Thursday 27 September 2012

Butterfly Guiding

What follows below, is an article written by Zululand Butterfly Guide – Amon Ndlovu. We met Amon nearly two years ago when he was taking care of a Space for Elephants Camp on community property, for Nkosi Zeblon Gumbi. The Space for Elephants Foundation had at the time an Australian Entomologist, Dr. Andy Young, also staying at this camp and completing a Butterfly survey of the area. Amon had an immediate interest in the research project and went out daily with Dr. Young for just over 6 months, learning about all of South Africa’s butterfly species. On completion of the project, Amon joined Bhejane Nature Training as a Space for Elephants Sponsored student and started training towards his FGASA Level 1 ( which he achieved with outstanding results.)

Amon is currently employed at Bhejane Nature Training and shares of knowledge of local butterflies with all our students, who all get to go “butterflying with Amon” as part of their course schedules. This has also proved to be an excellent way to get them all interested in trees and plants! Apart from being a Butterfly Guide, he has also proven invaluable in being a mentor and coach to our sponsored students from local communities, and spends huge amounts of time with these students to bridge the language gap between isiZulu and English while training for their Level 1.

Amon is currently training towards FGASA Level 2 as well as Back-up Trails Guide. He will also soon start working on a project with the African Conservation Trust, to establish community sustained Butterfly Houses along a route in Zululand, to promote awareness and conservation of butterflies. He will get the opportunity to travel to many of the local communities to teach them about butterflies, guiding and conservation of our natural heritage.
Amon with one of his collections of samples representing some of the species found on the reserve.
Amon with one of his collections of samples representing some of the species found on the reserve.

Butterfly Guiding

Guiding is a successful and developing career in South Africa. People come from countries all over the world to see our natural heritage, history and beauty of the country.

Most people who visit Africa, are fascinated by seeing the diversity in the natural environment and wildlife. People are often interested to see the Big 5 and appreciate the guided experience for this, but if you cannot find the big five, it is not always easy for the guide – especially during the hot days.

As the guide, you must have lots of options for things to talk about during the guided experience. Bhejane Nature Training, which is situated in Northern Zululand is the first college to offer Butterfly Guiding to the students on their training course. This gives the guide an extra activity and things to share with the client through the guided experience.

As a guide, you can enhance your guest with an extra information on these beautiful creatures. Students are given the opportunity to be out in the field with Amon Ndlovu (Butterfly Guide) to explore, watch and learn about the beauty and importance of Butterflies, by catching and identifying the species that occurs in the area. We also do some collection and pinning to preserve the species.

The collecting of Butterflies plays an important role in the insect conservation. The Lepidopterist Society of Africa was established to study and conserve butterflies in SA.

Why the study of butterflies is so important?

Like any other insects, butterflies are the most successful class of living animals. In Southern Africa there is about 660 species of Lepidoptera in nine families of butterflies with several subfamilies and their genus.

Butterflies are so successful because they have the ability to fly and to disperse over wide areas to reach new habitats and food sources.

The development and adaptation of a social way of life, metamorphic life cycle, mouthparts and different stages into the life cycle enables them to exploit different sources of food which reduce competition between the adults and the young.

The ecological role of butterflies is very important in maintaining the balance in nature. They provide food for many small predators.

They also feed on different species of plant that helps with pollinating.

What is interesting about butterflies?

They are the most beautiful creatures in the natural environment. Butterflies are territorial when come to mating. The male will mark his area by advertising and displaying colors. The Dorianes (African Monarch) carry scent organs on their wings which excrete pheromones to induce the female to copulate (mating).

Some butterflies are poisonous, like the Bandits (acrea) and display aposmatic colouration to warn predators that they are distasteful. Some species have cryptic deception or camouflage to avoid detection. Some species will even mimic the other species.

Some Lycanidae have a symbiotic relationship with ants. How? They lay eggs in an ants nest and when the larva hatched he will have the sweet substance which will attract the ants to control and take care of the larva by bringing him food which they regurgitate to his mouth. This relationship is called mutualism.

Climatic changes and food availability

Must butterflies are controlled climate and the availability of food. Butterflies are ectothermic, they regulate their body heat through the external environment. If the climate is cold, they will move to warm places, but also depending on the food supply for them.

Food plants is the most important source for butterflies. Even if the climatic conditions are favourable, without the food plant they will not stay.

Some species are even depending on a certain food plant (colitis auxo) feed only on Cadaba. Without that source of food they will all die and become extinct.

