Friday, 24 February 2017

ANTics of another kind...




What's in a name you might ask? Well, apparently a lot, especially if you are attending an African Nature Training course and start playing around with words in stead of facts.

This social media conversation transpired when the participants on the current FGASA Level One course were up to ANTics of another kind...

Happy valANTintes day!

Good bANTer...

FANTastic in fact!!

We are looking forward to your arrival in ANTicipation. Let's hope it isn't an ANTiclimax...

Oh eh eh... We are clearly all brilliANT today!

I'm waiting with much ANTicipation for the next chirp...

Agh man, don't be so ANTsy!

Ha ha ha, this conversation actually needs to end, I cANT keep it up...

Mmm... Seems you got your wish, it seems to have gone dormANT...


(Image: http://naldzgraphics.net)

Thursday, 2 February 2017

2 February - Celebrating World Wetlands Day


World Wetlands Day, celebrated annually on 2 February, provides an opportunity to celebrate a natural resource that is critical for people, the environment, and biodiversity. Wetlands come in all shapes and forms, from estuaries along our beautiful coastlines and high altitude inland wetlands within the grasslands of Mpumalanga, to the hard working wetlands within our urban landscapes. Much of our conservation effort within the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) is centred around the protection, restoration, and management of wetlands and the catchments that feed them, and we encourage you to celebrate World Wetlands Day with us.

Two of South Africa’s three crane species, the Grey Crowned and Wattled Crane, are completely dependent on wetlands for their survival – yet both are threatened with extinction. Their threatened status mirrors the loss of wetlands in our country, with an estimated 50% of wetlands completely transformed in South Africa. The African Crane Conservation Programme (ACCP), a partnership between the EWT and the International Crane Foundation, has used these charismatic, long-lived birds as flagships for wetland protection, restoration and management.

The ACCP’s South Africa Regional Manager, Tanya Smith, confirms that the efforts of the ACCP team and its partners have ensured the protection of nearly 100,000 ha of grasslands, wetlands and associated rivers in important catchments for people and cranes in South Africa over the past five years. The protection of the key water resources contributes to the long-term security of our water supply for millions of people in South Africa.

From large charismatic cranes to the small and slippery, wetlands are home to many. Globally, amphibians are the most threatened class of vertebrate with 32.5% of species currently listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable. Approximately 800 species of amphibians make exclusive use of wetland habitats. Here in South Africa, a tiny frog the size of your thumbnail is found only in 25 wetlands along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline. Therefore, a key focal species of the EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme (TAP), is the Endangered Pickersgill’s Reed Frog. These coastal wetlands are unique in their structure and are themselves classified as Critically Endangered. “The presence of flagship species that depend on wetlands for their survival really helps leverage support for the protection and restoration of wetlands,” says Dr Jeanne Tarrant, TAP Programme Manager. The EWT embarked on an ambitious journey to restore four of these wetlands in the Durban area through alien plant control, re-establishment of indigenous plants and assessing wetland rehabilitation needs and this year will be working towards formal protection of two of these wetlands through community stewardship models.

This year’s World Wetland Day theme is “Wetlands for disaster risk reduction” and this theme truly celebrates the services wetlands provide for us free of charge. Wetlands greatly reduce the impacts of flooding by slowing down the flow of water, and reduce the impacts of droughts by slowly releasing water to our streams and rivers. In the current drought gripping much of South Africa, the role and protection of healthy wetlands has never been more important.

The EWT is involved with several World Wetlands Day celebratory events around the country. In KwaZulu-Natal, World Wetlands Day will be celebrated at the Greater Edendale Mall wetland in Pietermaritzburg on 2 February from 10am. This is a collaboration of all partners of the KwaZulu-Natal Wetland Forum and will see over 300 children learning about and experiencing the value of wetlands. In the Eastern Cape, the EWT and the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa have partnered to get our future generation’s hands dirty experiencing the wetlands of the Amathole area, where the EWT has been implementing catchment restoration work for the past three years. Lastly, in Gauteng, World Wetlands Day will be celebrated on 17 February at Tembisa Esselen Park Pan. A fun day of activities is planned, so be on the lookout for the EWT stand.

