Why give up great careers and a blessed life of opportunity?

If you’ve read some of our earlier posts then you may have noticed that this is a very important question to both of us.

In our urban lives we have both been working in very good jobs in many different countries around the world and with opportunities to go further up the ladder still knocking. So why leave it all and not get the house with white picket fence, SUV, children and all those things that seems to be the goal of our parents’ generation and even amongst our generation?

As informative as the news is, this last decade has been pretty downright depressing with destruction and disrespect for our planet and everything on it. All the warnings we’ve heard for multiple decades are now at a cataclysmic point where we are way too overpopulated with human beings. Then there is the social impact of the industrial revolution and engineering efficiency making it too easy for humans to be wasteful, demanding and not even think about every little action, decision and movement we make. All this has contributed to climate change being the reality it is now (seriously people, there can be no denying this… the evidence is clear) and one of these days something’s gotta give! 

This article by George Monbiot reminded me why we are here and I thought I would share this in more detail with you.

We as a species are over-farming and over-utilising this planet’s available resources. We as a human species are too many, and too greedy. Happily I feel that more and more people I know, are less likely to be duped by what media thinks it can get away with. People are slowly getting to grips with what activists have been saying for decades now and finally realising that climate change is real and cannot be denied.  

But is it enough to just know? How many of you accept that this is our fault as a human species? How many of you realise that it is up to each and every one of us to rectify this change? How many of you are committing to true active changes in their lives? True active personal changes include major things like stopping use of further oils and plastics completely, stop using a car, stopping buying stuff generally (all you need is healthy, fresh, organic and unprocessed food, shelter and water), or living a life off the grid, and minor things such as going vegetarian, being energy efficient and switching off all unnecessary lights and power switches.

Mostly the new people I meet are in more sustainable circles. Of my family and large network of friends only a handful even attempt to cut down their shopping sprees and only 1 I know actively reduces his plastic usage and cleans up the beach of rubbish on a regular basis.

At times it can feel overwhelming to realise the extent of humanity’s devastating impact to this planet. Yes we’ve been pioneers, we’ve achieved some amazing things but at what cost? Was it really for the greater good? Isn’t it wonderful that fascinating research into stem cells means we can possibly be more like the lizard and grow limbs at the snap of your fingers without any rejection issues? Or does this mean us humans will be more like the X-men, we’ll have a form of immortality and our population will grow larger and live longer requiring even more resources than we have.

There are several things we can do to help ourselves together with our local community :

  1. Reduce.  Do you really need all that stuff?
  2. Avoid plastic products and packaging where possible. There are so many whole foods stores now where you just need your tupperware box or previous flour containers and can top up directly to it rather than buying more plastic and transferring it to landfill.
  3. Grow your own organic vegetables and fruit. This means you won’t be pumping yourself and family full of chemicals from pesticides and the like used in agricultural farming. The produce is also tastier.  You will also increase your local food community such that you can swap different foods with your neighbours and reduce transport costs of the farmer and supermarkets interconnected industries.

This online article by Jill Suttie has also basically outlined another reason why we are out here, learning to be safari field guides. This is an incredible opportunity to really link or emotionally connect people to nature and hopefully inspire them into action. We’ve got a gazillion people out in the world with ideas on how to rectify our human folly but what we need is critical mass to turn the tide and reverse our impact. So this is one means to inspire more people into action.

I truly believe it is our responsibility to educate our family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and people we meet and to nudge them in a direction where they aren’t overwhelmed by the problem we are hurtling ourselves into and where they truly understand what they can do within their feasible reality (and then we need to work on expanding this comfort zone bit by bit!).

Having been here a few months now,  I have learnt a great deal about nature and conservation and am keen to do more in this space. There’s some great work being done out in the world such as the Transfrontier parks which are breaking down the fences between parks and letting nature have free reign, research into so many endangered species, anti-poaching units deployed all over the place. 

So watch this space, we will share more about the wonderful world we live in.