Butterflies are mainly dependend on the preservance of our biomes. Especially afromontane and riverine habitats are very important.

Bhejane Nature Training is involved in training, educating and encouraging local communities to become involved in nature conservation by teaching them the beauty, history and the importance of nature by giving them the Bush Skills and training them for FGASA Level 1- Creating Awareness through Wilderness.

Bhejane Students work for Conservation

We  (Dylan and Christa Panos) joined the Hluhluwe Honorary Officers early this year in an attempt to get the Bhejane Students involved in local conservation projects. The first project we got involved in was the building of an aircraft hangar for the EKZN Wildlife Anti-poaching aircraft.   The Bantam Plane is already in operation and has done a number of flights over the Zululand reserves. It is currently kept at the ZUMAT (Zululand Mission Air Transport) hanger with some other aircraft.
ZUMAT has offered its support to Ezemvelo in the fight against poaching by offering free use of the hanger. It is however an already crowded hanger and it soon became clear that a separate facility would be needed.
The Hluhluwe Honorary Officers took on this project and set out to build a 12x8 meter hanger for the Bantam.  On the 3rd of March, a working party was planned to start laying the concrete floor of the hanger.  We took off with a group of Bhejane students to assist with the effort.   We had concreted about 40% of the floor when Tropical Cyclone Irina made her presence known.  We scrambled in the rain, mud and cement to get covering over the already poured cement.   At this point, we had to terminate the project for the day.   2 Weeks later, we were all back to finish what we had started.   We would like to thank the Bhejane students who volunteered their free time for this project.  We are looking forward to seeing it through to successful completion and wish the KZN Wildlife Team well in their fight against poaching.
 Ningabulali obhejane bethu!
The following students volunteered to assist with the concreting of the floor:
Craig Clowes, Craig Bateman, Axel Primmer, Emma Ascher, Megan Balouza, Zabileon Lemena, Paul Jensen, Niquita Ellis, Jay Bell, Ashley Brownlie, Nicola Nicolosi, Ryan Smart, Khyle Pretorius.

Conservation Ethics for Nature Guides

By Christa Panos

For any new guide, the subject of ethics is covered as one of the first topics in the FGASA level 1 Manual. Here it relates to the do’s and don’ts of guiding. This article wishes to address a broader perspective and asks the question: should guides also have a conservation ethic? And how does this influence the guided experience?

What are ethics and principles?

Ethics, as stated above, relate to questions of what we should and should not be doing, based on our idea of what we as people regard as morally correct behaviour. Our morals are based on our value systems, which in turn is formed by our culture, religion and social situations. The morals of a Christian will for example be based on the dos and don’ts as set out in the Ten Commandments and other values as described in the Christian Bible. For a subscriber of another religion, although there may be similar concepts involved, there may also be quite substantial differences in what is regarded as right and wrong – one such area, where religions differ greatly is the human view towards the animal and natural world. Like the many wars fought during the history of mankind was closely linked to different values and worldviews, so the many controversies surrounding the management and conservation of our natural heritage, are also closely linked to different values and worldviews.

As guides, we are for the most part not involved in conservation management. Our functions lie in the interpretation and unveiling of the natural world to our guests. Yet within this function there is a very important moral and ethical responsibility that we carry to ensure that our guests understand what we interpret to them, from a perspective that will promote and support good conservation.

Assuming that you are working as a full time guide at a busy lodge, doing drives or other forms of guided activities for at least 20 days of the month, with an average group of 4 guests – a rather conservative estimate- , your total monthly exposure is 80 people and your annual exposure becomes 960! The influence you have over the way these 960 people perceive the natural environment will get multiplied by the word of mouth that happens after their experience with you – often exponentially.

Have you considered that many of the stories we tell around camp- fires today, were first of all told by guides like you and me – FGASA assessors and trainers will no doubt have a laugh and be able to come up with a whole list of popular stories that guides like to tell on their drives. These include stories around the sacrificial branches of the fever tree, the aggression of the black rhino, the ability of impala to delay birth or the various stories around elephant and the marula fruit! Regardless of whether any of this is true or false, the point is that they tend to leave an impression on guests, and are remembered and retold by them to many other people in return. For this reason, I confidently make the statement that guides, with daily access to attentive guests, have got far more potential to influence the average person’s understanding of conservation in South Africa, than any academic or natural scientist, whose opinions are evaluated more by their peers, than by the general public.

