Monday 25 February 2013

Ex- Student: Casper Bester Career Update

By: Casper Bester

I studied at Bhejane Nature Training from Feb 2012 to June 2012 were I did my FAGASA level 1 as well as my Trails guiding course.

In 2011 I decided I want to change careers. It was time to follow my heart. Like most boys I always wanted to be a ‘Game Ranger’ and now finally I have the opportunity to go and do it. I found out about Bhejane via a friend’s daughter who studied there, so I drove up to Ethaltini bush camp to check it out. After talking to Dylan and Christa and seeing the camp, I knew I was on the right track. At first it was really scary to leave my job at the hospital, but when I look back now, I know I made the right decision to become a field guide.

I had an awesome time doing FGASA Level 1 as well as my Trails guiding course. I made so many new friends and met some amazing people. Bhejane was a excellent start to my new beginning.

When I look back at my time in the Bhejane camp today, the moments that really sticks out for me is our first aid training, it was so well done and all the practical work felt so real, thanks Andrew!! Another think that I won’t forget is that first time on our ARH practical when I shot with the .458 ruger. Wow, what a rifle!!!! 
The courses at Bhejane that I did, really provided me with not only the necessary field knowledge, but also the life skills that is needed to be a excellent guide and to really make it far in the industry. I also did my HP course, a snake handling course with Johan Marais and Jonathan Leeming’s scorpion course.

Today I am working at Makhasa Game reserve and Lodge, 15km north of Bhejane in Northern KZN, as a guide and assistant manager.

Let me tell you about my favorite sighting at Bhejane.
We were walking trails at Amakhozi Game lodge in September 2012. The morning of the 18th at about 9 o’clock, we were on top of one of the many hills at Amakhozi. I was walking lead and we just started descending from the top, when I spotted some buffalos at the foot of the hill. They were about 300m away and we estimated that the breading herd was more or less 50 in count. We were walking on the dirt road, as it was the only way down and I realized that this road is leading us straight into the herd. We continued very cautiously and when we were about 100m away from the herd they became aware of our presence. We stopped and watched them for 5min. I then walked ahead to see where this road was leading and luckily right at the bottom of the hill, the road turned to the left, away from the herd. We carried on walking, but when we reached the bottom of the hill, I realized the herd of buffalos is now about 65m away and they are following us. We stopped to see what they were up to and they also stopped. Now almost the whole herd was looking at the 5 of us and one by one the young buffalo bulls were coming closer and closer, 2 steps at a time. By now they were about 50m away from us and my hart is pounding like crazy. We walked on for another 10 paces, stopped and the buffalos were still closing in on us. We stopped and stood our ground. The young bulls are still out in front creeping closer. We stood our ground and had a “stare down” for about 15 min before the herd finally moved off and my heartbeat returned to normal. Sjoe……

Well, I don’t know where the bush will take me in the next years, but I would like to still be at Makhasa, but maybe as manager, with a Level 3 and SKS DG to follow.

Thanks Bhejane!! You guys rock!!

Casper next to the Mkuze River in Flood while on Trails

Monday 18 February 2013

One Week at uMkhuze

By Tom and Olly

No electricity, no hot showers, no worries. Our week at Mkhuze was basic to say the least but absolutely fantastic.
Three students including ourselves and Arlo set off for Mkhuze earlier than the rest of our group to set up camp. After finishing we headed to the pool for a much needed rest, on our way back Paul our training assistant treated us to a brief game drive to see the observation point, little did we know we were going to be further rewarded with an awesome leopard sighting. We managed to catch him/her resting in the shade resting from the heat of the days and he/she posed beautifully for our eager camera lenses. We also spotted a large male white Rhino on reaching the observation point after a brief detour to retrieve Olly’s forgotten camera so he could take photos of the leopard.
We slept well that night despite the calls of Spotted Hyaena echoing round the camp. Blissfully in the morning we awoke to find a lack of mosquito bites on ourselves, we soon realised we hadn’t seen a single one and had stumbled upon a safe haven from these blood sucking manifestations of Satan.