Later on in the month, you can get involved in raising awareness for our special wetland dwellers, the frogs, by joining in on a number of Leap Day for Frogs activities, including the EWT’s attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest game of leapfrog on Friday, 24 February. This exciting event gets underway at 10am on the Durban beachfront promenade near uShaka Marine World. Find out more by visiting www.leapdayforfrogs.org.za or emailing JeanneT@ewt.org.za


 

You can make a difference to our wetlands all year round in a number of different ways, including:

  1. Planning a wetland clean up in your community with local schools and parents.
  2. Reducing your waste, reusing bottles and containers you would normally throw away, use reusable shopping bags and recycle! Our water resources like rivers and wetlands are heavily impacted on by litter and waste, so these small actions can make a huge difference.
  3. Reporting any illegal dumping in wetlands and rivers to your local municipality or police station.
  4. Supporting the efforts of organisations like the EWT in protecting wetlands on your behalf.
(Story: Endangered Wildlife Trust)

Monday, 16 January 2017

The man behind the uniform – Gary Lyon



Africa Nature Training pride itself on the calibre of instructors that is chosen to conduct our courses. Gary Lyon is one such man. With 20 years’ experience, he is a gem and participants under his tutelage walk away with a wealth of knowledge and an experience par none.

Get to know him better…

Why do you do what you do?
The natural world has captured my imagination for as long as I can remember.
When I was at school we attended veld school periodically. Some people hated veld school and similar school tours to the bush but for me it was the best thing since bread and jam... On one of my trips to the Soutpansberg, a teacher handed me a copy of the South African Tree list. I ran off into bush where I managed to see lots of trees, identify none and got myself stung by a nest of paper wasps. But it captured my imagination like nothing else and I have loved trees ever since.
Once I began to learn about nature it never stopped and it never will. I have been taught many things by many individuals, often by my own students, and I am grateful for the knowledge they have shared with me.

Most favourite wildlife experience?
My most favourite wildlife experience has to be finding something new and unusual that I hadn’t expected to see, like a pair of Cape Clawless Otters appearing unexpectedly in a pool, or a Giant Legless Skink appearing after the first heavy rains.

Favourite animal and why?
I love the honey badger for his sheer tenacity, determination and drive, his fearlessness and his versatility, as well as, his adaptability and intelligence. All these characteristics make the honey badger an amazing animal.

What does the future hold for the guiding industry?
As our wildlife becomes more and more threatened there is a need for better custodianship. This begins with an appreciation of what we have and what we have to lose. To appreciate what we have we need to see it and experience it, so that we can come to understand it and value it. Guiding is the way trained individuals introduce people to nature through ecotourism.
The guiding industry has transformed since I first began working as a guide in 1996. While we have always tried to be professional, the standards of training and level of knowledge has grown tremendously. This is attributable to the hard work of many and the input of numerous stake-holders in the industry including individual, private and public entities and through government legislation.
The industry now has professional guides, at various levels in their training and development that are well-trained and equipped to provide the safest and most informative nature experience possible. Guides are now able to specialise in various fields – once they have acquired the highest level as professional safari guides – and can now focus their attention on their individual passions.
The industry is already at a high level as far as professionalism is concerned and will continue to improve but future wildlife experiences will be defined by a more conscious effort to ensure the welfare of the wildlife with more care taken to ensure that animals are not disturbed excessively just to satisfy the need for a good sighting for a paying client. The industry will also be more conscious of the footprint we have on the environment as we traverse it, on foot , by vehicle, on horseback or by boat. Guides will be conscious of this as they strive to continue to drive the industry forward. Along with this the industry is also moving in a direction that will allow more access to less well-heeled individuals and where the client experience will change from a passive observation to active learning about wildlife.

What are you currently busy with?

I am constantly working to improve my credentials as a guide and presentation as a guide trainer. This includes working towards an SKS-Birding qualification, among other goals.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Awesome Guiding Experiences


If, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words then a video must be worth at least ten thousand!  It is incredibly difficult to capture moments in time and reduce them to an image on a flat screen. So much is lost, the sounds, scents and emotions receding into invisibility. That said I hope this short visual clip inspires you to join us on our field guide course and experience for yourself both that which is represented here as well as those things which, in the words of Helen Keller "...cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart". 
 



 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Sex, drugs, rock and roll…

So how do you entertain your clients on days of incessant rain when every creature from ants to zebras have entrenched themselves in the deepest cover to avoid the deluge? Or on those nightmarish days of bright sunshine when nothing is moving, not even a mouse….

In an attempt to answer this question I came up with the idea of sharing some of the wonderful, occasionally weird, but always interesting plants and animals in whose space we work.

I hope this series of monthly blog spots will not only help to fill rainy days with your guests but will also inspire you to delve deeper into the marvels of our remarkable natural heritage.

