This week should be filled with assessments but only one of us passed the ARH so only one of us can be assessed. 2 walks and then just studying for the final. We can all still qualify for the academic portion of the course so it isn't all for nothing but none the less it is quite a disappointment that so much rides on the ARH. Unfortunately, our one hope did not pass her practical assessment so no one will pass the trails portion of the program.
I was selected to write the final blog post for the Trails course too so I will post it as my wrap up here as well.
How did 7 weeks pass so quickly? It seems that I just finished writing the blog for the final week of the Field Guide course.
Time is warped at Ulovane. It simultaneously stands still while it zooms past. You are absorbing so much information that you believe you must have been here for a significantly longer period of time than you have, yet in that same moment, the weeks scream by with the passing of each barely being noticed.
Speaking of screaming – that is one of the skills we learned. Well not exactly screaming, more accurately, yelling loudly at a very fast charging paper lion. On second thought, we did do a fair bit of screaming during Jungle Lane (but we can’t talk about Jungle Lane).
We also learned a lot about habitat, animal behavior, diseases, alertness, sounds, smells, wind direction, geography, plants, dung, tracks, trailing, signs, terrain, preparedness, safety, the law, firearms, non-verbal communication, silence, comfort levels, group dynamics, compassion, empathy, limitations, and the list goes on.
I can safely say if we could extend the course we would. Over the time walking together we developed cohesiveness, rhythm, and trust with one another. It is with great sadness that we are concluding the Trails portion of our training at Ulovane. There is nothing quite like walking on the reserve. It necessitated the development of a whole new set of skills that heightened our level of awareness. Perhaps most importantly, we learned how much more experience we need before we will be prepared to walk with guests.
Unlike the Field Guide training which involved endless presentations, lectures, and hours with our noses in books, the Trails course was hands-on practical training in the bush. We were faced with physical, mental and/or emotional challenges that we had never encountered before. At times it was humbling. Others inspired confidence. The positive is that with every perceived set-back there was growth, learning and the refining of one’s self-awareness. We not only grew as individuals but we grew as a unit. Showing up fully to support one another.
The time spent walking and camping on the reserve with Shani and Koen will forever remain among my favorite memories of time at Ulovane. I am grateful for the days of tracking with Schalk and Shani (and the trip into the Grand Canyon will also be a highlight). Special thanks go to Adriaan Louw for our CyberTracker assessment.
And then there is Pieter Dunn…
Pieter, you are a remarkable instructor. The level of dedication you have to the growth and success of your students is a rarity. In academia, students do not typically encounter instructors that are as fully committed to their student's growth and achievement as you are. The patience, mentorship, access, and guidance showed to our group were above and beyond anything we could have expected or asked for. Thank you.
We may not have passed but we ultimately succeeded.
And a note to the powers that be at Ulovane – Please don’t take Pieter away from the trails group even if it is for the birds.
First, we were 12, then we were only 5, next we will be 4. We will miss you Martijn. On to Marines we go.
Today is like the day before and the one after
That isn't exactly true. Each day has been wonderful. We walked the first 3 days of the week. Each in a different area of the reserve but all with the same focus of tracking.
Above is a video of our walk into the Grand Canyon. If you followed along with my journal during my time in Field Guides the place will look familiar. I posted photos taken from the rim of the canyon. It really is magnificently beautiful. Like a bunch of children we teased to be able to return on foot but none of our instructors had ever ventured in solo, much less with a group. (One might be a bit hesitant to walk into a canyon where there is only one entrance which is also the only exit.) After multiple request the right set of circumstances presented itself so we went for it.
(i.e. all the cats were in known locations far away, the main herd of elephants were in the basin, buffalos were elsewhere as well, it isn't the terrain of white rhino. The only dangerous game variable was whether there was a bull elephant waiting for us.)
Wow – was it beautiful! We did see our share of very fresh elephant signs so we proceeded with extreme caution. We also had the chance to see a fabulous Brown Hyena track. Would have loved to see it (maybe…). They are rather elusive, unlike their spotted cousin.
When looking for tracks your main objective is different from that of a typical walk. Walking in the bush is always about enjoying the smaller things – sights and sounds and smells. It about trying to find the Big 5. The sightings are more distant and often of plains game. We do have to have a certain number of dangerous game sightings required just to gain experience. (Animals respond quite differently on foot). You are not all that intimidating to a 5000 KG bull elephant. In a vehicle you are comparable in size and speed and they are sadly quite famaliar with game vehicles and likely think of them as minor annoyances. On foot you are something abnormal and you maybe worth investigating.
The good thing was we put in a lot of walking hours in those 3 days on foot. We should have 75 to 80 before we graduate (50 is required)
Thursday was spent in the classroom reviewing the nuances of each critters tracks in preparation for our upcoming Cyber Tracker assessment this weekend.
Friday the Trails group tagged along with the Field Guides to take part in their mock tracking assessment. It was super helpful. It was also fun to spend the day with our fellow camp mates. We are in close proximity on the campus but our schedules are so very different that we rarely spend time together except during meals.
Tracks Tracks Tracks – Even dreams of Tracks.
Our assessment was administered by the leading tracking expert in South Africa Adriaan Louw. Talk about intimidating – nothing like being assessed by a man that travels around the planet tracking animals. to make you a bit worried about a 2-day field exam. (this is a link to an interview is Adriaan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCYS1Ycbo38)
The long in and the short is – we all did well. We are the first class where everyone achieved Level 2 or Level 3 (Congrats Richard!!!).
Once I have time to process the weekend I will return to add in some details. It was pretty intense. Each error is costly – you not only don't get the points but you get points deducted – so each of the 50 tracks of signs either gives you a sigh of relief or a twinge of pain. You also know whether you were right or wrong after each set is completed but you don't know how each question is scored based on it's determined difficulty level so you never have a clear idea of how you are doing.
I was the tortoise
How can another week have passed in the blink of the eye. I swear that time is warped here. At one moment it feels as if it has been eternity, the next I am amazed that yet another week has finished, and the next I am in awe of all that I have experienced and accomplished in such a short time. It feels as if I just began the trails program a week or so ago but the fourth week is wrapped.
The next three are going to zip by even faster. This week it is ARH (advanced rifle handling) assessments, the next it is our tracking assessments with CyberTracker, three weeks out are our guest walks and our FGASA exams – that’s it. How is it possible?
Oddly, I just put that all together in my head for the first time – wow… in less than 3 weeks I will either be able to serve as a back-up guide on a big 5 reserve or I will be wishing that I hit that damn paper lioness. That is really kind of crazy when you think about it. I already have over 50 hours of walking and will add another 15-16 in the next 2 days and likely another 30-40 before the program ends. Yet it does not feel like there could ever be enough time. As with everything, the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. With the trails course it seems as if you could never have enough time and experience to know enough about the terrain and vegetation, about predicting animal behavior and their movements, the sounds and the smells of the bush. It is too much.