July 2016 – Kwazulu-Natal Province, South Africa

July 2016 – Mpumalanga Province, South Africa

Evening Serenades

As the hot yellow ball sets below the dusky horizon in all its African splendour, the temperature drops suddenly. Ah yes it’s still winter.

We start up the bush TV and warm ourselves up for scrumptious bush dinners prepared by Nicholas our wonderful on site chef.

Night falls and we look up to the clear night skies remembering our astronomy lesson and clock the Southern Cross and her pointers. Yes, I can work out where south is now! And over there, yes it’s Scorpion and Antares.  Check.


First attempt to photograph the southern cross with my basic kit lens

Those first few nights were just incredible.

It wasn’t nearly as noisy as lying down as a night in the amazon, but here the sounds were unfamiliar and there are plenty of dangerous game around and not a lot between us and them. If they wanted to get me it would be a simple jump over the fence or walk straight through the open gate, scratch through the tent canvas and hello!

Just after I’ve fallen asleep to the sound of quiet,  there comes the whooping crescendo of a hyaena from the right side of camp.

A few moments later it calls again.

Then in the distance on the left back side of our tent we hear another similar call.

And another on the right front side farther from the first call. They must be locating each other. I lay my head again to hear some faint screeches way in the distance on the left side of the tent… probably in the plains somewhere a jackal has taken his jackpot.
About 3 am I am awake again to the sounds of baboons grumbling. There is a troop that lives on the other side of the dam from our camp. Sounds like a juvenile baboon is being scolded by an elder and he’s not happy.

There’s also something munching near our tents to the south. Is it the kudus we keep seeing around camp? I heard they really like the camel thorn pods that have been falling to the ground a lot lately.

I try to sleep again and fail as my exposed face is so much colder than the rest of me. I slip my sleeping bag over my head. Breathe in and out. I’m suffocating. Ok that didn’t work.  Maybe if I keep the sleeping bag tucked in under my chin and pull the duvet over my head instead? It has a bit more structure so maybe there’ll be enough of a gap between my head and the duvet that I can breathe.

It must be close to dawn but it’s still dark.  Just as I am almost settled enough to go back to sleep after what probably was an hour of adjustments, suddenly there is another sound.

A leopard.

It makes its repetitive grunting territorial call to the right back of my tent. It sounds pretty close.

A few minutes later it does it again but it’s moved. Closer. And to the back left. Still not at the camp perimeter but it’s definitely closer.

Minutes later again it calls. This time it’s very close. And to our left. I don’t know how close it is but I swear it’s just on the other side of our tent. I know logically it’s probably on the road towards the dam wall but at night, the air is thin and sound travels so clearly and they seem so much louder & closer than they probably are.

This leopard moves so quickly and steadily. It continues to make more calls at regular intervals moving away each time. It sounds like it is moving on the eastern side of the river and going further south. Just amazing to hear it’s definitive call.

Here’s video of baboon yelps and the repetitive grunting of the leopard taken elsewhere for you to hear – FYI it’s louder than what we were hearing from our beds!

The munching returns and again it’s close to our tent. I wish I knew how close these animals were. I lie in bed too cold to get up and check out the windows or open the entrance flap to verify.

Then the floorboards of our tent squeak as if someone is walking along them.  Quin and I are both in bed. I’m pretty sure everyone else is still in their tents and I didn’t hear any zips close.

More munching and crunching of those seed pods and a few more floorboards squawk.

Kudu surely couldn’t have climbed up the steps onto our deck to get the umbrella thorn pods that fell there earlier in the windy afternoon? That just can’t be it… I go to sleep telling myself that it’s only kudu and even if it’s not, it’s a herbivore and doesn’t want to claw through our tent to get to us. So we should be safe. Right?

Gafaw! The baboons are at it again. Disagreements abound between the old and young.

