I have always wanted to be an incredibly knowledgeable brainbox about everything to do with southern African wildlife and nature. After living here for a number of years and working in the conservation industry, I know now my stuff…sort of. I can definitely tell you about all the big stuff and I can identify the most common trees and birds. But I’m still clueless about the finer points. There’s so much to learn from poos to lizard species, from astronomy to rocks, etc, etc, ad infinitum, ad astra. When someone asks me ‘what animal is making that sound?’, and I have to answer ‘bird’, I cringe inside because I really wish I knew all my bird calls. And here’s a guilty secret of mine – sometimes when I’m leading a group walking through the bush and I spot an interesting looking track on the ground that I don’t know, I smudge it out with my foot as I walk past so that no one in the group will ask me what it is. The shame!
Since we left Lajuma, Sam and I been on a quest of self-improvement and career development through achieving qualifications, writing publications, and developing skills. I got my PhD – boom – and wrote an academic paper which is currently in the purgatory between writing and publication. Now it’s time to learn those pesky bird calls and tracks. In October last year, I started a correspondence course about southern African biodiversity with Africa Nature Training. I have to read stuff and pass tests and complete projects on various nature topics. Then once I’ve passed the correspondence course, there is a two week practical in a big 5 area to learn more stuff and learn how to guide. Then I have to pass more tests and hopefully at the end I get my Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) level 1 certification and become a qualified field guide. If one of my ‘guests’ is eaten by a lion during my final FGASA practical test, I probably won’t pass. I will try to avoid this eventuality by pointing a stick at the lion and saying no.
The first time I heard about doing a FGASA qualification was in 2007 and since then I have wanted to achieve do it. Getting a FGASA qualification has sat on my to do list waiting for the right time for almost 10 years! I’m glad that I’m making the time now. I’m currently about half way through the correspondence course bit. For some of my projects I have had to draw plant parts. This served an incredibly important purpose of making learning about grasses slightly less dull.
Finally, here’s another drawing which doesn’t count towards my course but illustrates why I love Africa. It’s all about the animals. I think doing this course is sort of about love. There is a quote by someone called Baba Dioum (whose name reminds me of Shanty Baba who leads the ghost tours in St Ives) saying “In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.” This quote feels like it echoes our motto – always loving, always learning, always looking for animals. Knowing more about what we love can only make us better conservationists and the world needs better conservationists right now.