Best regards, Lorraine

January 2016 - Sex, drugs, rock and roll…

https://www.ispotnature.org/sites/default/files/images/42521/b2ccdbb0bc7c21e2a9cdfc040da20117.jpg
Whilst the extinction of the dinosaurs ended the rule of reptiles and ushered in the era of mammals, in sheer number terms our planet is currently very much the domain of insects. Three quarters of all living species on earth are insects, amongst which the beetles (Order: Coleoptera) reign supreme.

As the most diverse order in the entire animal kingdom, beetles have derived an amazing range of adaptive and fascinating behaviours. What follows is sex, drugs, rock and roll – beetle style…


Glossy and colourful the Fruit Chafer (pictured above) males have developed an interesting, and energy efficient, strategy for attracting females. They congregate in ‘juice-bars’– created when damage to the bark of a tree results in sap flows. Favourite ‘hang-outs’ are the Buffalo Thorn (Ziziphus mucronata) or the Velvet Bushwillow (Combretum molle). Competition is fierce as the males jostle with one another to be able to mate with the females who are attracted to the sweet juice. Winner takes all.

 
The less attractive Toktokkies (Tenebrionids) require more stamina to stay in the running for a mate. In some species found in our sub-region a whole string of males will follow a female around. When the female runs, they run and when she stops to feed, they stop. However, so intent are they on not losing sight of her they do not even feed. It has been recorded that more than a few drop out of the pursuit from sheer exhaustion. The chase continues for days on end until the female is ready to lay her eggs. Then, the first in line, and only he, is allowed to mate with her. Strangely males further back in the line do not attempt to queue jump to be the ‘lucky one’…

So, gentlemen, if you thought that ‘Singles bars’ and ‘Chasing after the ladies’ were the
brainchild of humans – think again!




https://www.ispotnature.org/species-dictionaries/sanbi/Paussinae

Beetles also understood the tranquillising effects of chemicals many moons before humans did. Ant’s guest beetles (Subfamily Paussinae) produce a glandular secretion on their antennae and body that is highly sought after by ants. As the name suggests upon finding an ant colony these beetles invite themselves in as guests, albeit through drugging and subterfuge!


The glandular secretion they produce - which is so sought after by the ants that they will actually lick it off the beetle - contains a volatile substance which appeases them and suppresses their usual antagonism towards intruders. This tranquillising effect, combined with the beetle’s ability to use an acoustic mechanism to successfully imitate the sounds of an ant queen, permits them access to the nest without alarming the colony.
 
In return for their ‘drug fix’ the ants feed the beetle and its larvae. In some instances however the beetles are less altruistic and their larvae feed on the ant brood…perhaps ‘deceptive diners’ rather than ‘sneaky guests’ on those occasions.

And last, but by no means least, are the rollers of the beetle world. Dung beetles evolved at least 65 million years ago as the number and size of mammals (and their droppings) was increasing. Specially adapted to working in and with dung these remarkable creatures have been cleaning up our planet for millennia.
 
There are some 6,000 species world-wide of which only 10% are rollers. More correctly called Telecoprids these beetles roll away the dung they collect from the dung pat. This behaviour is thought to have evolved from competition for dung amongst the many species that arrive at fresh dung.
 
Photo credit: Nicky Glennie
Thousands of dung beetles may arrive at a single Buffalo pat within an hour, so its gets crowded, fast. Removing your portion not only reduces onsite crowding and competition but if you have already ‘scooped your poop’ and are making a quick getaway you also have a better chance of keeping hold of your spoils.
 
That said, whilst on drive a few weeks ago I witnessed the ‘rock’ to accompany the ‘roll’ in the Telecoprid world. A male was happily rolling his ball of dung, climbing atop it every couple of minutes to orientate himself, when in flew an interloper. The interloper then proceeded to also climb onto the ball and rock it aggressively in attempt to knock off the rightful roller. A fascinating fight ensued with the original owner eventually regaining ownership of his ball and rolling it off. 

I hope you have enjoyed this short foray into the hidden life of beetles and will join us next time...

Until then, in the words of another ‘Beatles Group’, I’ve got a “ticket to ride”…back to the bush…

The ANT Blog

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

GraduANTs Refresher Weekend 2015

We hope that you are surviving the heat wave! Phew, a GraduANT's Refresher weekend (for past Nature Enthusiast Course students) seemed like a good idea at the time...

By way of background to this story, two of our mentors have developed a habit of staying at the training venue in the Waterberg until late on Sunday afternoon before heading back to the city. One weekend earlier this year, they were going for a walk in the northern part of the (two hundred and fifty hectare) farm and they stumbled upon a huge Southern African Python, basking in the sun.