The camp came to life Monday morning when the rest of the Amakentshane group arrived on the game viewers to a 5 star reception. We showed off our leopard pictures but little did we know that other members of our group would be treated to an even better sighting later in the week.
After catching up with the rest of the group we headed out on a game drive, the sheer amount of information thrown our way by the guides (or as we refer to them “walking encyclopaedias”) was enormous. What seemed like thousands of names of birds/trees and bugs brought about the realisation that one day we would hopefully be able to guide like them, albeit a long time away!
In the evening we quickly mastered the use of flashlights as without lights it got dark very quickly, and the odds of walking into trees or taking the wrong path to your hut multiplied tenfold.
On the second day we rose with the sun, and headed out of camp by 5:00am much to the shock of several members of our group. The morning drive was quiet and we found ourselves at Kumasinga hide at around 8:00 for breakfast. Once the cereal was inhaled we entered the hide and had several good sightings of birds to add to our ever growing species lists.
We returned to the environmental camp and spent an evening around the fire eating up a stew made by the student duty team. The darkness made it a lot easier to eat! We were also welcomed to the camp by a resident genet that watched over our fire from the branches of a Lembombo Wattle.

 Day three was fantastic however, throughout the morning game drive several acacias were brutally attacked by our guides cutting off branches with their Leatherman’s. It didn’t take Sherlock holmes to figure out what was coming our way, was less than desirable. However we were offered some light entertainment by Wanroe’s odd bird identification, especially his stringy call on a “knob backed lark”. We spent the afternoon identifying those damn saplings. General moaning about how the branches weren’t in the book, or the fact they all looked the same were occasionally punctuated with shouts of pain as people (mainly Brett) stabbed themselves on sharp thorns and spines. This was only the beginning of the hard work….
Day four and so the students take over. This was the first of many days in the Hotseat, as it became to be known. While there we were required to take over guiding duties and show the rest of the vehicle what we had learnt. So we threw in all the information we had gained on birding, trees, mammals, tracks, the park itself and the vehicle we were riding in. We were such good guides we even managed to track down the elusive black rhino in thick bush and show it off to our guides, this is when the student surpassed the master for a few brief seconds.
Later on that day we were taken to the observation point to have a night time astronomy lecture. This was particularly awesome, as there is nothing that can really compete with staring up the stars on a clear night with hyaena serenading us in the background. Nick held us captive with his stories of the heavens and the various mythologies behind them.

Day five marked the end of the week and the resident nicotine addicts in the group could stop thinking about rolling up various types of animal scat into a cigarette and look forward to a proper one when they returned to camp. We had a morning game drive which was mostly uneventful except for a close encounter of the horned kind. One of the guide vehicles was charged by a male white rhino trying to protect his female. They rewarded us afterwards with some stunning photo opportunities. 

Many of us weren’t too keen to head back as we were very happy to have no electricity over mosquitoes any day.
It was a nice feeling to know that when we next returned we would be on our assessment drives for our FGASA level one qualification and would definitely know tonnes more than what we currently do.
All in all we squeezed every last drop of information and experience that we possibly could out of the week. We would like to give a big thanks to our guides, Paul, Nick and Pieter for blackmailing our tired and weary minds into work for a refreshing pool session at the main camp.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

My First Day at Bhejane

By Ollie Weaver

So after 26 hours of traveling and about 3 hours of sleep the planes wheels touch down in Richards Bay. I was worried i wasnt prepared enough about silly things like, 'had i packed enough or had i packed too much.'
I stood up on the plane, nearly cracking my head on the overhead baggage storage. I looked down onto the seat infront of me and saw a pile of FGASA study books and bird books stuffed into a bag for life. Turned out Sarah, who is on the same course as me, sat right in front of me for the whole flight. My first thoughts were how did she get all those books onto the plane as hand luggage and secondly, secondly, i was both excited and disappointed; excited i wasnt the only English person but kind of disappointed i wasn't.

As i stepped out of the terminal i was literally slapped across the face by the humidity of this area. Hanroe met us at the airport. My first impression was that he was a pretty laid back guy. Later in the car this was reinforced by his music choices, which practically sent me to sleep!

Upon arriving at Bhejane i realised i had it wrong. It was pronounced be-jan and not be-jane like i had been saying it the whole time! My tent wasn't what i had expected. Well actually i didnt know what to expect but i found it  to be perfectly fine as a place sleep, while most our time will be spent in the hut studying.

My fellow room mates! Wanroe and Brett! Firstly with Wanroe sounding a lot like Hanroe and secondly, the odd pronunciation of the 'w', kind of threw me, so i was instantly relieved when he said it was ok to call him 'Van'.