Before I totally spin out on this, which will not be productive in anyway, I will stop going down that rabbit hole.
Today we went to the beach after our exams. It was perfect. Too short but perfect otherwise. The temperature was 34 but the sea breeze kept the air comfortable. Despite being the beginning of summer the Indian Ocean is already warm. The beach was nearly empty of visitors with big fluffy sand dunes as far as you can see in both directions. Simply beautiful.
I sure do wish I knew what was causing this. Thankful for the turbo-charged antihistamines but it sure does ruin a day.
I get these lovely bumps all over my body. They itch like mad. If I take the meds as soon as my palms and bottoms of my feet begin to itch the bumps still develop but that is the end of it. In 45-60 minutes the itching stops. In another 30-45 minutes the bumps go away and then I am just a lovely red color for a few hours. The meds make me space for about 3 hours and I am pretty useless the remainder of the day.
I hope what ever it is goes away quickly. This was my 5th episode in 2 months.
Mock tracking assessment day
My watch began at 3 am. Oddly, I am typically awake at 3 am so it is the perfect time for me to be on watch. Awake and alert. The full moon made the evening sky bright. You could easily see without the use of a torch but given the proximity of the lions and the need to scan the perimeter with every crack of a branch the torch was near at hand. My 750 lumen bike light works brilliantly for the task. I think it was around 4 the last time I heard the lions and it was a distant call.
The morning light came quickly. It was sun up before I knew it and we quickly packed camp and prepared for our morning of tracking. If today had been our assessment I would have qualified for a Level 1. I am hoping for a level 3. There were a couple tracks that I really had no idea what was happening in the circle. (The assessor scouts an area, finds challenging tracks, circles them for you to then identify.) I made a few silly errors where I had the right answer and changed it or didn’t go with the answer that I didn’t think could possibly be right but then it was. There were a few tracks that were completely new – Who knew what a monitor lizard track looked like? Not me – they are huge – it is certainly not a lizard I ever want to encounter. I have a stack of books and 2 weeks to prepare, unfortunately, it’s not the only thing I need to accomplish or study during the next 2 weeks. Next up on my plate is to prepare for the dangerous game exam on Sunday and my ARH assessments next week. The ARH on Wednesday and Thursday is the important one and for me will be the deciding factor as to whether or not I receive my Back-up guide certification.
It is a quiet afternoon here at the lodge. The Field Guides are out on an afternoon drive. I do enjoy camp when it is quiet and the lapa table is open. The lapa has a power point aka outlet which is key to my digital life. My laptop battery only holds a ½ hour charge which makes writing an update challenging. The lapa also has a pool table, which also make writing an update challenging. I am not sure how the Field Guides find the time to play pool, I certainly didn’t have spare time when I was on the course to play pool. Perhaps my time management needs to be reprioritized to include more play time – though I expect most people reading my blog may have the impression that this whole experience is all play time… fyi, it’s not.
Ps – they also play an odd version of pool here. Rules are different, balls are small and the table is about ½ the size. Chalk is still blue and the table is still green.
It was a good day.
Every day we walk is a good day. Hot – summer is upon us.
We left camp around 6:45 – a little late but given we are going to be out for the next 30 hours, a half hour late isn’t bad. We will be out in the heat of the day whether we leave early or not so might as well be leisurely with our departure.
First stop was to pick-up a fellow guide from another lodge that is on his week off. He wants to gain hours and experience walking. Next stop was the camp location where we unloaded the truck while we waited for another guest to join us. One of the APU (anti-poaching unit) rangers also wanted to walk with us. I am definitely not sure why he wanted to join us as he spends 12 hours at a time for weeks straight walking on the reserve looking for signs of encroachments and studying the behavior of the animals. I suspect that he is contemplating trying to either his field guide certification. It certainly is a safer occupation. My second guess is that he is trying to learn how we move around the park to learn how to easily distinguish the movements of a trailing group. We were also joined by the new PR person at Ulovane. Having a big group changes the experience – it is nice to have new people in the mix.
Our goal for the morning walk was to begin for our tracking assessment with Shani. I quite enjoy walking with Shani. She walks at a manageable pace, selects interesting routes, and is an incredibly skilled tracker and trailer. Tracking isn’t my strength (I am beginning to wonder what my strength might be in this course) despite my desire to be better I am just not gifted when it comes to determining what animal left which spoor and determining who is who. The day warmed quickly. We walked for 4 hours before returning to camp to avoid the heat of the day.
After preparing the camp for our sleep out, gathering wood for the fire, eating lunch and taking a quick rest to avoid the hottest time, we set out on our afternoon walk. Koen was in the lead position with Martijn and Shani on back-up. In hindsight, I do always have very positive things to say about our walks with Koen, though I do not necessarily enjoy them while they are in progress. The pace is considerably quicker, the terrain is approached more directly (meaning usually directly up or straight down) and there is less focus on the overall experience and more placed on checking off the sightings. In general, as a guest, I prefer the focus being on an overall pleasurable experience with nice views of the landscape, diverse terrain, listening to birds, looking at tracks and observing the animals as we come upon them. I feel that I have the time to experience what is happening around me not just follow the feet in front of mine trying to keep up, not trip, walk is quietly as possible (which is impossible to do while walking in a thicket with a group of 10.) while attempting to stay alert to the dangers around us. (There are lions after all.)
We did find the male lion and did get an on foot approach without the lion being aware of our presence. The terrain, sun, and wind all worked in our favor to cover our smell, profile and noise. Kudos go to Koen for sighting the male lion lounging at the top of a knoll at the edge of the thicket enjoying the afternoon sun. When we began the walk we knew the vicinity the lions were in but it was still quite an accomplishment to find them. It is a different experience to be near to a predator on foot than in a game vehicle. You become acutely aware of just how exposed you are. We were about 80 meters away which might sound like a long way. A lion that decides to charge will cover those 80 meters in less than 4 seconds. 4 seconds sounds really close to me.
Where there is the male lion there are at least 1 female and very likely 3 females. We did not see them. Needless to say, we were all keenly aware that they were there somewhere but with the rapid pace I can say that the majority of my focus was on my feet and not on my surroundings where it should have been. As the crow flies the lion was likely about a kilometer from camp, our route was about 2.
The full moon sleep out was not quite as restful and relaxing as the last. The proximity of the lion roars throughout the evening and into the early hours of the morning ensured that we were all on our toes. We slept more grouped together, closer to the fire. Those on watch were on their feet, walking the perimeter, torches scanning for eyes (not really torches of the caveman sort, rather high lumen rechargeable flashlights). It really is astonishing how bright the night sky is when the moon is full. All except the brightest of stars disappear with all of the illumination reflected from the moon. The bush was also full of noise on the full moon, much like us all the small animals must have been on high alert and active. Oddly, the advantage of the apex predators is greatly diminished during the full moon. If anything the prey animals should be most relaxed on the bright nights as the predators are less active hunters. Maybe like us, they all just knew they were in the vicinity and that alone was enough to be anxious about.