The Southern African Python, basking - Photo by Justin van Doorene
We sent a photo of this snake to one of South Africa's leading herpetologists (a lecturer on the Nature Enthusiast Course), Professor Graham Alexander of Wits University, and asked him if this animal interests him. 

He replied, saying that the snake is a female, probably between four and five metres long and that (at the time) she would be looking for a mate and would be laying eggs in October...and yes, he is interested! 

We invited him to participate on our GraduANTs Refresher Weekend by giving us a lecture on the digestive physiology of Pythons and taking us to look for this animal.

One of our mentors came up with a lovely idea, called The Amazing Race, which involved giving four teams a set of tasks to accomplish within two hours. On Saturday morning, each team was given a decorated, colour-coded pizza box which contained some necessary items.

Well done to the Blue team, who won The Amazing Race - Smarties!
From left to right: Salim, Rooksana, Sue, Ditmar and Shayleen
The tasks were to do with identifying plants, collecting samples of those and some dung, taking photographs of certain things and identifying some reptiles. 

Each team received a puzzle piece for each correct answer and had to put together the puzzle pieces...then, on Sunday morning, give us all a short talk on the animal in their picture (Pangolin, Black Rhino, Wild Dog, Riverine Rabbit).

The training team guided the students through and everyone really enjoyed it and learnt a lot! 

On Saturday afternoon, three groups went through an hour-long rotation of photography, looking for the Python and interpreting a staged tracking scenario. It was excruciatingly hot, but everyone drank plenty of liquid and managed not to get dehydrated.

Below is Professor Alexander with a zebra skull that we found when we went searching for reptiles. He's carrying a tool that herpetologists call a 'stump ripper' - which looks a bit like a golf club - which is used to pull up dead logs and other debris, to see if snakes are underneath.
Professor Graham Alexander with a zebra skull we found in the veld
The Prof was very disappointed that we never actually found any snakes, let alone the Python, but he did come across a snake skin! 

He cut this open (they shed their skin like we take off our sock, so inside-out) and counted the scales, (which is how you identify them, 19) and concluded that it was a Snouted Cobra...famous for being predators of Puff Adders. So that was very exciting! 

In a way, I think people were relieved that we didn't find a live sample. The area apparently isn't rocky enough to be good habitat for snakes.

Nyala bull drinking - photo by Caroline Culbert
During one of the photography sessions, a beautiful male Nyala came down to drink at the dam...which is as dry as a bone, but there is a concrete basin into which they pump water for the animals. 

Shame, the poor thing could hardly reach the water, as it was a bit too steep on the sides. Anyway, that was a lucky sighting and everyone had a chance to practice their skills.

We had sundowners at the dam and then returned to the campsite for a communal braai. Below is the lapa area (lesser bushbabies shelter in its roof!) and pool. It's a beautiful place to camp.

In the morning, we had an early start and set off in small groups and enjoyed a wonderful bird walk. 

Some of the highlights were a nesting Fork-tailed Drongo and a trio of Marico Sunbirds shouting at each other from the top of a tree, with their iridescent colours glistening in the sunlight! The Drongo chose a particularly silly place, given that the sun was very unforgiving and that she is black (therefore a heat sink) - it was a bare tree, out in the open.

It would be remiss of us not to mention the rare and much sought-after yellow morph of the Crimson-breasted Shrike, which also made several appearances for us - what a special treat!

This image  of the yellow morph was taken by the 'birthday girl', Caroline Culbert
Ps. Andre and Justin stayed late again and checked the camera trap that we had set up...the python apparently came out to bask from 12:39 until 13:03 about two metres from where she had originally been seen! Prof. Alexander said that she has not yet laid her eggs and so will probably leave the hole to find another nest site very soon. It would be great if we could find out where she goes – when the babies hatch, there would be a two week period where there would be many babies basking outside the hole throughout the day. Based on the assumption that she is about to lay, they are predicted to hatch in the second or third week of February.

The ANT Blog

Monday, 5 October 2015

Correspondence Course Practical September 2015

Hi there everyone!

The first summer rains have arrived.
 
This means that the bush has taken in a breath of new energy and is changing colours day by day. I can never decide what my favourite season is in the bush but I must say… when we arrived at Nkombe Camp early September, I was blown away!

The beautiful Narrow-leaved Morning Glory
The earth had been craving water for so long and finally the thirst has been quenched. My senses were more awake than ever… the smell of fresh vegetation and wet soil – an earthy scent that cannot be bottled or replicated. I absolutely love the sounds of buzzing insects calling incessantly at dusk and the characteristic calls of many male frogs in the hopes of attracting females.
 