Our first day started off with a tour of the camp, where we got shown around by Jennie and what followed was an incredible cock- up that resulted in a resounding win! We got paired into 4 groups and had to take 5 litre containers to carry around the reserve along with bird books and cameras, while navigating. Being set off at 20minute intervals resulted in a nervous 40minute wait while watching all our fellow comrades leave. I was a little bit worried about how our group would operate after only knowing each other for such a short time. Now saying we got lost while looking for the 'well' is an understatment! The bush had grown so thick we couldn't spot it despite my thrilling heroics of climbing a monstrous tree. After 2 hours of stumbling around the bush we arrived back and had to translate a whole bunch of Latin words, which was interesting and i found it fairly fun. Later that evening while discussing our various interesting endeavours, we heard a loud bang as Van shot from his chair by the bookcase like a startled rabbit. The ceiling fan then promptly occupied his seat! Needless to say his over enthusiastic Afrikaaner side took over, proclaiming how he nearly died and accompanied by countless repetitions of the word, 'brew'!

Monday 4 February 2013

Re- discovery of the Largest Orbweaving Spider Species with Bhejane Nature Training

By: Hanroe Taljaard

The Bhejane Nature Training camp is full of excitement and action as the students arrived this month to continue, or begin their Nature Guiding qualifications for 2013. We welcome both our “Impi’s” as they continue into their second year of their 3 year Advanced Nature Guiding Course, as well as the students beginning their first year of Advanced Nature Guiding. All students are full of enthusiasm for the year that lies ahead.

Early last week we had a great discovery. During one of our Frogging practical’s, Ryan Tippett, one of the lead instructors at Bhejane Nature Training came across a giant Orb Web Spider and immediately recognized that this is not like any other known species of Orb Web Spider. After taking a few photos and doing some internet research, we came across Dr. Matjaz Kuntner’s research abstract published in October 2009 when the species was rediscovered and its status as a valid extant species confirmed

 Left: Nephila komaci, Female paratype as sketched by Matjaz Kuntner in his research abstract published in 2009.
Right:  Picture of first recorded sighting of N. komaci on the Bhejane Nature Training property
The first specimen of this spider was collected in 1978 at Sodwana Bay and was discovered in 2000 in the collections from Pretoria. Two expeditions to find this species in the wild were unsuccessful and it was thought that the species was a hybrid or perhaps extinct. In 2003 a second specimen from Madagascar was discovered in a Viennese Museum but since then they had failed to find any records of it in more than 2500 samples from 37 museums. However, two additional females and a male were recently collected in Tembe Elephant Park and it was clear that N. komaci was a valid, new existing Nephila species.

Photographs of the spider were e-mailed to Dr. Matjaz Kuntner on Saturday morning and he has confirmed that this is indeed the first recorded sighting of N. komaci (Komaci’s Orb Spider). He has also confirmed that the photographs taken are in fact the first photographs of live specimens, although there are photos of a spider in Gorongoza NP which he plans to go and see later in the year. Dr. Kuntner was very excited and requested that we keep a specimen that can be sent to him for examination.

Picture taken on Bhejane property of what we believe is the male N. komaci as he sits above the huge female in the web
Very distinctive coloration on N. komaci as depicted in this picture from a specimen on Bhejane property.

Since making the confirmation of the sighting public, reports of more N. komaci sightings have been called in. We have counted a total of 5 different specimens on the Bhejane property and another 5 on Makhasa Game Reserve. We have also received reports of this species on other properties in the surrounding area. 

Picture of one of five N. komaci specimens found and photographed on Makhasa Game Reserve on Saturday afternoon.
This is a wider shot of the picture above. This particular N. komaci web was about 8m high, where all the previous specimens' webs were spun about 3-5m from the ground.

We at Bhejane are very excited about the discovery and look forward to Dr. Kuntners’ results as he and his colleagues can now go ahead and complete their studies on ‘The Evolution of Gigantism in Nephila.’  Dr. Kuntners research abstract is available to read at 

Screen shot of the first half of page one of Matjaz Kuntner and Jonathan A. Coddington that released this research paper in 2009. Go to to view
The small 'silvery' spiders that we found present in the web are kleptoparasites from the family Theridiidae, who live in the webs of the big hosts. "They come in various shapes and color (silver and reddish ones are probably different genera, and there could be undescribed species," commented Dr. Matjaz Kuntner on this image.

 We are now in the process of collecting some of these specimens for Dr. Kuntner; label them precisely with locality, date and collector where he can use this information to recheck taxonomic diagnostics, measure them, and also extract their DNA to get an idea of genetic picture, e.g. if they are all very homogeneous implying population bottlenecks etc.

An exciting year lies ahead for the staff and students of Bhejane Nature Training. Follow our Facebook page and Blog Spot to keep up to date with our field news and to follow the story of this discovery.