Game ranger training

One year ago, almost to the day, I got on a plane to take part in the one year FGASA Professional Field Guide course with Ecotraining. What a year it has been! I studied as hard as I could with the tiny hope that my efforts might secure me a job. In May, just ten months into my game ranger course, the stars aligned and my dream of being a real safari guide came true. I got a job! Now working in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, I managed to take a week off from guiding to celebrate the end of an incredible year at my official graduation.

A group photo of ecotraining students in Mashatu, Botswana

In the beginning….some of the Ecotraining students in our first few weeks of study

Arriving at graduation

Last week I travelled to one of the Ecotraining camps, Karongwe, and met up with the people who began this journey with me. Excited to hear all of the stories of their respective internships, that first night we talked until the fire had died to its last glowing embers. From the incredible things we have witnessed and adrenaline-packed close calls with wildlife to hilarious mishaps and even the odd tragic tale. An entire 6 months were packed into a single evening. Finally, the winter cold biting through our many layers, my tent-mate Jayne and I surrendered to our beds.

My tentmate Jayne and I reunited at last!

My tentmate Jayne and I reunited at last!

 

Over the next few days I’d like to say we did amazing things and had wonderful sightings on the reserve, however, the truth is rather different! After working so hard over the year, we finally had the chance to be ‘on holiday’. With that in mind, two of my closest friends and I decided to relax. And what better way to relax than with a bottle of gin….or seven!

Despite this we did manage to stay sober long enough to complete a couple of bush walks and drives with our old instructors. On one such drive we were even lucky enough to spot the three resident male cheetahs! Totally relaxed, we sat with them just metres from the vehicle and enjoyed tea and biscuits while Cameron and I avidly clicked away with our cameras. At Klaserie, these are the one animal we really don’t see so I was extra-excited to find them.

A cheetah scent-marking a tree

We spent an amazing hour with 3 cheetahs – this one was scent-marking a tree.

Graduation day

Finally, six days later, the big day arrived – graduation day! Putting on our old Ecotraining uniforms, the students and their families all headed out on game drive whilst the staff set-up for the evening. Arriving back after dark, we were greeted with warm mulled wine and beautiful lanterns lining the path to camp. Instructor Dave began his presentation of photos from the year, carving up happy memories and moments of our game ranger course.

Students on a game drive

Heading out on game drive with the Ecotraining game ranger course graduates!

 

Feeling like celebrities, we were at last ushered to our starlit dinner. Complete with candles, posh tablecloths and even free wine on the table, we could hardly believe it. A traditional South African braai followed and then, suitably fed and watered, the ceremony began. Wilhelm started with a speech congratulating us all on completing the Professional Field Guide course. Then, one-by-one, he called us up to collect our FGASA certificates and say a few words of our own. Having not predicted this, a few of us wished we had drunk less of the free wine. However, we all made it to the end without any obvious stumbles and the real party started around the fire. Time for the cardboard box game!

5 students at the Professional Field guide course graduation dinner

The mighty four at the graduation dinner (plus Willie the photographer!)

 

For those of you who don’t know, this simple game is a bit of a fireside tradition. A cereal box is placed on the ground and each person must attempt to pick it up with their mouth. For added difficulty, no part of the body other than the feet can the floor. After each successful round, the box is lowered until, several pulled hamstrings later, only a single bendy competitor remains. Watching the mums, dads and instructors desperately bend and writhe in vain was certainly cause for a lot of laughs!

Martin, Jayne, Me and Cameron. All of us are now FGASA qualified field guides!

Moving on

However, even the best of evenings must eventually come to an end. The following morning it was all over. Bags packed, hugs exchanged, promises of staying in touch made. Most of the group returned to their home country, whilst Cameron and I left to continue with our jobs. This eclectic mix of nature-lovers, from 19 to 40-something years, have become a weird little family over the last year. I hope those promises were just that, and that we do stay in touch. But for now, it’s back to my greatest adventure – my amazing job!