A group of seven prominent Swiss media hosted by Bettina Weber of Friends of African Wildlife and Michèle Hungerbuehler from Hotelplan Suisse recently visited the College. Their itinerary included visits to the different projects and programmes sponsored by Friends of African Wildlife and supported by Hotelplan Suisse.
This meant that they were able to spend time with the Natural Resource Management Higher and Advanced Certificate Programme students, the Youth Access: Conservation and Environmental Education Bridging Programme learners and with trainee field rangers at the field ranger training base.
Great fun was had during a learning exercise conducted by the Youth Access bridging course students where the learners worked in groups and identified various conservation and environmental issues being faced. Being a competition between the two groups, there was much laughter as the learners passed around the cards and identified the issues at hand, with one team finally getting the better over the other, with guest lecturer Liz Lambert having to adjudicate.
On a more serious note, the media were also introduced to College’s counter poaching training initiatives. Much time was spent with the staff and dogs at the K9 Unit learning more about the dogs have become an essential tool in the fight against poaching. The media then also go the chance to take a quick flip in the College’s Savannah light sports aircraft, thereby getting an insight into the College’s aerial surveillance and ground to air field ranger training. “Viewing targeted game such as rhino, elephant and lion from the air was an emotional experience,” said Mrs Liza Merz from Schweizer Illustrierte when she climbed out of the aircraft ably piloted by Bruce McDonald.
During their stay the group had the opportunity of witnessing the College’s K9 Unit in action both on and off lead. The dogs were taken into the bush by their handlers, and having been fitted with GPS collars, the media were able to see just how closely these dogs stick to the track. A demonstration of dogs’ keen sense of smell in terms of identifying poached items such a rhino horn and pangolin scales was also provided. The K9 Unit’s beagle, captured many a heart when she took off into the bush, nose to the ground, to follow the tracks laid.
Unfortunately the weather hampered a possible walk in the College’s training area but Pieter Nel, senior trainer in the Sustainable Use and Field Guiding department availed the media with an interesting talk on the importance of community benefits and the sustainable use of Africa’s natural resources. The weather however played along later in the day and the group was able to enjoy some welcome sundowners and a sumptuous bush dinner under the stars organized by the College’s hospitality manager Hazel Timm and her competent team.
On their last morning, the Swiss media group visited Welverdiend, the community adjacent to the College. Seen through the eyes of their guide, Precious Malapane who is an intern at the College’s K9 Unit following her completion of the Youth Access Bridging Programme last year, the media got some real insight into community life in a South African rural village. “There really is a lot of disparity in terms of the way people live. It is however uplifting to see that people like Precious have a ready smile and can-do attitude despite the difficulties they face,” said Mrs Susanna Mueller from Neue Zürcher Zeitung. The visitors were welcomed into the local community school grounds where Precious was a scholar and then paid a quick visit to the local church, before heading back to the College.
Fond farewells were the order of the day when the rather tired but happy and informed group boarded their vehicle and headed off to Motswari Lodge for a couple of days before heading back to Zürich.