but more on that later.

 

The Correspondence Course is divided into 16 chapters. The list;

  1. The big picture
  2. Taxonomy
  3. Intro to trees & grasses
  4. Grasses
  5. Trees
  6. Ecology
  7. Amphibians
  8. Arthropods
  9. Astronomy
  10. Weather & climate
  11. Geology
  12. Mammals
  13. Paleoanthropology
  14. Birds
  15. Signs
  16. Ecotourism

For each chapter, you get sometimes one, but often more (and up to 8 !) PDF file(s). This is your course material. It's quite condensed, so it takes a while to "digest". We used a free PDF reader on our iPad's called "PDF-notes For iPad", which allows you to use colored markers to highlight bits of text, just like you would study regular (printed out) course notes.

The course material is equivalent to FGASA's level 2, or for some chapters even up to par with their level 3. Of course, we're talking theoretical knowledge here. It goes without saying that you need practical knowledge as well. For example; you wouldn't even be allowed to start with FGASA level 2 exams without being able to provide proof of having worked a full year in the bush.

For almost every chapter there's an online test, or a project to complete, or both. Only when you're done with one chapter are you allowed to move on to the next, and can you download the PDF files for that next chapter.

Here's a sample page of one of the PDF's of the grasses chapter (with kind permission of ANT);

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Edited by Jochen
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Tests;

 

The online tests are actually very nifty. You get a number of questions, some are multiple choice (with one or more answers that might be correct), and some have a drop-down menu that provide a list of possible answers (with always more possible answers than needed for the question).

You get a certain number of minutes to complete the whole test. The total available time depends on the number of questions. Typically it's 30 minutes, sometimes 45 minutes.

The time provided is enough to answer all questions, but with not much time to spare, and only if you really studied well. There's absolutely no time to go and look things up in the PDFs. Well maybe one or to things you're not sure of, but that's it.

If I may give a few tips, should you decide to do this course as well;
- If you have difficulty in answering a question; skip it! No use losing a lot of time while going over all the things you remember and try to get the answer by deduction.
- After your last question, you get an overview, and from there you can go back to questions you skipped. If you have time left, of course. Now's the time to perhaps use deduction techniques.
- don't try and divide available time over the number of questions. We did that a couple of times and it got us in to trouble. For example, we'd say "still 5 mins left and only 2 questions to go", but then we noticed that the last two questions were much bigger (with much more choices to make) than the previous questions. Aargh!

The test is over after you press the "finish" button or after time runs out. You get your score right away, on screen as well as via mail. And you can review your answers; for every question they tell you what the correct answer was.

Here's a sample question from the mammals test (again with permission of ANT):

 

 

Question: The family Bovidae is made up of those ungulates which have?
A - Antlers
B - Hollow horns (all males, some females)
C - Solid horns (all males, some females)
D - Even number of toes
E - Odd number of toes
F - Paws
G - Non Ruminant
H - Ruminant

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Projects;

 

The projects are lots of fun. You get a word file with a number of assignments/questions. But the answers are seldom in your course PDF's. The projects require you to read other books and/or check things out on the web.

 

In my opinion; you learn a lot from the ANT PDFs, but when doing a project you learn even more than you had thought you would. While looking into something (typically to answer just one question from the project), you may find yourself reading up on one particular aspect, getting really really engulfed in it, and in the end you might have taken hours to get to the bottom of something, because you really wanted to get to know all there is to know and/or you wanted to be really sure your answer on the project is 100% correct.

 

So some questions take a while to answer, but you will have learned a lot by the time you're able to answer them.

For every question, you need to specify the sources you used to answer it, in the correct way (as always done with scientific papers). When the whole project is done, you need to create a front page, a table of contents, and list your resources once more at the back of the project. Then you need to save as PDF and send it in to have it marked.

Here's a sample question from the birds project (once more with permission of ANT);

 

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So how long does this all take?

ANT told us most people do somewhere between 6 months to a year to finish the correspondence course.

In the beginning, we thought about doing two chapters per month. Which is; reading the PDF's in the evenings of our work week, and then get cracking over the next two weekends to finish the project and/or do the test.

That worked fine, while doing the first few chapters as they are rather small. But sometimes things interfere (regular work, busy weekends) or the project is bigger than you thought it would be, etc… so you end up spending longer.

After a while we switched to a more "dynamic" mode of studying; checking out the PDFs we got and then setting ourselves a goal; "we should finish this by next week friday", or something to that effect.

Still, we weren't going fast enough. But that was because we also had some other stuff to do, to prepare for the practical.
More on that practical part in next post.

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The 2 week practical is done at their bush camp "Nkombe" in Sabi Sands. The camp is located in the northern plot of Sabi Sabi, somewhere between Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge and Selati Lodge.

Normally, the practical is done somewhere in September, but because the Correspondence Course had so many subscribers last year, they decided to do a second one in August.

They advise you to at least do the theoretical part up to and including chapter 13 (Geology), before attending the practical bit. We had started rather late with the correspondence course, and were hoping to get a spot for September, but they were already fully booked. So we had no other choice to go in August.