I have been relatively quite about my days on the firing range. From earlier posts you can obviously surmise how I have mixed feelings about firearms. Given everything that has happened recently with all of the mass shootings and pipe bombs being sent to people, I do not want to glorify in anyway the fact that I am learning how to shoot and safely operate and carry a rifle. However, it is a very significant part of the trails program because when on foot in a Big 5 Reserve as there is always potential for a dangerous situation to occur.
You might say, why would you put yourself in that situation where you might be endangering yourself and your guests? It is a calculated risk we take. Everyone takes calculated risks on a daily basis. We live in areas with earthquakes. We do not evacuate from the pathway of a hurricane when told to do so. We build in flood zones. All are risks we take with the hope never to experience the negative aspect of those risks. The goal on a walk is to never be in a situation of a dangerous encounter but you never know when you may happen upon an unseen lion sleeping in tall grass and blue bush. It is much like when you jump in your car – you do not intend to be rear-ended but you are equipped with airbags and a secured seatbelt should the situation arise. (The chances of getting in an auto accident are much greater than that of an encounter with a charging lion) The code of ethics dictates that a guide is to never enter into a situation that they would not enter into if they were not armed. That said, the guides are trained to be prepared.
We train with a .375 rifle. It is the minimum caliber a guide can walk with. Unlike the .308 that we shot to obtain our PFTC certification, the .375 doesn’t hurt. Not at all. The first day on the range (last Thursday – I didn’t write about it) was spent in a large part mentally and emotionally getting us over the trauma we experienced our first time shooting at the PFTC. Even the thought of having to fire the rifle brought tears to my eyes. In hindsight perhaps it was a positive experience in that it taught us to respect the power and the potential of a high caliber rifle. There is nothing wrong with having a healthy fear of a rifle – it can have devastating consequences as we know all too well in the United States. However, it did very little for my confidence in succeeding at the 6 skills I in order to pass my ARH assessments.
The first skills shouldn’t be a problem. Task one for the FGASA requirement is to load 3 cartridges into the magazine, chamber 1, aim while blindfolded in less than 15 seconds. Our assessor is requiring less than 8 seconds. I have that one covered.
The next is to hit the target at 15m with 3 shots scoring greater than 20 without the worry of time. Another I should be able to handle.
Task 3 involves 3 targets at 12, 8, 4 with a 22 second time cut-off. Must hit each of the targets + bonus points for seconds under the time, with the minimum score of 30.
The next task involves safely handling a mis-fire/hang-fire and continuing firing, hitting the target with 3 rounds.
Assessment 5 the targets are 3 buffalo at different distances and landing an accurate kill shot to the brain.
It is the 6th that will decide whether I pass or fail.
Assessment 6 involves managing guests while walking and coming upon a charging lion. I have the management of the scene down. I can yell at the lion, instruct my guest and manage the post kill procedures, I am just uncertain of successfully landing a brain shot on a charging lioness. It happens really quickly From the point the lion starts charging you have about 4 seconds to yell at the lion, instruct the guests, position yourself, chamber a cartridge, aim and fire and successfully hit the brain of a paper lion that is rapidly moving towards you. The rest of the procedure involve an immediate second shot (a blank), calming the guests, insuring the lion is down and then de-chambering the round and making you rifle safe to carry.
It all happens so quickly. I have been practicing. As bad as this sounds the difficult thing is to aim and then pause until the lion is so close that you nearly touch it. It is easy to pull off the shot but you always have to give the animal the benefit of the doubt that it is just a warning charge, that your standing your ground and yelling is enough to discourage the lion from following through. You must wait until it is a maximum of 10 meters away. Ideally it is less than 3 to 5 meters before you pull the trigger. Even with a paper lion it is ridiculously intimidating to wait that extra quarter of a second from when you are ready to fire and you actually fire. Of course the longer you wait the greater your odds of hitting the little circle that is the brain but the fear of it hitting the tire before you pull the trigger has you prematurely firing before you actually need to.
I have succeeded once. I need to succeed once more on assessment day.
Another Sustainable living day (i.e. community service). Today instead of poo-duty, I raked leaves from the thicket floor to mix with the cow poo from last week and the existing soil to help amend the soil for the garden. Today may indeed be about sustainability.
Study for the exam. Take the exam. The rest of Sunday was photo editing. I still have text to write but the images from my walk-a-bout with my dad are posted on the Walk-a-bout link in the navigation.
Yesterday kind of ran into today. The camp-out on the reserve was fantastic. It really is amazing how well I sleep when I am outside under the stars. One would not think it possible but I really do sleep better. Anyone that knows me knows that I am not a good sleeper, except apparently when I am under the night sky and then I sleep soundly and wake up completely rested. Apparently this was not the case for everyone in the group, as there were a number of cloudy eyes come morning. The morning chorus of birds were the perfect sounds to welcome in the sunrise.
Today the goal is to trail an animal – specifically a rhino. Trailing is differs from tracking. Tracking involves identifying the spoor, typically of the animal but it can also be the marks left by drops of condensation falling from a leaf or the ball made by a dung beetle. Then you are to not only identify the mark maker but also uncover the circumstances of the scene. What direction was the animal moving (pointing in a direction does not suffice – cardinal points are required – which seem a bit reversed to those of us from the Northern Hemisphere)? What was their gate – walk, trot, lope? Or you will be given a 2 meter square and be asked to describe what happened in that box? For example: a giraffe laid down for a sleep and the biggest clue is that the dung is in a pile and is missing the characteristic flat side from dropping from so far to the ground.
Trailing is when you find an animal’s track and you follow it wherever it leads you until you loose the trail or find the animal. This is super challenging – a whole new level. It is not like a rhino or elephant decides to walk down the center of the road in nice loose sand that leaves a nice footprint every 2 meters and then they stop at the waterhole for you to catch up. When the substrate changes and the perfect tracks disappear, the trailer starts looking for pebbles more embedded in the hard ground, the slightest disturbance in the windblown dust, blades of grass that are compressed, twigs on the ground that have been snapped and branches that are broken.
Shani is the best trailer we have in camp. (If you can’t tell from my previous posts, I kind of adore Shani. She is kind and considerate and compassionate while also being a total bad-ass at all things bush related without any of the attitude that can go along with being a total bad-ass.) We followed the trail of a rhino through the thicket, across the road, onto an open area, weaving back across the road and into the thicket again, out onto the road and into a plains area. The trail was still visible after a half hour of being in pursuit, but one of our party was struggling with the heat and lack of sleep so we turned back to camp. The wellbeing of everyone in the group always takes priority.
