Another UConn season has come and gone. Several groups joined us for an African Ecology course in the Sabi Sands. And what amazing sightings and experiences they have had! From riding Elephants to watching lions feed on dead Buffalo’s to lectures on South African history to playing soccer with the local community. And much, much more…

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The UConn team this year was made up of the following people:

Morty Ortega as the professor in charge. Morty has been with us for years and is part of the Nature Guide Training family. It is always a pleasure to have Morty with us.


This year he brought two teachers assistants and one research student with him. Andrea Petrullo and Kersey Lawrence came as his TA’s. Andrea, also known as Rea, came last year as a student and was so enthusiastic about spending some more time in Africa that Morty gave her the opportunity to come back. It was good to have her around camp with her humour and her sense of responsibility towards the students. Kersey has been coming back to South Africa and us for the last 7 years. She first came as a student on one of the old 28-day programs to become a level I field guide. During the last years she has become level I field guide, back-up trailsguide, specialist track & sign and tracker level III. She has helped us tremendously with her enormous experience and talent.

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Michelle Sweetman joined us as a research student. Last year she was also a student on the course and now she was doing research on Jackals. During this season she collected many Jackal scat samples to analyze. We are looking forward to the results of her research! During the last course Morty had to leave and brought in Chad Rittenhouse to replace him. It was strange to have UConn students and no Morty with us. However, Chad was an excellent stand-in and it was a pleasure having him around with his humour and enthusiasm.

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The course started for the students with a sleep over in a train. The travel time from Johannesburg to the Sabi Sands is about a 7 hour drive and because of this we decided to do it in 2 days. Early the next morning we departed for Hazyview and surprised the students by taking them to the Skyway Trails and Elephant Whispers in Hazyview. With Skyway Trails the students were gliding from tree-top to tree-top. This was definitely an exhilarating experience. Next stop was Elephant Whispers which was probably one of the highlights of many students if not THE highlight. The guides at Elephant Whispers were teaching the students anything and everything about Elephants. They were even allowed to touch the Elephants and to ride them! This experience gave them a huge amount of respect for these amazing creatures.


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Next was the arrival at the Sabi Sands were they got their very first South African braai. In the morning the students went on game drive and acclimatised to their new environment. Jens Reissig joined us for a first aid course and a Snake handling course. For many students the snake handling was again one of the highlights – where else would you be able to handle a Cobra or a Puff adder in a safe and controlled environment?

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Every group had amazing and unique animal sightings. For many students Leopard was one of the most important animals to see. Since we were based in the Sabi Sands this was not an impossible mission and everyone was rewarded with numerous leopard sightings. These ranged from leopards in trees (with or without a kill), leopards with cubs, mom and sons meeting up, walking past the car, roaring next to the car, playing with a snake, mating, playing with each other and just sleeping next to the car. Leopards are indeed very special and the Sabi Sands offers great viewing.

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Besides Leopard there were also amazing Lion sightings. These sightings range from whole prides sleeping with and without cubs, adults roaring next to the car, cubs playing, adults playing and whole prides feeding on dead Buffalo’s. Lions to some, are the most majestic animals in the animal kingdom. Besides Lions and Leopards the students were all lucky enough to see the rest of the Big Five. Elephants presented themselves regularly in big breeding herds or some adult bulls on their own. Some of the students were even lucky enough to have an encounter with these enormous animals on foot. Rhino’s were also around and were sighted. The last of the Big Five is the Buffalo. These animals were seen regularly. Mostly Dugga-boys but from time to time also huge breeding herds of several hundred individuals. On several walks we came across some of these old bulls. This is always an interesting, but safe experience with the vast amount of experience the instructors have.

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This year the community aspect was more than previous years. They actually went into the community and helped out at a local school. They painted school buildings and the playground so it looked more inviting for the children. New swings were also bought & donated to the school by Nature Guide Training. One of the groups also helped out with the new vegetable garden for the school. The students enjoyed spending time at the school and playing with the children. One group was lucky enough to have a game drive with the children and eat some hot dogs afterwards! For the children it was the first time in a game reserve and seeing wild animals. It is sometimes difficult to believe that there are many communities outside of the game reserves and they have never set foot in a reserve that is only a few hundred meters away from them. Candice Grover from Djuma was a great help in organising all these amazing experiences for us. Thanks for all your hard work Candice!

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Besides the Big Five, the students were also very lucky with the many amazing birds, insects, spiders and smaller mammals that were sighted. Lee opened a whole new world for the students on guided walks, where he would discuss and investigate all the thousands of different creepy crawlies with the students. Birds were not forgotten and often the Pearl spotted owlet call was imitated to lure birds out. This was something many students were amazed about and enjoyed seeing the many different little birds. Being in the Sabi Sands also allowed the students to spot many raptors and vultures. The Lilac Breasted Roller was a favourite with its beautiful colours.

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Some groups were extremely lucky in seeing Wild Dogs and/or Cheetahs. These animals are rare and when spotted it is an honour to watch them. Wild Dogs numbers are declining because of the lack of space needed and being killed outside of game reserves. The last groups were lucky to see them. A small pack of Wild Dogs had a den in the Manyeleti just outside of our boundaries. Because there are no fences the dogs were able to come into the Sabi Sands for hunting. These were the rare opportunities we were able to view them. Cheetahs are also very vulnerable in the Sabi Sands. The high numbers of Leopard, Lion and Spotted Hyena makes them very scarce. Fortunately two groups were lucky enough to see them. Once a male on an dead Impala and the other group had a coalition of 2 males.

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Of course there were many sightings of general game. Here is a general impression of these beautiful animals.


This year many instructors helped out and guided the UConn students. A special thank you to Mike Grover for jumping in whenever it was needed. His outlook on the management of a reserve was refreshing and very valuable for the many Natural Resource students. Jens Reissig has always been a part of the Nature Guide family. This year he had a role where he was more involved with the general guiding of the students. The students enjoyed him and his tremendous knowledge on reptiles. Kersey Lawrence was one of Morty’s teacher assistant but also took a role as one of the instructors. She thoroughly enjoyed guiding the students and we can say with full confidence that the students loved her!

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Here is an impression of the different groups that did the African Ecology program.