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6 Month Nature Guide Course - Entabeni


whorty1970

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whorty1970

Following threats from Game Warden, I feel it in my best interest to write a report on the last 6 months Rachel and I have spent training to be safari guides. I've tried to break it down into a number of sections to help my thoughts. It's not a 'normal' trip report though as this wasn't a normal trip - I've done it more as a review. But please do ask questions or check out our blog (I may even update it again soon if I can find the time ;) ) if you want to know more.

 

 

The Facts

 

We did the 6 month nature guide training course at the Entabeni school, set in the Entabeni nature reserve in the Limpopo region of South Africa. It's about a 3 hour car ride from Jo'berg airport, just off the N1 road.

 

The reserve is about 20 years old and has been extended a number of times over that period, to its current size of 24,000 hectares. The reserve is looking to extend further over the next few years and they have already procured some local farms to this effect.

 

The school is purpose built and is part owned by Lee Gutteridge, a very well respected and known safari guide and author (of safari guides on the Waterberg and the Okavango). Lee is as senior by qualification as you can be and as such is an assessor for FGASA. Also working at the school are 3 other trainers of various experience and qualification (2 are FGASA level 2 and one is level 3. All are track and sign level 3 and all are qualified trails guides).

 

The school has 11 'tents' (double rooms of canvas with wooden structure) in the main camp plus a smaller camp of standard tents (for one month courses and short courses). As 6 month students we stayed in the main camp and had our own room for 6 months. The rooms are very very good and with private toilet and shower rooms. They also have a fairly secluded balcony overlooking the bush.

The school has a dining area, a lecture room, a library, an office (run by Lee's wife Sarah), a bathing pool and a bar/t.v. room area. Raised wooden walkways link all these areas so although the camp is not fenced you do feel safe and secure from the wondering wildlife. The school also has 3 land cruisers, which are old and battered but usually functional.

 

The course changed this year due to new FGASA rules so the school had to change their qualifications offering. They now offer:

 


  •  
  • FGASA Level 1 Nature Guide - Theory exam and practical assessment
  • SESSETA rifle competancy test
  • Advanced Rifle Handling (ARH)
  • 1st Aid certification
  • FGASA Trails guide theory and backup practical assessment (if you get ARH first)
  • Track and Sign assessment (following lots of practical practice in the field)
  • Man Trailing assessment with Adrian Louwe (if you pass this and get a Track and Sign level you also get a Tracker qualification
  • Snake Handling
  • Scorpion Handling
  • Guaranteed 6 month work placement at the end of the course

 

In addition to the above qualifications there are a number of other activities offered on the course, including:


  •  
  • Day trips to local birding reserves
  • A week working with a local game capture company (Bundox)
  • Off site caving for a day
  • Off site pottery walking day
  • Option, when needed, to help out the local lodges at Entabeni guiding guests
  • Option to work with the game management team to dart and capture lions and cheetah. This is clearly dependent upon reserve needs but we were very lucky to get close and very personal with both cheetah and lion (too close to the lion to be honest!)

 

The course is not cheap (we paid 120,000 Rand each) but this covers all of the above (including FGASA exam fees and registration). It also covers all electricity, fuel for the land cruisers, room cleaning (once per week), clothes laundry (twice per week), food (2 main meals per day plus bread and cereal for breakfast, a chef to cook food (and ladies to wash up afterwards). It does not cover soft drinks or alcohol but there is usually a trip once per week to the local shop to stock up on goodies!

 

The good......

 

The reserve is a perfect place to train to be a nature guide. It has enough big game and this is often easily found - the lions are seen most days, the white rhino also are often easy to find, there are 2 herds of elie and again these are often seen 3-4 times per week. All these animals are also walk-able so this adds an extra dimension to the training.

 

The reserve has a beautiful mountain range back-drop (part of the Waterberg range, with the Hanglip mountain and of course the Entabeni mountain which the reserve is named after). This makes for a very spectacular set of views.

 

The trainers are very knowledgeable, and whilst we didn't get as much time with Lee as we would have liked (he is the ultimate walking book) the other 3 were very good. Ed almost single handedly taught us track and signs and this certainly paid off with my as I got my level 2. Diana did loads of practical drives with us which certainly set us up for our assessments. She also carried out many of the presentations for the FGASA study and I clearly listened to these as I scored 95% and Rachel scored 97% (our intake scored 4 of the highest 5 marks in our exam sitting which is quite impressive).

 

The week of game capture - I know this wasn't exactly at the school but as an experience this was 100% brilliant. At times very hard work, at times scary (if you've ever come face to face with an Oryx you'd know what I mean) but always enjoyable. The company we did this with was Bundox. All this was included in the cost of the course so no extra cost was incurred.