It is therefore also clear and easy to understand why you as a guide, should have a sound conservation ethic, and be aware of the values and views that you are passing along to your guests, as these are the small seeds that grow into public opinion.

The problem here is that as guides, like all other people, we also have our own worldviews, and as a group we do not agree on what is ethical – what is morally correct – or not. We have seen from the example above that we cannot base our code of conservation ethics on our religion.

Conservation ethics based on religion will produce troublesome challenges that cannot easily be overcome in almost all situations. So what then shall we use to define our code of ethics for the management of our planet? Can we perhaps apply the philosophy of Ethical Naturalism. This is a moral philosophy which looks to nature as the foundation for moral beliefs, independent of any religious framework. (Honderich, 1995) We should, in short, look at nature to help us find the solutions we need and copy the examples as observed in nature. This is quite a difficult task, because even though two people can observe the same phenomenon in nature, they may still understand and interpret it differently.

In addition to this, some argue that we can never equate nature with ethics, because what we regard as good and right, is generally only good and right if it “serves our purpose” while we have no emotional connections to the natural components that we are making judgements about. So for example, we may see an abandoned antelope and because of our human parenting experience, decide that it is unethical to leave this young animal to starve or be predated on. We have no knowledge of the real situation here – the mother could have abandoned her young for various reasons, possibly to better care for another. This makes no sense in the human world and is seen as cruel and uncaring – yet in the animal world, young animals are often killed or abandoned for a greater good that we may not always understand.

We are already very good at using the examples of nature to improve the human environment as highlighted by concepts like Biomimicry. But can we apply our own knowledge and experience to improve the natural environment?

We cannot make decisions of right and wrong about the natural environment, based on religion, or other human philosophies such as ethical naturalism. It is suggested that we can only arrive at the decisions for what is right and what is wrong, by looking holistically at the issue or problem and evaluating the various different components involved and by making a concerted effort to disengage emotionally form the problem at hand. Consider for a moment what this means – this means that we can only decide, for example, what the correct management options are for issues such as rhino poaching, by disconnecting emotionally from the problem. This takes a great deal of courage and often goes against our human instincts. This also means realising that there may not be a right or wrong, but simply a best possible course of action. This is not as easy as it seems, since the natural environment is such a complex system, and one of which we have very little knowledge.

Regardless of this, we can find certain general principles from our known experience with the natural environment to guide our current and future actions. We know for example that introducing alien species leads to a loss of local species in the long run, and therefore have developed management practices around this knowledge. We also know that any population whose growth is allowed to continue without constraint, will eventually crash, causing much suffering for all its members. We also know that what seems to us like a cruel and immoral practice, is a valid strategy for the Moorhen (literally translated as murdering hen) to ensure its continued survival. (The Moorhen is named as such because it is often observed to kill the weakest of its own offspring, to ensure the survival of the rest.) When looking for knowledge, the advances of science are particularly important, as this is generally where most of our current knowledge comes from.

For you as a guide, the key phrase to remember here is knowledge – not ideas or feelings, or thoughts. This is not to say that these are not important, they are, it simply means that you also from time to time need to put these feelings aside to evaluate what we KNOW about a particular subject. When it comes to the management of our natural heritage, it is vitally important that we make well informed decisions based on what we know. Managing our wildlife with our emotions, is not different to managing our finances with our emotions – a practice I am sure most people would agree can feel quite good in the short run, but is in fact rather foolish in the long-run.

Perhaps some guides reading this are asking at this stage whether or not we should be managing our natural heritage – and if it is not a better idea to let nature manage itself. That is question to broad to cover here, but if this is a question for you at this stage, I would recommend that your education and quest for knowledge starts with a crash course on human population growth. Humanity and our continual expansion is the single biggest threat to our natural heritage, and even if we eliminate all poaching, hunting, eco-tourism, or other trade and interference in our wildlife, we will still be using more and more of our natural habitat for human occupation and manipulation as our population continues to grow.

In order to develop a responsible conservation ethic, it is your moral responsibility to educate yourself about the issues you discuss with your guests and other guides. I would go as far as to say that it is every global citizen’s responsibility to become environmentally literate – there is simply too much at stake for us to ignore this urgent task. As a guide, you play a key role in this environmental literacy – but it has to start with you. It is important to remember that you will not gain any new knowledge through simple discussion, or browsing Facebook– to arrive at a valid conservation ethic, you have to consult the sources of our current knowledge – that means reading! Finding reliable sources, reading all possible sides of an argument and committing yourself only to worldviews and ethics when you have gathered enough information to make an informed decision.