The bush is alive and it’s just getting better!

 
Inspecting an old buffalo skull
This blog is, however, not dedicated to the wonders of the ever changing bushveld. It is dedicated to our first Correspondence Course practical of 2015! Students from all corners of the earth came together for two spectacular weeks with one thing in common – an everlasting passion for nature!

The students arrived on the 19th of September and we wasted no time in getting them into the swing of things.


The first thing they saw, before even arriving at the famous Nkombe Camp, was the most beautiful female leopard. She was lying beneath a tree with a couple of Spotted Hyaenas lurking nearby. This is because she had made an impala kill which we saw dangling in the tree above. What a way to get settled in ;)
 
Always amazing to see...
The next thing on the agenda for the first day was 'welcoming sundowners'. We unfortunately didn’t see the sun go down as the weather was not ideal and continued to drizzle for a day or so. That being said, we were so impressed with the students, as they never once let the weather get the best of them. We had an amazing sundowner stop under an impressive Jackalberry tree and enjoyed Mandla’s homely chicken potjie around the captivating fire whilst getting to know each other.

The first few days were spent learning about trees and birds.


Just one of our spectacular sunsets
Dave Strydom (our expert birds and trees lecturer) truly has an impeccable way to give students the tools to gain the skills of successfully identifying trees and birds. We enjoyed bush walks every morning, as one tends to learn more whilst on foot.  There is more to see, smell and hear without the noise and distractions of a vehicle. The one thing I was not so keen about was all the pepper ticks! I walked through at least three nests and I sit here now itching and itching with over thirty bites (yes, I counted)! It seems they have grown immune to Tabard. Nevertheless, it was completely worth it!
 
A group of vultures patiently waiting...
One day stood out in particular: the 25th of September. We went for a long game drive to the south of the reserve and had two absolutely stunning sightings. The first was of a pride of lions on a buffalo kill. This was the Southern Pride – experts in eating buffalo. We also enjoyed seeing a massive dead tree covered in various species of vultures waiting for their turn to devour the leftovers. What an unforgettable scene! This was also the first ever sighting of lions for one of our students!
 
Joe and the bull elephant
The other magnificent sighting was of a herd of elephant - our favourite animals of all. It started as we saw a bull elephant on a mission. He covered a lot of distance in a very short time. After following the determined elephant, we came across a breeding herd. The bull was in hot pursuit of the females, but they were showing no interest. I predict the bull was too young and not in musth. After failing to impress the females, he moved off. It was that perfect time of day just before the sun started to set. We parked our vehicle some distance from the herd and let them approach us. It was incredible. The females passed right by us, carrying on with their usual activities. One relaxed female even fed on a tree less than five metres away from Joe (a student from England). He claims this to be one of the best moments of his life. A young calf was gently guided by her mother - stunning to watch. My best sighting of the week!

This day also happened to be my birthday. I couldn’t have been happier spending it in the bush with this amazing group of people. The students even made me a special gift – they carved onto a piece of wood and all wrote a special message on it. Thanks again guys!
 
Before we knew it, it was assessment time! We treated our students to a surprise bush breakfast with an amazing view of a dry riverbed and the open plains beyond it. This was also our way of saying 'good luck!' to everyone for the upcoming days. We are so proud of each and every one, as they all passed their assessments with flying colours as well as their FGASA 1 exams. Congratulations ANTs!
 
The herd of buffalo
We haven’t even spoken about half of our fantastic sightings…We were treated to a visit by wild dogs which spent the day less than five hundred metres from camp! They are always fantastic to see and we loved the fact that they were so close to us for so long.

The majority of the time spent at Nkombe Camp was focused on the smaller aspects of nature which are no less important than the famous Big Five. The rest came naturally, as we saw all of the Big Five on the last day without even trying. We saw female lions on another buffalo kill, as well as a gorgeous female leopard which recently had hunted a duiker. We were privileged enough to see a massive herd of buffalo, after which we stopped at a famous granite outcrop to have some refreshments overlooking the reserve.  What a day it was!

After this course, we can all agree that we will never look at the bush the same way and we have a much better insight into the never-ending world of nature.

The ANT Blog
written by Chanyn-Lee Zeelie

What a great group of people!


A lioness with her meal in the background


Conrad exploring Jacana Pan
A group of Blue Wildebeest graze as the sun starts to set


A beautiful picture of the end of another day in Africa

Nkombe Camp managers - Chanyn and Conrad Zeelie

Surprise Bush Breakfast!

Christin's practical assessment


A silhouette of a windmill near Nkombe Camp