That wouldn't have been much of a problem, that still gave us plenty of time to get to chapter 13 of the correspondence course. Except…

During that practical session they also get you up to speed for the FGASA level 1 exams (both theory and practical). It's not that you need to do these, but you can. If you decide not to do the FGASA exams, then you get to go on game drives on the last days of the practical. While as you do the exams, then you need to study etc (but more on the specific planning later).

We thought to ourselves; "since we already now plenty of stuff anyway, we better do the FGASA exams too." After all, ANT helps you to register at FGASA, prepares you for these exams while doing the practical, plus the exams (practical assessment and theoretical exam) are all done at the nKombe bush camp. This is all much easier than having to arrange everything yourself.

But this meant that, on top of the regular ANT PDF's (and tests/projects that come with it) we also had to read the two FGASA level 1 books, plus fill in the theoretical part of the FGASA workbook. :wacko:

So in reality, between March and August last year, we were studying or working on those projects almost every day. Even when we went on holiday to Botswana, we were still reading some chapters in between game drives etc.

Still, August came much too soon. We had both studied the FGASA books and filled in the workbook. But the ANT course material was put on the back burner. Well, I managed to finish level 13, but my wife left the project for after the practical and rather decide to already read the PDF's of next chapter (mammals).

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An intermezzo of pics to compensate for all this text...

 

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Our group

Some animals;

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This one's taken on the lawn of Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge ;)

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Our vehicle together with a vehicle of Sabi Sabi, at the same sighting (quite unusual; more on that later).

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Ellies going past camp. Pic taken from the "study" tent while a lecture was going on.

You can see some of the dome tents on the left.

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Puza

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Sunset over the mountains in the distance.

Edited by Jochen
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So how was that practical?

Well, it was an amazing experience. The camp was a basic affair with dome tents, most standing on concrete slabs of buildings that had been demolished. There were communal facilities; two bucket showers and a gents- and ladies toilet. There was also a tent with a small salon and with a bit of space to give lectures in and study. Other than that; a kitchen building and a boma. That's it. Electricity from a generator, only over noon if I recall correctly (as to not disturb the game drives of the Sabi Sabi vehicles).

Speaking about the Sabi Sabi lodges; we were allowed to drive around where ever we wanted, but were not allowed to stop at their sightings, and we were obliged to report to them any interesting animals that we saw. So they had priority, which is normal considering what the Sabi Sabi customers paid compared to what we paid. But that did not mean we didn't get quality time with the animals. After all; the lodge vehicles were not out over noon (between 10AM and 3PM). So during those 5 hours, we had the reserve practically to ourselves.

Now, don't get me wrong. This does not mean you get to be out there, in the bush, 2 weeks in total. There's a lot of studying to do. First of all, there's a first aid course, which takes up a whole day (a first aid certificate is a prerequisite to do the FGASA level 1 exams). And then there's all the chapters from the theoretical to go over. These chapters are more or less in line with the chapters in the FGASA-books. And actually, the FGASA book was used, rather than the ANT PDF's. This is kinda logical, as after all, most people were there to try the FGASA exams.

The ANT team consisted of a few crew members, each of which had specific tasks and/or chapters to cover.
- David was the "bird man", and the "trees man". Amazing guy. He's volunteering at the camp, just to be able to spend some time in Kruger area, and has another (non-ecotourism related) daytime job. But I really think he should do this full time. One of the best, smartest, and most patient teachers I have ever had.
- Chris (Martin) was the guy who taught us how to drive the 4x4 vehicle (at least those who had no experience with such vehicles before), plus went over some of the smaller chapters with us. But he did cover "mammals" as well, which is quite a lot. He's a guy from UK who used to do climbing expeditions in the Himalayas but now he's got his own (small) lodge somewhere outside of Hoedspruit (Leadwood Big Game Estate, to be exact), and is a pro photographer who does photo tours in the Lowveld area.
- Chanyn is the person who actually does most of the paperwork in the office, and marks our projects etc, but she helped at the camp as well.
- Lorraine (owner) did the first aid course, but also some other chapters.
- last but not least, Barbara was the camp manager. She covered most chapters, and also prepared us for the FGASA exams by going over all chapter time and again, in every way possible.

Barbara had the most difficult task, obviously. For instance; she learned us how to "put together" our drive for the practical assessment. That is to say; she taught us how not to get lost on the reserve, showed us all the roads and landscape features to remember. She also pointed out various things we could talk about. Because the thing is; if you've done a few safaris you might THINK you know how to guide yourself, but the truth is you absolutely DON'T. What you know is some freestanding fact about mammals and birds, mostly. What we were taught is to cover ALL chapters of the course during just one drive (ic the drive we had to take with our examiner, which lasts 1h max).

At every stop she obliged us to speak about at least three different chapters, and link them together. For example, we'd see a Marula tree, speak about it, then from it's fruits move on to an elephant (that likes the fruit), speak about the elephant's digestion, and from there go to dung beetles. This is a simple example but to mix in other chapters like geology or grasses, is obviously more difficult. So I guess it's a game drive that's by no means a "standard", but it's what we had to do for our practical exam.