 

Having all our meals cooked for us. Having our washing done twice per week. Having our bed linen changed once per week. Having our rooms cleaned once per week. Not many courses offer this, so whilst this course is more expensive than most.

 

Being allowed to drive around the reserve ourselves. Before we qualified we always had a trainer with us, but once we qulaified we owuld be allowed to drive ourselves. It is hard to explain how it feels, being a city by but being allowed to drive a cruiser around a nature reserve....into lion and rhino sightings. Just amazing.

 

100% guarantee of a 6 month placement at Entabeni (or another reserve if something suitable crops up) so long as you get you FGASA level 1 qualification. Due to our age we had the option to look into lodge management in Botswana but for various personal reasons we had to decline this. For the right people (age, health etc) this is a great start into the guiding industry. Of our course 4 start workin Entabeni during July and 1 starts work in the Pilansberg.

The 'could be better'

 

I come from a corporate environment, and work as a project manager, so I'm used to things being planned and controlled so for me there could be more of this on the course. We did not have a timetable during the whole course and some days we did not know what we were supposed to be doing or who with. For the younger students they didn't care as they are used to living day to day, but for us older bods this could sometimes be a bit frustrating.

 

On our course there were only 2 S.A. guys and only one of these had a vehicle....so if we ever wanted to leave the reserve (say for the local shop etc) we had to rely on the school. Often the school were happy to take us to the local shops but there were times when this was not possible.

 

The food - it was great that is was cooked for us, but the quality of the food was not always great! Fortunately the school were open to suggestions (the spinach soup/quiche concoction vanished after complaints) but obviously this is dependent upon the budget. It wasn't all that bad, but I can sfaely say that I will never eat a frankfurter sausage ever again in my life :)

 

Again, this may be due to being an older student, but I wish the school would stick to its rules if it is going to make them. Day one a list of rules were set out (e.g. no drinking in rooms, no noise after 10 o'clock, no one on drives or walks with hangovers etc) but these were ignored. The number of times that students drank all night and turned up drunk or heavily hung over the next day was worrying. On one occassion I actually refused to go on a morning drive as a couple of guys were still clearly drunk.....and I was justified in this decision as one of the guys taunted a female lion and she seriously charged the vehicle. The school got more strict after this incedent but not 100% compliant with their own rules.

What I'll miss

 

The people - they were all very friendly and I hope will remain friends for some years. The trainers were very knwoledgeable, the cheff was a character and the helpers were always smilling. Sarah in the office was always helpful specifically with organising leave time, hiring cars, hotels etc where local knowledge was appreciated.

 

Waking up in the mornings to the sounds of the lions roaring. The lions were often around school and it was a rare morning when we couldn't hear the lions colouring. They also wondered through camp loads, so we got to see them close and personal, which is amazing.

 

Lying on my bed, door open and watching zebra, wildebeast, giraffe etc grazing. Some days it was just so sureal to nod off during the afternoon break, stir and open my eyes to see zebra looking in at me!

 

The reserve - the day we left I tried to take in as much of the reserve as possible for fear I won't ever get the chance to go back. After 6 months living there I got to know the reserve intimately. I learnt all the track names (mostly in Zulu), the plains, tha dams, where animals are often found, scrapings and scratches on trees of interest, etc etc. It is amazing how much one can learn about a reserve in 6 months, but driving twice a day you really do learn so much.

 

The lodge rangers - I was lucky enough to take lodge guests out, guide for the film school and obviously once we were qualified in April we cpould drive for ourselves. That meant we wopuld be on the reserve at the same time as the lodge giudes and their guests....but these guides were superb with us, very friendly and very patient! We sometimes got lost, sometimes forgot the zulu names for game, bumped locks, but the guides were always good to us and some became good friends. This was all appreciated - big thanks go to Gareth, Rekus, Marlene, Jenni, Aubrey, Simon (both of them), Phinaes, Trevor and the rest of the team.

 

The animals - you get to know the big game, in particular the lions and rhino. You start to learn their 'quirks', like when the aggressive female lion is going to give you a 'rev' and whilst this is unnerving you learn to anticipate it and relax your guests. The big male will also be missed - he was so chilled around the vehicles and would just walk right past us withpou so much as a glance. I'll also miss the rhino walking up to the vehicle and sniffing us out.