Shani is currently a Level 3 Trailer and a Level 4 tracker. She is studying for her upcoming Trailing assessment so I am in hopes of being able to accompany her on a one of her trailing practice walks next weekend.
First day as Back-up
When you walk on a Big 5 reserve with a group of 4 or more guest (it should be 1 or more) you will be escorted by a Lead Guide and a Back-up Guide.
The role of the Lead Guide is to select the route, engage with the guest, be the decision maker, and be the first line of defense should something unexpected occur. You might ask – If the lead is doing all that, what is the role of the Back-up guide? I could give you the text book answer but basically the job is to do whatever is commanded of them immediately and without question, to serve as an extra set of eyes and ears, keep the guests together, quiet, and in line and serve as the back-up shooter should a situation arise or if the guide becomes incapacitated. It is not to question decisions, give your 2-cents, distribute information or entertain the clients. It doesn’t sound like a big job until it becomes your job. The walk on the reserve is not longer a walk in the park.
I was a little more than thankful that I was not the Back-up Guide on Monday when we surprised the grumpy bull elephant. On Monday I was terrified at the thought of holding a rifle again and I certainly would not have been prepared had the bull charged. Wednesday on the firing range at least eliminated a bit of fear. I don’t know that I will ever be comfortable with handling firearms but I now know that I can. I still have a long way to go with response time and accuracy – baby step.
I also didn’t know how it would feel in my hands while walking. Picking up an unloaded rifle and walking to the firing line is different than carrying it loaded for 4 hours straight, it never leaves your hands. We were expecting to walk for 4 to 5 hours. Not knowing how heavy the .375 would feel after an hour or two, I carried the bare minimum in my pack. No camera, no extra water, no reference books. We had a vehicle meeting us at the campsite with our gear for the overnight, food and extra water.
I can happily say, it was way better than I anticipated it would be. At no point did the rifle become heavy. Walking with it was fine. My neck muscles are a bit sore today but that is just as likely due to spending my night sleeping on the ground, or walking for 18k with a pack on my back, as it was the weight held in my hands. However, it weighed on me in other ways. I felt incredibly responsible for the people in the group. I don’t know that I have ever been quite so alert while walking. My eyes were constantly scanning. We knew we were in the vicinity of the elephant herd. The rhinos can be anywhere and their whereabouts are never shared and the lions had not been located all morning. You would not think it possible for an elephant to hide but it is amazing how well camouflaged they are for their environment. They move with such ease and are completely stealth. The phrase “They sounded like a herd of elephants” could not be any less accurate. They are nearly silent when walking. Lions need only to lie down for a nap (which they do about 18 hours a day) to completely disappear. There is only one pride of lion on the reserve as their territory and they do patrol and hunt in the whole area.
Ok – So I didn’t finish this post. Ran out of time and I am too far behind.
To be continued. Maybe?
Not so bad after all
Today was the dreaded day that I had to fire a rifle again. I had been thinking about this nearly non-stop since Friday (as reflected in my posts – I have been more than a little preoccupied). Despite the reassurances that it would be better, I didn’t trust that to be true. I had been told it was no big deal and that it would be fine before…
Shooting today was not nearly as traumatic as I was anticipating. In fact, it didn’t hurt at all. The kick was indeed a jolt but it wasn’t a hammer hitting you on bone. Standing allowed the body to move with the recoil. The sound and the firing was still quite violent feeling, which I didn’t enjoy but at least it was manageable. I really thought today would be a game over moment. I didn’t think I would be able to manage to pull the trigger but I did 18 times practicing 3 of the 6 skills we need to successfully complete. Each time it got easier to not tense up, to not flinch, to hold my position.
I have no idea what the PFTC organization was trying to accomplish by having us fire the .308 in a prone position. We didn’t have to fire anything more powerful than a .22 to receive our certificate so we could continue our training. At no point will we ever need to shoot from a prone position. Nor will we ever carry a rifle with a scope or shoot at a 50 m distance. What was the point of injuring 3 out of 5 of us? What was the goal of telling us that the .375 was going to be significantly worse than the .308 knowing how awful that was for us? I still have an actual welt on my collarbone from shooting the .308. We were already apprehensive about shooting, why make us more fearful? I really do not understand the motivations of the outside trainers.
Shani is Back!
Finally – we were able to spend a day walking with Shani. It seems as if it has been forever since we have been on the reserve. I know it hasn’t been, but too much camp time becomes tedious – time passes slowly when we are not out and about.
Today’s walk started rather pleasantly and uneventfully. Tracking, looking at dung, listening to birds, looking at the flowers coming into bloom. It was rather windy so the animals were a bit on edge as it is difficult to hear and scents are blowing around. Predators are either being hidden by the wind; their scent being blown away from the animals or far away scents being carried on the wind, seem closer than they really are.
The big difference today is that my peers are serving as the backup guides. Now that we have our PFTC certification we can carry the rifles. After Friday, I am not overly excited to be one of the back-ups. I am not sure I ever want to hold a rifle again. I will; of course because I have to but not until tomorrow when I have to shoot again. Until then, I will keep my distance.
Our first sighting found us. We had just sat down for a quick snake and water break at a beautiful lookout. In the distance, there was a couple of rhino grazing. Before I even got a bite taken, I looked to the right and saw another mother and juvenile rhino walking our way. I alerted Shani, we packed up quickly and tried to move out of the way before they detected us. Unfortunately, we did not vacate quickly enough. They saw us and retreated quickly. We looped over the top and walked in the direction they retreated. We located them about 50 meters from where they first saw us. This time we were about 20 meters above them and managed a nice sighting. The youngster had laid down for a nap. The mother was still alert. She could see or hear us but she was definitely trying to figure out who/what was in the area. We retreated so as not to cause her any distress. These were our first rhinos while on foot. (Sorry – we can not post any rhino photos for security reasons.)
We continued on our way, seeking a nice vista for a break. As we neared the top of the knoll we quite literally bumped into a bull elephant. I think he was as surprised as we were. One doesn’t expect to be less than 8 meters from an elephant when there isn’t a physical barrier between you and the elephant. Our retreat was immediate but controlled. He followed us for a bit, flapping his ears, raising his trunk, scraping the ground. He wanted us out of his space – We wanted out of his space.
I was thankful to have Shani between the bull and us. I will also say, I was impressed by the response of my fellow students. No one panicked. The adrenaline was certainly rushing but everyone remained calm and carried on as we have practiced and learned. Once we were about 50 meters away, the entire herd breached the top of the hill. We continued walking for another 50 meters to give the bull a bit more space to relax. He kept an eye on us for about 20 minutes as we kept an eye on all of them.
No doubt it was a surprise close encounter. You would never purposefully be that close to an elephant while on foot, there are just too many variables to anticipate what may happen and be prepared to respond to it. Yet, while on foot you never know what may be in the thicket or laying in the blue bush. It is why you carry a rifle you truly hope you never use.