The sunlight only just faintly starts to appear on the horizon and the cacophony of birds starts. Who needs an alarm when you have so many birds singing their dawn chorus to wake you up?

swainson_s_spurfowl
Swainson’s spurfowl

There goes the musical screeching of the crested francolin, soothing sounds of the cape turtle dove with its insistent “work harder” call, some Egyptian geese and a few other waterbirds I haven’t learnt the sounds of yet, the descending call of the water thick-knee follows and oh yeah there’s the scrawch of the natal spurfowl.  I guess I can be thankful it’s not a Swainson’s spurfowl that early in the morning. More musical birds like the long-billed crombec come online, the burnt necked eremomela and many other bird sounds that I want to learn…

I’m so tired from listening to all the sounds… I try and go back to bed.

Thwomp thwomp thwomp… someone has just climbed the stairs of the deck of the tent next door. Duty team is coming with their wake up calls.

Good morning Africa!

It’s a frosty morning at camp and we awake to find out our friend, Andrew, who stays in the tent next door and loves getting up early, has found out who has been munching on the seed pods and hitting our floorboards. It’s the young hippo who comes into camp from the river. Mystery solved.

IMG-20160731-WA0006edit

Photo credit: Lucy

The World, According to Me…..

So, this is my first attempt at a blog post and I have a strong urge to go directly to the nub of things.

What is my purpose for being here?

Could it be that I simply enjoy spending time in the bush, tracking elephants on foot (as we did this morning) or perhaps I am trying to escape what I thought of as a mind numbingly monotonous existence in the corporate world, existing only to keep the wheels of commerce grinding on. Or, do I see myself as a man, a human, a member of the animal kingdom, who has attempted to take a step back, assess the world around him and in turn been both shocked and agonized by what we as the dominant species on our planet are doing to it.

If I am being truthfully honest with myself (and whoever is reading this post) I am not 100%, definitively sure.  What I am quite sure about is that in the final answer, there lies a combination of all the above. The details, well, the details are still busy working themselves out and will make themselves clear enough in due course. For now I am simply immersing myself in what I consider to be the true African experience and all it has to offer. The good and the bad, sad and joyous, beauty and brutality, the sublime and the terrifying. All of it!

As a youngster I had an inkling that Africa was a continent of extreme contrasts, being bountiful on the one hand but lose respect for it or take it for granted for a nanosecond and it will eviscerate you. As I learn more about the place where it all started, where ~approximately 4 million years ago the forerunners to our hominid species took their first uncertain steps onto the African savanna, I can’t help but feel both awestruck and insignificant in the grandness of the story which is being unfolded before me. If there is a single occasion that truly warrants the use of the word ‘awesome’, it is to describe Africa. There is nothing quite like this continent and its natural wealth in terms of unique biospheres, incredible wildlife and and the possibility of being witness to some of the most primal of experiences.

The more I see, learn and experience, the stronger my belief and desire to be part of the effort to conserve what is left of humankind’s natural heritage. Habitat destruction, poaching, climate change, pollution and acidification of rivers and oceans carry our species’ grubby fingerprints all over them. And let’s not even get started with the booming global human population hoovering up natural resources at a rate impossible to sustain.

Where does this end? How far are do we as thinking, reasoning members of the animal kingdom let this go? Do we as the ‘intelligent’ species, (Homo sapien does mean ‘Wise Man’ after all – not a title we seem to be living up to) have the rational capacity, introspective understanding and collective will power to do something about the destruction of our environment and ultimately our home? As things stand, I highly doubt it.

As long as we continue to pass through this life, generation after generation buying into the ideological bull-shit fed to us by pandering politicians, fundamentalist preachers, irrelevant celebrities and bought and paid for ‘experts’ we will keep grinding this beautiful planet into the dust. Unfettered greed, limited rational inquiry, the corruption of the human spirit and our disconnect from what it means to be part of something unimaginably vast and complex will be the undoing of us all. Tragically, we may well end up taking virtually every other living species with us into our self made oblivion.

However; we must never give up! We must never stop trying to fight for and defend the environment we are so dependent on irrespective of where the threat might come from. Even the smallest efforts can contribute to success and in my opinion, the first step along that path to eventual success is the eradication of apathy.

We as a species need to begin caring again. We really have no other viable choice.