 

The bird life - truely amazing amount of birds. As a birder I was quite nerdy at times but I don't care ;)

My recommendation

So, would I do this course again? Absolutely :) Stupid question really - I mean, who wouldn't take the chance to be a safari guide for 6 months!!! However, with hindsight and due to how the course is changing organically to meet FGASA rule changes I might do it slightly differently. For those wanting to go into the nature guiding industry then just do the 6 month course. For those like us though who were doing it for the experience then there are other possible options open to you:


  •  
  • FGASA level 1 over 2 months
  • 2 week intensive track and sign course
  • 1 week Bundox game capture
  • 1 month trails guide (ARH plus trails guide) - personally I'd not do this as I have no interest in guns and didn't enjoy this hence opted out, but this had nothing to do with Entabeni and was purely a personal decision

 

Doing it this was would be less expensive BUT there is no work placement guarantee, so it depends on the time you have available to you and your ultimate goal.

We are hoping to go back in future years - maybe to do a 2 week track and sign course to brush up skills (maybe even improve our scores). At least that is the plan as of today - I hate to think I will never go back to the reserve that I called home for 6 months.

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Game Warden

Photos...

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whorty1970

Photos...

 

Photos????? I have over 3000 to go through! Could take me years ;) Will be trying to get something on next week (at least some cheetah for MAC if nothing else) before we start travelling again.

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Sverker

Sure, photos ...

 

Problem: you have too much room on your memory card - you have too many memory cards - you are too trigger happy - you have too many motifs - you take too many bad photos ...

 

Choose any - some - all of the above.

 

Just joking ...

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whorty1970

Sure, photos ...

 

Problem: you have too much room on your memory card - you have too many memory cards - you are too trigger happy - you have too many motifs - you take too many bad photos ...

 

Choose any - some - all of the above.

 

Just joking ...

 

Sverker....

 

Too much room on my memory cards? I have 2 16gb and 3 8gb cards, so you may be right :)

 

Too many cards? Oh yes (see previous answer), you might be right :)

 

Too trigger happy? Hee hee, it's like you've seen me in action

 

Too many bad photos? You really have seen me in action!!

 

I've started going through the photos and promise to get some loaded soon :) I also need to add some 'highlights of the course' write up - I'm still working on that.

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Game Warden

The scorpion sting has to be a highlight...

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Jochen

Hey Whorty,

 

Jochen here. We exchanged a couple of mails. Been following the blog too.

 

Thanks a lot for this info. Much appreciated! As you know me & Mira are seriously considering following one of the courses at Entabeni. I spoke to Lee some time before our trip to the lowveld (just back now), and had hoped to be able to meet up, but it was not to be.

 

Can I ask you a couple more questions? And if so do you prefer by PM or in this thread?

 

Thanks again,

 

J.

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whorty1970

Hi Jochen - I was going to drop you a note anyway but please do feel free to ask me questions on here....if they too 'personal' or commercial then I'll answer via PM else I'll just answer via this thread.

 

It is worth sayoing taht there are a number of companies offering the same type (or similar anyway) courses as Entabeni but for us personally Lee and the team delivered everything we were expecting from the course. Plus for you guys as you are thinking of going into the industry Entabeni is a great foot in the door. Lee knows so many people and has so many contacts that can be tapped. Also, the 6 month work on the reserve (technically a big 5 reserve) is excellent experience.

 

Cheers. Carl

 

GW - I asked Rachel and apparently the scorpions in the bed were not a big highlight for her. Can't think why not ;) I mean, she was only stung 9 times :)

 

 

Hey Whorty,

 

Jochen here. We exchanged a couple of mails. Been following the blog too.

 

Thanks a lot for this info. Much appreciated! As you know me & Mira are seriously considering following one of the courses at Entabeni. I spoke to Lee some time before our trip to the lowveld (just back now), and had hoped to be able to meet up, but it was not to be.

 

Can I ask you a couple more questions? And if so do you prefer by PM or in this thread?

 

Thanks again,

 

J.

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whorty1970

Ok - some photos just added to a new gallery called 'Cheetah Kill - Enatbeni'. Not the greatest pictures (poor light, dusk time, 200 metres plus away - I know, all excuses!) but this is the first hunt I have had the chance to capture and the first kill I've ever seen...so very exciting for me :)

 

Can't recall how to embed these pics into a thread so hope people don't mind looking through the gallery.

 

Whorty.

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pault

Wow! I haven't been around much and I have been very unwell, so I kind of forgot about you. How could I? Wow! That such opportunities exist on this earth... I would never have thought it. Great information... and congratulations on your scores.

 

It seems the Scorpion Handling course didn't go to well, then? :o

 

I think a "campfire tales" section should be added to this report... your buddies on the course may not have been impressed, but I suspect some of us will be.

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Thanks Whorty - Makes interesting reading.. Many tips for others who may consider something similar.

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Jochen

Hi Whorty,

 

Sorry for a late reply. I'll send you a PM shortly.

 

B.regs,

 

J.

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Sverker

Heh heh ...

 

Waiting for something good ...

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