No matter how much I am dreading tomorrow’s rifle training it is imperative. I will honestly admit that I was certainly relieved to have not been one of the people with a rifle in my hand. I need to be confident in myself and my abilities should I find myself in a situation like the one today with the bull.
Class day and Scenario day – Will try to make it back to write more about this at some point.
a weekend like all the others
The weekends are rather non-eventful and seem to follow a regular routine. Saturday mornings are community service (technically it is called Sustainable Living – but it typically has nothing to do with sustainability and more to do with weekend chores and maintenance). My favorite chore is what I fondly (and immaturely) call Poo-Doo-Tea. Basically we drive out to the pasture and collect cow paddies for the garden. We fill the truck a couple times and bring them back to garden and add water.
And yes – this is my favorite task for a Saturday morning duties. It is by far the best job there is on the list. Add “I like to pick up shit” to the list of things I never thought I would say…
The rest of Saturday was spent with my nose in a book (or procrastinating) studying for the exams on Sunday morning.
Sunday exam day
Another rather un-interesting day. Began with exams on the first 3 modules of our Trails manual. The remainder of the day I edited photos while Maya read aloud to me. It was a delightful way to spend a rainy, stormy afternoon.
Quick summary – I passed – It was awful
Today was terrible. I hated it.
The written exams were fine. They do not tell us our score, just whether we passed so that we could advance to the next exam. I doubt I will ever receive an actual grade just a certificate and the necessary paperwork that will be submitted to the South African Police so that I can officially be authorized to be in possession of and can use a firearm for business purposes. (I can’t own one as I am not a permanent resident or citizen but I can use one owned by an institution or employer.).
The first of the 2 range assessments was easy. Using a .22 we needed to hit the target (approx. 5×7”) 10 out of 10 times at 15m (maybe 10 – I forget). I managed that on the first target. Shot a second, hitting them all again. We had the option to shoot another 20 times but I opted not, knowing that I had more awaiting me with the second skills assessment. Shooting the .22 was very similar to shooting the air rifle. The main difference I experience was hearing the sound and even that was not significantly louder. Except… it was a real bullet being fired out of the end of a real rifle at a real target.
The second skills assessment was a completely different experience. In the past, all of the Ulovane assessments for the PTFC were done with the .22. Not sure why we were the “lucky” ones and were given a .308 to use for the final assessment. In order to pass, we needed to hit the 8” x 10” target 8 out of 10 times at 50m. Pretty straightforward and with a .22 would have been easily achievable from a kneeling/seated position. However, we needed to shoot from a prone position with the .308. The aiming, pulling the trigger and hitting the target was all easy. What was difficult was how violent it was. It was loud – extremely loud – startlingly loud. The recoil from the shot drove the butt of the rifle directly into my collarbone due to the body position. We were absolutely stationary, so the body didn’t give at all to absorb the impact. By the end of my second shot, I was terrified to pull the trigger again but I knew I had to. I cried through the remaining 8 shots. Oddly my accuracy increased throughout. I had no options but to pass on the first try – I don’t think I would have been able to pull myself together to gain the courage I would have needed to shoot another target 10 times
Two of our group had to reshoot. Thankfully, they allowed Maya to use the .22 for the second attempt. Martijn landed them all with the .308 on the second go-around. At the end of the day, we all passed but the experience has left me afraid and with a welt on my collarbone the size of a chicken egg. The two guys really enjoyed the day. I am definitely not “One of the Guys”.
We are required to pass all of the FGASA rifle skills with a .375 as the minimum caliber. Next Wednesday is our first day on the range. Shani (one of our trails instructors) has assured us that shooting while standing is a completely different experience as we can better place the butt of the rifle against muscle rather than bone and that we can use our bodies to absorb the recoil rather than being a stationary wall that it pounds into. I hope she is right. I have 3 weeks to get used to the idea of shooting this rifle and to gain the proficiency to complete all of the skills accurately and within the time allotment.
I have never liked firearms. Never thought I would ever have a call to use one for any reason. Yet here I am, needing to use one. And not just use one, but be exceptionally good at using one. I am mentally having a tough time with this.
It was suggested to me that I look at these exercises as being about extreme focus and concentration not about landing a kill shot. I wish it were that easy to switch my mindset and perhaps I could if I were learning how to shoot long-range precision shots as a marksman does. That is not the shooting that we need to learn. The only time as a trails guide that you can legally shoot is if the animal is charging, there is no chance it will veer and it is within a maximum of 10m (A lion charges at 22m/second.). The only acceptable shot is a brain shot. Basically, once you decide your only option is to kill the animal in order to protect your guests, there is less than ½ second to aim and pull the trigger. That is not the shot of a marksman, that is the shot made by a person who has trained themselves to the point of automation. You don’t think, you perform as you were trained to do so. It is a natural response. I honestly don’t know if I can become that person. And that may be the one thing that determines whether or not I receive the Trails Guide qualification.
PTFC Firearm Training Day 1
It was our first day with the outside firearms trainers. Today was the theory and legal class to prepare for the written exams (3) and two practical assessment tomorrow. These are a must pass if we wish to proceed in the trails course. No pressure…
Nothing really positive to say about the whole experience so will end the post and go begin my studying for the exams. Regurgitating legal verbiage exactly isn’t exactly an area of strength so best I get to it.
Not sure how to feel about this week
I have purposely been MIA this week. It has been a rather confusing week for me and I have been trying to reconcile my feelings about the week before committing my thoughts to the written word publically.
So what has me tongue tied and unable to commit my thoughts to paper (the digital kind I guess)? Firearms. Firearms have me in a quandary and filled with mixed emotions. I have already mentioned that learning how to shoot a rifle would be part of all of this training as it is necessary to be prepared to deal with potentially dangerous situations should they arise. Intellectually – it is 100% justifiable as to why one needs to carry a rifle should it become necessary to defend your guests from a charging animal. It is quite another to feel the weight of that rifle in your hands.
Until we receive our official Firearms Training in accordance to South African firearms law from a government authorized third party firearms training facility we cannot shoot or be in possession of live ammunition. All of our drills have been with dummy rounds. We spent the days repeating each of the skills over and over and over until our arms were exhausted and our muscle memory began to automate the entire process. Occupied with thinking about how heavy the rifle is, and before you realized it you have a loaded magazine, a chambered a round and were standing with the rifle raised in firing position. How did that happen? How did this set of steps become automated – something you just did and completed without consciously thinking about each and every action. With each repeat, becoming smoother and more efficient. At one moment I am ecstatic because I didn’t fumble through the process, each motion being awkward and unnatural. The next I am terrified for the very same reason.
We also spent hour after hour this week practicing with an air rifle. Even that was a mental barrier for me to cross over. Aiming at a target in the distance, pulling the trigger and then waiting to see how accurate I was. Where did the bullet impact?