Put down that damn smart phone, get off of Twitter, Faceplant (you know what I mean) and other social media black-holes which tend to suck our very souls dry, and start paying attention to what is happing beyond our front doors. Nurture that unique human capability, the ability to empathize. It is empathy and not competition or ‘survival of the fittest’ or the need to dominate that will bring out the very best in us as a species.

We have work to do people, and time is running out.

“Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” – Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

Visitor for breakfast 

Was eating my breakfast watching the view and minding my own business when suddenly we had a visitor just outside the camp fence line (where it’s been taken down).

I got called back 10m to the main dining area where our fellow students were whispering “it’s a leopard, it’s going for the kudu”… if only I hadn’t left my binoculars and camera in the tent!

I stepped back in the shadows of our lapa and saw it hidden to our left behind the bushes out of view from the female kudus walking left across the dam wall towards where leopard was hiding!

The kudus stopped about 5m before the leopard as if knowing danger was about.

Leopard sunk back behind his hiding place.

Patiently we watched as one, two, three kudu safely went past the leopard. We watched with baited breath as a 4th looked like it was to be the target.

The kudu stepped along the wall and stepped down the wall further into the bank closer to our camp and then, suddenly she was in our camp! Just far enough away from the leopard that it didn’t pounce but still within the leopard’s sight.

The kudu walked towards where we were all watching.  The leopard slowly emerged from its hiding place watching the kudu. I’m sure it was also looking straight at us spectators too (not all of us were in the shade).

Quietly we willed for the kudu to go back out of camp and not be a target closer to us!

Minutes passed and the kudu within our camp was happily munching on the camel thorns near our tents (yes actually near my tent!!).

There were more kudu eating on the other side of the dam wall including a baby. We waited watching thinking it must be targeting that little one.

Then, the leopard moved. It stealth walked across the road from its hiding place … towards camp! Towards us! And then it went down below beneath the dam wall.

Suddenly we couldn’t see it and kudu in our camp was moving on closer to the centre of our camp (i.e. closer to where we were all gathered with no walls to separate us). Eek! How to shoo a kudu? Haven’t learnt that in our training…

And then out from below leopard shot out and ran along the dam wall to the right where the other kudu were still browsing. Kudu in our camp looked up just in time to see leopard on the dam wall.

BARK!

WOW To hear that large but dainty antelope make that wallop of a sound. The sound went right through my body. That was it’s warning bark. The kudus on the other side got the message and stood alert and started barking to each other looking for the danger that passed near by.
Several barks later the kudus seemed to relax and eventually moved back down the dam wall to the left.

Danger averted.

Back to finish my cold scrambled eggs. What a morning!

Photo credit: Andrew Russell

Outdoor Classroom

Where else in the world do you study from 5:30am to 8pm and collapse into bed but get to go on 5-star safari drives twice a day? This is like nothing else. We feel super privileged to be able to be amongst all this nature and learn about the wonders of this planet before us humans damage it any further.

Where else in the world is this your classroom?

Where else in the world do you learn this?

Elephant molars are typified by these transverse ridges, which is one of the reasons they are related to the rock hyrax (dassie). Hook lipped rhinos are browsers and eat stems, roots, etc. When they eat they cut at 45º. Here is a sample taken from some dung we found on the road.

Where else do you get to see things like this?

Ostrich in the savannah open plains.
Zebras beneath the Waterberg mountain range.
Quin found this beautiful ground agama in the valley of the mountains.

Where else do you get to live, study and potentially work with this view?

First Sightings

In our first week we were spoiled with being taken on a few introductory game drives through the beautiful private reserve.  Such a magical place and we feel so fortunate to be able to experience the beauty of nature with this minimal intrusion of humanity.

