A year in the making
BY: Callum Evans
Camp manager blogs are written by our students who each get a chance to lead and manage a group (of their fellow students) for a period of one week. Callum has just started his Bushwise Field Guide course and was selected to be the first camp manager.
My goal of one day embarking on a Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) course finally became a reality on 8 July 2021. At the end of the last year I signed up for a year-long course offered by Bushwise Field Guides. Fast forward eight months and I’ve caught a shuttle from OR Tambo International Airport to arrive at Bushwise’s Mahlahla Campus in the middle of the Lowveld region.
After an introductory briefing by the Head Trainer Vaughan, we had a much needed dinner, an incredible chicken curry made by the two chefs Rose and Iris. After dinner, we went to get sorted out in our rooms and have a well-earned sleep.
The next morning, we all got our first good look at the campus. In the early morning, the view was everything I’d expected and more. The warm light seeped among towering trees in between our rondavels and cabins.
The next two days involved a lot of admin and preparation for the next six months. It was on the first day that I found out that I would be the first of the 20 students to take on the role of camp manager, which was quite a shock. It was my first week at Bushwise and I was going to be the camp manager for the first five days.
Camp manager, right out of the gate
At first, I was quite stressed out when I found out about this and was worried that the responsibilities would be overwhelming (particularly since I had little experience in leadership roles before arriving at Bushwise). But I knew that this would not be the first time I would find myself outside of my comfort zone on this course and ultimately this would help me, so I decided to give it my best effort.
One job was taking everyone’s temperatures twice a day to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. This could sometimes be challenging since some people arrived late for meals on occasion. I also helped out where I could on campus, checking for any signs of animal damage or loose trash, making sure the bins were emptied and dishes washed, coordinating with that week’s group leaders and making sure everyone was on time for meetings and meals.
Wildlife in the bush
When living out in the bush, you soon realise how many of the animals in the area are quick to take advantage of the presence of people. At night, several animals are quite bold and walk around the campus in search of scraps of food. Most nights, the two local honey badgers visit the kitchens and often knock over the bins to see if there’s something left behind. So it was quite important to have the bins empty every night!
Over the course of the week, we were lucky enough to see several nyala, a bushbuck ram, a grey duiker, civets, genets, tree squirrels, the honey badgers and a couple of people even saw a porcupine visit the bio-bins. A family of dwarf mongoose paid a couple of visits to campus. Sable and warthog occasionally visited the dam, along with hamerkops, a grey heron, and pied and brown-hooded kingfishers.
As the week progressed, more and more birds began to appear in camp, including pearl spotted owlet, black-collared barbet, yellow-bellied greenbul, brubru, bearded woodpecker and several species of sunbird and hornbill. For a nature lover, this place is paradise.
It isn’t all about the wildlife
While the wildlife has been incredible so far , it is the people who ultimately make or break a course like this. It has been amazing to see how quickly everyone has started to get along and work together in the way that they have been doing.
The next few months will really test our abilities to work together, which will determine our success as field guides. I think the same is true for our periods as camp managers. While those days were a challenging new experience for me, I hope that that experience will help me over the next six months at Bushwise, and maybe beyond too.
You can have an experience like Callum by joining a Bushwise course now.