It is easy to say – “it’s a step up from a bb gun, which is a step up from a squirt gun” – Yes – maybe, but – No, no it isn’t. The whole process of loading, setting my stance, aiming, breathing, pulling the trigger was done with the purpose of desensitizing myself to an action that goes against basic ethos I have long held.
I wouldn’t say that I am necessarily anti-firearm. I just don’t believe weapons have ever been a necessity in my life. Nor do I think that there is a justifiable reason for the majority of the firearms that are owned by American citizens. Just because it is a constitutional right does not mean that it is a right you have to exercise because you can. If you are a hunter and your rifle or shotgun is used for hunting purposes (although, I may not agree with the necessity of killing animals for sport) I understand it’s use and purpose. I understand hunting is a tradition and an important part of many people’s lives. I will never understand the desire to kill a beautiful animal for a trophy to hang on my wall, to have a story to tell, to put food on the table or for the adrenaline rush of taking the life of an animal. (I will refrain from sharing my thoughts on gun ownership for personal safety or to protect ones property or any of the other various reasons one has for their personal arsenals.)
I know I need to move beyond my mental barrier – this isn’t going to be easy.
oh how the days are better when we are on the reserve.
Dang is it hot!
I do not think I have ever lived anywhere as fickle as the Eastern Cape. One day it is 12 degrees with howling winds and sporadic downpours. The next day there isn’t a cloud in the sky, the sun is beating down hard, not a breeze can be found and the temperature is nearing 40.
Knowing it was going to be sweltering by mid-day we departed camp at 4:45 so we could be in the park by 5:00. It was beautiful to see the sunrise. Our first for the trails portion of guide program. I hope there will be many more. It is nice to be on the reserve hearing the day wake and seeing the animals welcome the morning light. One may expect the morning to quiet but that is not the case at all. It is oddly quite loud – full of birds calling to announce they made it through the night to their neighbors.
Despite all the morning chatter, we didn’t manage to slip by the zebra at the waterhole without drawing their attention. They are so very alert to their surroundings. They have the advantage of having a keen sense of smell, sharp vision and acute hearing. The zebra serves as an early warning system for many of their fellow plains animals. If the zebra is curious and alert, everyone should be looking around to see who may also be in the neighborhood
The temperatures climbed quickly and we were eagerly seeking the cover of shade whenever safe to do so. It always needs to be kept in mind that we are not the only one seeking the relief of shade. Walking in a thicket area always poses the potential for an unexpected encounter. On a day like today, I would suspect the odds increase significantly.
Our goal was to be on foot for 8 hours. I wouldn’t say we were on foot for 8 hours because the breaks were frequent out of necessity. We were in the park for 8 hours though. In many ways you need to be equally as alert while not moving as when moving so although not technically walk, it certainly was not passive time spent relaxing.
There was not much in the way of game to see today. I don’t think any of the animals were prepared for the radical shift in temperature that we experienced. It was a day of looking at tracks in the soft sand.
Frog or Toad track
Frog or Toad
Small Murid track
Lion scratching tree either to clean nails, mark territory or stretch ligaments and tendons in their paws and legs.
Monday is Class day
Despite the trail’s class being more practical in the field learning we still have a fair bit of classroom time. Today was a full day focused on guidelines for preparing a walk and preparing your guests for a walk in a dangerous game area.
As I look back to the two occasions when on safari when I have participated in bush walks, I will admit that I did not fully understand the potential dangers that we could have encountered. Did I not fully pay attention during the brief? Or, did I assume the information wasn’t really relevant and was just something being said to release them from liability? Or, did the guide not communicate the actual potential danger that could be encountered while walking with the Big 5. Regardless of whichever the case, I would not have, in any way, been prepared with the information needed (as a guest) to have responded appropriately had a lion or elephant charged the group. In fact, I likely would have done exactly what I should not have.
Suddenly, Module 1 of the FGASA Trail Guiding book is filled with necessary information. Information that needs not only to be communicated to the guests, it needs to be comprehended and fully acknowledged.
Not exactly sure we needed a whole unit on what to put in our backpacks and carry on our belts but guess it doesn’t hurt to have the recommendations.
I am going to cheat a bit today.
I had to write the Trails blog post for the first week of our program.
For a quick recap though – It is exam day – every Sunday is exam day at Ulovane. Unlike the tranquil tone of my post below, my studies and exams for the week involved Rifle safety, firearm laws, loading and unloading cartridges, learning how to hold a rifle as if it is an extension of my body. Caliber, ballistics, trajectory, placement of kill shots have been cycling through my brain for a week. All information I never had an inclination to learn for any reason whatsoever. Yet, when considering the responsibility of walking on a reserve and potentially being the only person who is between a charging elephant and the guest that I have taken on the responsibility for, the need to know the correct placement of a bullet takes on a whole new level of importance.
File this one under things I never thought I would think.
Photo Credit: Pieter Dunn
Our first week on Trails has come to an end. How did that happen so quickly? There are only 6 more to go and there is so much to learn in that very short amount of time.
It is wonderful to be back at Ulovane but there are too many missing people from our family. It is profoundly different here without our whole Field Guide unit. Speaking for our small trails group, we miss each and every one of you terribly. We are not whole without you. (Can’t you all just jump on airplanes and join us?)
We have welcomed the new Field Guides – remembering back to what seems to be forever ago when we were all experiencing our first week together. Recalling our impressions of being introduced to the reserve and the pace and way of life at Ulovane. They seemed to have settled in quite nicely and are eager for what awaits.
The seasons have changed on the reserve. As we look out from camp the evidence of Winter becoming Summer is profound – it happened in what seems to be a blink of an eye. The reserve is vibrantly colored with green grasses and blooming flowers in white, yellow, orange and purple.
Perhaps this is all just seems more evident because we move through the landscape at a slower pace. Each step is with more care. Each sound we make, whether it is the snap of a twig, the scuff of a shoe, or a swish of pant leg seems to be an invasion of a serene space. The animals are much more alert to our presence as we are unexpected guests. Heads raise, ears perk, eyes turn to view us. A change in wind direction reveals our scent to their sensitive noses.
There is more time to take in the smaller wonders. Textures, smells, sounds are so much more apparent than when in a game truck. A fresh lion track suddenly has a significantly different meaning when on foot. The sightings are more distant but the experience seems much more intimate. We are more vulnerable. There is no fast retreat to the safety of a vehicle. More care and sensitivity is required to pick up the subtle signs of an animals' behavior. The goal is to not interfere rather observe and move as one with the animals. We are privileged visitors to their bucolic domain.
I look forward to becoming less visible, less apparent, less of an interference as I learn to be more sensitive, more respectful and more observant of how my presence is felt by the animals on the reserve.