Bhejane has addressed this urgent issue in a new specialist module called Conservation Principles and Ethics. For more information on completing this module, you can contact us at

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Birding at False Bay

By Ryan Tippett
False Bay Park is situated about 16 km North of Hluhluwe and is one of the best birding spots in Zululand. The park is a fantastic spot for forest birds in particular, but there are also some interesting water birds to be found along the shores of the lake.
The main attraction for birders is without doubt the pristine sand forests and the reserve protects some of the finest remaining stands. There are two types of sand forest in the reserve – Tall forest with large trees and an open understory, and shorter, dense forest with smaller trees and very thick undergrowth. Both contain many exciting species.
The big advantage here, over most other Zululand reserves is that the key habitats can be accessed on foot, either along the roads or the well-appointed walking trails.
Dark- Backed Weaver
A morning spent birding in the forest should produce many typical forest birds like : Dark-backed Weaver,  Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Red-capped Robin-chat, Crowned Hornbill, Tambourine Dove, Crested Guineafowl, Square-tailed Drongo, Black Saw-wing, and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, amongst others. Trumpeter Hornbills and Black-bellied Starlings are often heard as they move across the forest and remember to keep a look out for Crowned Eagles as they display high above the canopy
The winter months bring altitudinal migrants that are mostly absent during summer. These include White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-chat, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Grey Cuckooshrike and Dark-mantled Crested Flycatcher.
Grey Cuckooshrike
The summer months bring in the migratory birds, including African Emerald Cuckoo which can be heard everywhere but is remarkably hard to see.  Scan any exposed dead trees for Broad-billed Rollers. Their raucous calls usually give them away.
Many of the regions specials can be found here without too much difficulty. Eastern Nicator, Bearded Scrub Robin, Rudd’s Apalis, Gorgeous Bushshrike and African Yellow White-eye are all quite common. Green Malkoha, Narina Trogon and Olive Bushshrike, while also common, are more often heard than   seen.
Pink-throated Twinspots are present in good numbers but are sometimes difficult to find. They like forest clearings with grassy patches. Watch for them as they fly off from the pathways in these areas. It’s a good idea to learn to recognise their thin insect-like calls.
Pink- Throated Twinspot
Sunbirds are well represented at False Bay with several species occurring. Neergaard’s Sunbirds are conspicuous when calling, but can be difficult to observe because they never sit still for too long. Plain-backed Sunbirds have been seen in the reserve. They are undoubtedly rare here, but I have seen them on two separate occasions in the tall climax sand Forest. Both sightings were of calling males. Look for them on the Ingwe and Mpophomeni trails.
False Bay is one of the very best locations for the peculiar African Broadbill. They are most easily detected in the early morning when they utter their strange frog-like calls during display. They are best searched for in the densely wooded drainage gullies along the entrance road and on the 10km long Mpophomeni trail. 
African Broadbill
 Other special or scarce species to search for include Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Retz’s Helmetshrike , Sooty Falcon, Cuckoo Hawk, Grey Tit Flycatcher, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Brown-backed Honeybird and Woodward’s batis.
Southern Banded Snake Eagle
The open water at False Bay is actually the north western extension of Lake St. Lucia. Look out here for both Greater and Lesser Flamingos and Pink-backed and Great White Pelicans. All of which can form large aggregations on the lake when conditions are right. Pied Avocets are also regular in large numbers, especially during winter. Many Caspian Terns breed here during winter but at least some birds are present all year round.  Be alert for the endangered Saddle-billed Storks as they stride purposely along the shore. At least one pair is resident on this part of the lake.
Rosy- throated Longclaw
The narrow strip of grass and scrub between the water and the forest is good for Black-bellied Bustard, and with luck, Swamp Nightjar. This grassy strip is widest in the south, below the Dugandlovo Rustic Camp. Scan this area for Collared Pratincoles and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters in summer. All three Longclaw species occur here, and the Rosy-throated Longclaw can be plentiful after the rains.
I would recommend using the services of a specialist birding guide. This is a reliable way to get difficult species as the guides know how and where to find them.
For more information about local birding guides, you can contact Bhejane Nature Training on . Office number: 081 539 0391 or after hours 083 726 3826.
To travel to the reserve, travel north from Durban on the N2 until the Hluhluwe turn off. Continue into the village and follow the signposts for 16km on good tar roads to the reserve.  A nominal entrance fee is charged at the gate.