White chested cormorant and two nests with chicks on the dead tree in the dam in front of our tent. Pearl spotted owlet in the dead tree of our college “lawn”.
Male baboon on the verge in front of our college. The troop that lives on the other side of the dam from us is very noisy and occasionally break out in what sounds like fights. On our first game drive with Dan, a recently graduated student on his placement., he asked what would we like to see. We said “birds”. Then we came across this beautiful bull elephant. Such a serene and and gentle creature.
Rare sighting of group of African spoonbills in the common reed grass bed of the river on Day 1. We came across a breeding herd of elephants and this baby elephant is about a year old.
Behind the other baby was this newborn elephant only about a month old! What a cutie with its fluffy head. Here’s the tiny baby behind the matriarch of the herd.
Stunning sunset with this giraffe calmly walking across the road in front. When night fell, our luck was with us again and we had an amazing interaction with this spotted hyaena.

In our first week, our sightings also included a gorgeous leopard walk  around the dam (no photos, sorry).  I have great photos of another species, which is unfortunately increasingly becoming rare due to severe poaching, and as a result, we have been asked not to post to minimise the threat.

Our studies commenced with energetic gusto from Andrew Miller of SMART response who taught us Wilderness First Aid Training Level II preparing us for the realities of living and working in the bush and amongst these incredible WILD creatures.

We also got taken to visit the luxury lodge Marataba in the same reserve where some of our class may have an opportunity to do a work placement there in 6 months time.  Stunning location, and what a place to work, with only a few lodges in this reserve, there are limited vehicles within the reserve, truly giving guests an exclusive experience with what African wilderness has to offer.

 

 

Welcome to wildlifechange

Finally we have started our blog.  Apologies for those who’ve waited for some time to hear our news, but the 4G/3G reception is a little tough out here in the African bush in the lowlands by the mountains!  Thank you for your patience.

For those of you who don’t know us, Quin and I (Mags) have begun our wild life change from global city slickers to living amongst the wildlife here in the South African bush learning to be nature field guides (safari guides). We are trying it out for a year and towards the end will decide what our longer term future holds. Together we have lived in London in the UK, the Netherlands, Singapore and Sydney, Australia.  About a year ago we decided whilst we were doing very well in our IT network engineer & Electrical engineering careers, the road ahead just wasn’t so appealing anymore.  Quin has had a strong long-held passion for the African bush safari and all the associated nature and wonder with it. If we weren’t travelling here for it, he was watching about it on Nat Geo TV or reading about it online. For me, I went straight from school to university to working, so a gap year has been long overdue and it’s great to have some time to reflect and regain my passion and interests. After raising money and volunteering with an NGO, RAW Impact in Cambodia earlier this year building a school for a village, I was really happy to be able to contribute something tangible to people in need and inspired by the team at RAW, so perhaps working with local organisations here and contributing to conservation efforts here might work too!

After much research, we chose to study our FGASA Level 1 certification (Field Guiding Association of South Africa) through NJ More Field Guide College, a fairly new enterprise from ex-Eco Training students/teachers associated with MORE Group which own several 5-star luxury hotels and safari lodges around South Africa. The reason we chose this group was because of the extra short courses included (such as tracking, trails guiding, wildlife photography and advanced rifle handling) the exclusivity of the college (only a small number of students enrolled compared to others around), and the opportunity to have a practical work placement at one of their prestigious lodges.

On day one we met most of our fellow students in Johannesburg and went to register at FGASA headquarters where we equipped ourselves with some recommended reading materials. We are luckily amongst a group of people between the ages of 18 to 54, with a good mix of foreigners and locals compared to the most recently graduated cohort who were mostly quite young.

When we got to camp, located in the Waterberg province of South Africa in a private game reserve, we were shown our accommodation. We are glamping for the next 6 months at least!

Accommodation Inside
Our accommodation – platform safari tents Inside the tent and doorway to ensuite

On our blog main title photo, you see our lecture room called a lapa in the centre of the photo, which also serves as our dining room and common study area. The glass enclosed building is our library and rec room.

When we gathered for our first day on camp, we were given the FGASA level 1 learning materials – wowsers there’s a lot to learn!

Workbooks Books
FGASA Level 1 Learning Material Reference books
Our home

Wild changes for life. Life for the wild. Conservation in action.