A cake day for me
They are taking it easy on me – guess they want to make sure I am ok before I get tossed back in. Today was sustainable living, all of my fellow Trail Guides had the pleasure of digging out river reeds to transplant into our brown water leech fields to help prevent runoff. I was tasked with watering the soon to be volleyball court. (Not exactly sure when anyone will fit in a game of volleyball. Given my experience on the Field Guide course, there was rarely the moment to go for a short walk to identify trees and tracks. There was no time that resembled “Leisure Time” for a quick game of volleyball.)
Definitely not complaining. I rather enjoyed the 2 hours of moving the sprinkler every 10 minutes.
Yes – it looks like a good way to sprain an ankle to me too (and the watering may be a few days too late for over half of this experiment). I have been assured that this is indeed how you are supposed to lay a field of couch grass. I have been told that as soon as the couch grass begins to send out its rhizomes you level the areas in between with sand and be patient. With proper watering and adequate mowing in 4 months a perfect couch grass lawn. I will take their word for it now and will give you an update in 2 months. I am more than a bit skeptical at this point.
Now it is study time.
We have our five exams on Rifle Handling modules tomorrow morning at 8 am. I had intended to get a head start on the studying yesterday but I was lacking to focus necessary to absorb the material. When it comes to anything involving firearms you should always have complete focus. Much catching up to do this afternoon.
We have a guest on campus at the moment. This is the second occasion that I have needed to engage with this person since I arrived at Ulovane and I am hoping this is the final. On the first go around, he made it a mission to pick apart pretty much any foreign raised aid for endangered species and anti-poaching efforts once he knew the reason behind my being here to learn more about those topics. Needless to say, this did push a few buttons but I managed to hold my tongue by biting it very very hard for very long periods of time.
The individual came prepared with material this time. When the first attempt to engage me did not have the desired effect, he opted to turn his target on the vegetarian among us to pick her belief system apart (also a foreign visitor). She left the room a bit furious but soon had to return because all of her books were here to prepare for our exams tomorrow.
Without an audience to provoke (as everyone still present was trying to study) he moved to the the other end of the room to play a video as if it was the first time he had reviewed the footage of himself being interviewed by a “Know-It-All American female filmmaker” that was here to learn about poaching for a series of 4 anti-poaching videos. The excessive volume he was screening it at managed to catch the attention of 2 of the women, which gave him the opportunity to say his prepared dialogue to them that he intended for me.
Really – is he 12? Did he not have parental attention as a child? What is the point of purposefully trying to provoke everyone? Does it make him feel important to “prove” how stupid everyone else is for wanting to help? Maybe foreign funders do not have a clear understanding of the best practices or needs by why insult and provoke those hoping to learn so they can better assist?
ARGH. He leaves Monday morning – won’t be soon enough.
(I am just sick of arrogant white men in positions of power telling me what I can do, how to do it, and how insignificant my contribution is.)
Note to self (and anyone reading this) – I probably should have omitted the whole last portion of today’s post…
This weeks Supreme Court confirmation has my blood boiling. This whole exchange is insignificant in comparisons but it was enough to push my buttons as yet another example of abuse of power. Minor things matter too as they are systemic.
Today did not go at all as planned.
The day was supposed to be spent walking on the reserve again, then returning to campus for a QA session to prepare for our exams on Sunday.
The day went off the rails at 5:05 am. After dressing I had an allergic reaction that was significantly more severe than any I have ever had. It started as they do with itching palms and soles of my feet. I knew what was happening so I immediately popped a Benedryl, peeled off my clothing as that was the only possible cause as I hadn’t eaten or drank anything yet. Within 10 minutes my entire body was covered with hives – I was nearly tomato red. I waited for 20 minutes to see if the Benedryl would take effect – nothing was improving so I took another. Waited for 15 minutes and notified my instructor what was happening over WhatsApp to explain what was happening and that I would be late to arrive for our 6:00 pre-walk brief. After another 20 minutes of waiting and still no improvement, I realized this was different. I had also started to shake uncontrollably. The timing of this event couldn’t have been better. The Field Guides are receiving their first aid training this weekend so we had a licensed EMT on the property. He willingly came down to my room and saw my condition and advised that I leave as quickly as possible for the ER in case the symptoms continued to progress.
Koen was rousted from bed and kindly rushed me to Port Elizabeth about an hour and twenty minutes away.
Can I tell you, the whole experience was a totally different experience than I have ever had in an American ER.
We walked in, no line, Koen asked when his doctor would be available and the administrator said his first available time would be 10:30. The thought that went through my head was – hey 2:30 hours not a bad wait. Apparently, that was way too long to wait so he said we would see the next available doctor. I was given a 1 page form to fill out. By the time my form was complete and my passport photocopied a room was available. The doctor arrived in less than 5 minutes. He asked me to explain what happened, what I experienced, how I felt before proceeding to examine me. After assessing my symptoms that were still present (thankfully the uncontrollable itching had passed and I was only trembling again, the hives on my face had lessened but they were still very present all over my body), before just proceeding with a treatment option he discussed what he suggested and why and what he thought the likely source of the allergen was and for suggestions for limiting my potential exposure. I agreed and he wrote a prescription for an injection and for an oral treatment should symptom re-occur. I was then lead to the nurse’s room. I waited about a minute for her to arrive with the injection medication, was given a shot. She again explained how to use the oral medication and what I should expect from the injection.
I was then told to hand the paperwork to the cashier our by the check-in desk. I was expecting about a 1000-1500$ bill and was shocked when it was the equivalent of 55$.
There was 1 person in line in front of me at the pharmacy. My prescription took about 5 minutes to fill. By the time I left, I was already feeling significantly better and the entire experience from entering the ER to leaving with my prescription was less than 45 minutes.
When was the last time you visited any ER in the USA and had that type of an experience? And have you ever left an ER visit not terrified of the multiple bills you were going to receive in the mail in the next week or two?
Had I been a South African the entire visit would have been free. Free – yes free – absolutely free.
How is a similar system is not possible in the United States?
Why do we think our system is so very effective?
Do we receive better care? No.
More sophisticated care? No. South Africa was the first country to successfully transplant a heart. They are also the first country to successfully transplant an HIV positive liver into an HIV negative person without transmitting the disease. The person remains HIV negative after over a year and is doing well. Another person I personally know has had a transplanted liver for over 23 years and is still healthy and living an active life.
Sure you may say they are a smaller country. Yes, they do have a smaller population. There are about 56 million people in South Africa (California has 39 million)
And then there is the argument “How could we pay for it?” Taxes perhaps? The average annual salary of a South African is just slightly more than $10,000 USD. Their official unemployment is 27%. If with that tax base they are able to do everything else their government does (like free education, affordable university, highways, public works, military, government agencies, courts, law enforcement, etc. – i.e. everything we do except trying to police the world), how with the American tax base resources are we not able to provide a similar system?