As for the theoretical exam, Barbara gave us intermediate tests that approached every chapter from every direction possible. Every morning, she made us do specific tests. On definitions, on comparisons, on all tables in the manual, etc etc… Which means basically we failed all of them. This was a bit of a slap-in-the-face every time, but then she motivated us to get our asses in to gear and study harder. And it worked, because we did a mock exam the day before, and we all passed.

What she also did was go over bird calls every morning or sometimes even twice a day. By the way, the tablet app from Sasol is really a great help here!

It's called eBirds of Southern Africa. See here; https://itunes.apple.com/en/app/sasol-ebirds-southern-africa/id332205031?mt=8

Definitely worth the money!

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If you've read all the above, then you understand that during this practical in Sabi Sands, you get to spend a lot of time in camp, studying. I'd say about half or up to 2/3rds of our time was spent in camp. The other time we were out there. But mostly not like regular tourists; one of us was always driving. Lots were taking notes while on drive.

Still, we had some fantastic time out there. We saw all the usual suspects, of course. Plus had some fantastic wildlife encounters, most unlike the typical encounters like when you're a guest. A few that come to mind;
- Close encounter with a young elephant bull (still part of a herd). It was Chris's task as well to teach us how to deal with elephant puberty. He taught us when and how to stand our ground (as to not reinforce his adolescent behavior).

- A leopard, all to ourselves, next to camp, for as long as we wanted. Got plenty of leopard and hyena footage on my night cam as well; they came through camp a lot.
- A pack of wild dogs, over noon. Unfortunately no sun at that time, but we had them to ourselves except for like 20 mins when one (just one!) vehicle came from a lodge with two (just two!) guests, to come and have a quick peek. All the rest of the guests chose to stay at the lodge, believe it or not. Never thought you could have a pack of wild dogs for yourself that long. Actually: never thought you could leave a pack of wild dogs, drive to camp to get more battery power, and drive back for another hour with them. But that's exactly what we got.
- A cheetah & hyaena interaction, while on night drive.

The only thing missing in the above list is lions. We heard them almost every night, but never saw them. On the days that they were really close, we always had some assignment in camp. This became a bit frustrating, so one evening, we drove out with no other purpose but to find them. We searched everywhere, finally pinpointed them in one block …but they wouldn't come out. No more roars either. Back at camp, they started roaring again as if to mock us. And then a patrol vehicle drove by, and said they'd seen them on the road, 200m from camp. Ah well…

Here's some pics of the dogs and the leopard, I do not have the rest on camera;

 

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The last three days, Servaas popped up, a level 3 guide who does the practical assessments. One by one, we drove out with him. We could choose our own "guests" from our group (if they wanted to come, of course; others wanted to rather study for their theoretical exam). And then we did a complete game drive, starting with the "little security talk" prior to leaving.

What had caused us the most stress so far (preparing for the drive) seemed to go OK. We all passed that part. You know you've passed when the assessor asks to take you back to camp. At camp, you may get asked a few more questions about a certain chapter. If the assessor is unsure you know enough, apparently he might say something like '"look into your notes on frogs and toads and come to me to explain what you know". But that hasn't happened to anyone, except for one girl. Barbara had prepared us well.

But her job isn't always as easy, apparently. The average age of our group was rather high. Younger people are less inclined to study as hard as we did, she said.

On the last days we did the theoretical exam, early in the morning, and we all passed as well. So on that last afternoon, we enjoyed a long game drive without any stress, had a braai at a hidden spot (also used by lodges, but not that night), had a few drinks, and went to sleep with a smile on our face, knowing we were all "field guides" now. Servaas stayed as well, and we got to know him better. He's an absolute hoot, actually.

But the next morning, most had to leave very early to get to their planes. So before we knew it, the adventure was over. If anyone decides to do this course; my golden tip is; book another night or two at a lodge nearby!

If there's any questions on ANT's correspondence course, the practical pat, or the FGASA exams; just let me know!

Outro pic;

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ANT crew & customers at the campfire

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Excellent overview, thanks.

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Well done, Congrats.

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quite an arduous process to become a field guide - but the guides' knowledge always amazes me, and now i know why!

 

Congratulations!

Edited by Kitsafari
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This is really interesting. Thanks for spending the time to explain it.

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Great report @@Jochen, very different from everything else.

Well done for doing the ANT course as well.

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Congrats! What are your rates like? :D

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Congrats; intense education!

 

I would have flunked the driving. No sense of direction. :blink:

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It must be hard reading those PDFs through the eyeholes of your hat.

 

You really dig in to what you are passionate about. Very commendable to devote time daily. I hope all that you learned pays off personally on your future trips, and maybe even professionally if you ever do "make the switch." This is certainly a different report. I don't know what you got in the course, but I give you an A. Maybe you'd prefer in incomplete, though, meaning more in the field study is needed.

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@@Jochen

Fascinating read - well done for passing

It sounds like hard work - but if you are passionate about it I guess most of it is also a pleasure

Thanks for telling us about it.

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