There were 5 local students on this course. It was a great feeling to be back in teaching mode after a break of 9 months away doing my contract with Birdlife South Africa, which by the way is still ongoing.
4 of the students passed the course. David unfortunately battled to get through the exams but did better on the practical aspects although still didn’t quite make the grade. I will remember David for one particular incident that happened when he was leading a walk and a large black mamba reared up just in front of him. Needless to say we all froze in our footsteps although somehow I missed David doing a couple of back flips over the top of my head and to the back of the line in double quick time. The mamba in the meantime moved off slowly watching us all the time and with his hood spread showing that he was by no means impressed that we had disturbed his morning siesta in the sun.
The rains have been good this year and the grass was tall which hampered the game viewing. The students will never forget what Carrot seed grass looks and feels like. I think about 2-3 pairs of socks went in the dustbin fairly soon after the course started before we managed to get enough gaiters for the students to protect their socks. I have to admit it was quite a sight early on as they had invented some “Gauteng Gaiters’ which were manufactured from plastic shopping bags- recycling at work!
There was daily evidence of lion in the area and the students got to see some of them one weekend on coming back into the reserve. As far as our walks and drives were concerned they always seemed to vanish. The closest we got to them was 40m during a walk and they were feeding on a wildebeest. However we didn’t know that then and it was only later on in the afternoon when the vultures appeared did we realise what had happened.
Elephant put in a late appearance in large numbers with a breeding herd of over 20 animals coming to drink just a few days before the course finished. We had seen others during the course, at the centre, on walks and on drives but it was only in the last 2 weeks that they became regular sightings. Buffalo were also encountered on foot on one occasion which had us all stop in our tracks too.
As with every summer the spiders were everywhere which wasn’t good news for David and it was quite a sight to see him leading the walk and pretending to practice his martial arts on their webs. By the end of the course I am sure he had conquered his fear to some degree as they didn’t seem to worry him as much as they did on the very first walk.
The first aid course was again a great success with the students really getting stuck in to the scenario and being prepared to plunge into a muddy waterhole to rescue one of their colleagues who had supposedly been gored by a buffalo. However one of them failed to notice the rubber snake under the patient and we then had a scenario with two injured patients-all the more interesting.
This course the itinerary was quite different to previous years and instead of camping in Kruger we spent 2 nights during the middle of the course sleeping out under the stars on Grietjie itself. It just so happened that the site was only 30m from where the lions had made their kill 2 weeks before and yes the students were a little apprehensive in the beginning. The weekend beforehand all of us went out and cut a few trees down to make a semi-protected boma wall to guard against and would be threats. The lions never showed but the elephants weren’t far way and we heard them on both nights trumpeting away and walking past the campsite in the dark. On the second day 2 of the students decided to find a tree to sit in and try and take advantage of any breeze on a stiflingly hot day. However as they got to it a “cat” jumped out of the tree and darted away. I can only assume it was a caracal from their description, but needless to say they were back in a hurry and had forgotten their idea quite rapidly.
Overall the course was agreat success and yet once again the 6 weeks seem to have flown past before we had even realised it