The rest of the day I spent in a bit of a drugged stupor between the Benedryl I took (which typically knocks me out) with the additional antihistamine and cortisone, I was a bit glazed over. I did manage to rewash all of my laundry with phosphorous-free detergent and it is now drying in my room out of the reach of blowing pollen. Detergent and newly in bloom pollen are the leading theories on what I may be allergic to given the lack of ingested allergens as a possibility for either of my reactions.
This is why I am here
On those down days I need to remember days like today. It wasn’t an easy day by any means. We went on a 7 hour walk on the reserve. 7 hours may not sound like all that much – it is walking after all – but with the amount of focus you need to maintain continuously during those hours can be a bit overwhelming and consuming. You need to pay attention to everything – sounds, wind, scents, sights. Things near and far.
When you are walking as a guest you can relax as you know that others have you covered but we are training to be those people who will be the ones that are covering the guests. The training is very different from the previous course. It is much more focused on observing, learning from practical example, practicing, repeating, repeating again, and when you are exhausted you do it yet again and again.
But on to the fun stuff – OMG
The sighting we had to day was truly amazing. I didn’t film the whole sighting – It began much earlier than the filming. This is not a typical on-foot sighting. Typically you are not this close to dangerous animals when on foot. Animals are much more aware and cautious of people on foot. And you are much more aware of how vulnerable you are when on foot – there is no speeding away if an animal decides he doesn’t want you around. The river is a key geographical factor in this sighting that allowed for the close proximity.
Although the video doesn’t show, we were being followed by a curious bull giraffe. We trailed him for a bit, then he trailed us as we moved into the sighting of the elephant. Truly rare to be with both species at the same time.
Today was a privilege. Feeling fortunate.
If you see a lone giraffe it is likely a male. If by chance it is a female, she likely recently calved a youngster and is keeping it well hidden. There are other ways to differentiate the male from a female. Typically, they are larger. Typically, they are darker. Though a females can be dark when they produce more than average levels of testosterone or they are older. The horns of a male are straight whereas a female’s horns curve in at the top. Female’s also have tufts of hair on the top of their horns whereas, the male is bald.
It was another day in the classroom.
This morning was filled with Dangerous Game instructional videos, fire arm safety and operation videos and practical demonstrations.
We also held the .375 rifles for the first time.
For our Back-Up Trails qualifications we need to pass 6 different rifle skill exercises. This simplest of the exercises is to load 3 cartridges into the rifle’s magazine, then chamber one cartridge and move into firing position while blindfolded in less than 15 seconds.
My first attempt took 40 seconds. My hands are not big (or strong) enough to place the cartridge with my right hand and click it into the magazine with my fingers of my left hand (as it was demonstrated) so I needed to modify how I load the cartridges using only my right hand. It isn’t as fast as using both hands but it is how I can do it so that’s that.
By the end of the afternoon, I was consistently completing the process in about 15 seconds. Over the course on the next week I need to shave off 7 more seconds. The training program requires that we are able to load the magazine and be prepare to fire within 8 seconds before they will allow us on the firing range. Needless to say – I have practice to do. If I can make it in 8 seconds the 15 on the test day will be a breeze.
PS – I had no idea just how heavy a rifle is. I will have sore forearms and shoulders tomorrow and this is just the beginning.
It works elsewhere
Our day was supposed to begin with a long walk on the reserve but due to a scheduling change we spent the morning in the classroom learning about South Africa’s firearm laws. Wow was that eye opening. As an American where you can walk into a local Walmart and walk out with a gun ten minutes later it was amazing to hear that other places actually take the ownership of a gun to be a privilege for which you need to be qualified, trained, cleared and licensed. It is not a simple nor fast process.
To give you a quick overview of the process of purchasing a firearm here:
First you need to be professionally trained by an academy that is accredited by SASSETA (Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority). This multiday course involves practical, legal and theoretical training and examinations. You can then purchase a firearm but you must leave the firearm at the gun dealer. Once you have a serial number for your weapon, you then need to submit an application for ownership of the gun. This process can take as little as 4 months and as long as a year or more. For your application you need to be declared competent, provide a verifiable reason for why you should be allowed this privilege, submit to a full background investigation, prove that you have a gun safe (and have a home visit to prove the safe is permanently installed).
If your application is approved only then is the gun shop allowed to release the gun to you. At anytime you need to be able to provide a photo id with all identifying information about the gun and yourself. The card must be in your possession anytime the gun is.
This process needs to be done for each firearm you own – of which you are allowed to possess a maximum of 1 rifle, 1 shotgun and 1 handgun. You are also allowed a maximum of 200 rounds of ammunition for each firearm and a record of when and why those rounds were used needs to be maintained. Exceptions are made for individuals who are dealers, collectors, sport shooters and farmers but additional certifications, evidence and justification for the reason needs to be submitted. Should your firearm be used in any unlawful act you are held responsible as if you had perpetrated the act yourself.
This is just a brief overview. I have a 30 page single spaced book covering an overview of the Firearms Control Act.
If this can work in South Africa why can’t we figure out a system in the states?
We did get a short walk in the afternoon. This beautiful girl greeted us at the Amakhala Conservation Center where we parked before walking. Her mother was killed when she was a wee one and she was hand raised. Unfortunately, she will never be running free on the reserve but she does have a very large, safe area to roam that is free from predators.
Video by Martjin Zantijnje
Beginning Day – Round 2
And it begins again.
It is the first day of Back-Up Trails Guide training.
Five of us that completed the Field Guide training returned from the break to attempt to qualify for the FGASA Back-up and Trails Guide qualifications. It is quite odd to be here without the whole group. It is also odd to have a whole new group of newbie field guides arrive. We were them just 12 weeks ago. In some senses it seems like forever ago. I am not sure that they are aware of what is in front of them. They have a hectic 10 weeks ahead. I am certainly glad that I have moved beyond the basic field guide training.
The trails course doesn’t have quite as much theoretical lessons as the field guide program. It is much more practical and experiential which I am looking forward to. However, we do need to hit the books some and we began today with 3 modules of Rifle Handling. Actually in the case, I think we were all happy to have the academic lessons as handling firearms is not something any one of us have much (if any) experience doing. We are assured that we will be practicing so much that it will become second nature once the muscle memories are built but for the time being it is a very intimidating.
Numbers and terms that I grew up hear but never quite understanding now make a bit more sense. Words like caliber and ballistics and rifling and casings and bolts all have a bit more meaning than just being words spoken by my brother and father. I am a bit overwhelmed by it all to tell you the truth. Rifles are a basic necessity if one is to walk in the bush with dangerous game.
We will go for our first walk tomorrow. The trainers will be the only ones carrying firearms. Our practical rifle training will begin later in the week and we will need to be certified by an outside agency before we
will be carrying rifles so I still have a bit of time before I will be faces with walking with a rifle.
Hoping for a good night’s sleep so that I have a
fresh set of eyes, a clear mind and a rested body before we walk for 8 hours tomorrow.