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One Morning in the Mara
Sverker - Jun 27 2012 09:08 AM
Julian Brookstein, Zimbabwe Pro Guide, Camp Hwange.
Name – Julian Brookstein
Date of Birth – 09 August 1979
Qualification – Zimbabwean Professional Guide
Place of Birth – Harare, Zimbabwe
Julian was born and raised in Zimbabwe and is a third generation Zimbabwean. His interest in the outdoors and wildlife began at an early age when he used to attend junior guiding camps in the school holidays. He has grown up keeping everything from scorpions to rats as pets. It was at age eleven that Julian told his parents he would be a guide. After completing his schooling and attaining a diploma in Agriculture in Zimbabwe, Julian went to South Africa to further his studies and attained a diploma in guiding and lodge management. After completing the diploma he returned to Zimbabwe.
He started his career as a canoe guide on the Zambezi River guiding multi day trips in the Zambezi National park, also working as a white water Rafting guide on the rapids below the Victoria Falls. Due to the downturn in tourism Julian went to the UK in 2002 and began working on a cruise ship. He worked at sea in the galley of the liner and climbed to the position of Chef De Partie, third in command to the head chef. During this time he travelled extensively throughout Europe. With a burning desire to come home and get back into the bush he returned to Zimbabwe and began working for Wilderness Safaris. He managed and guided in their camps in Mana Pools and Hwange National Park. At the beginning of 2011 Julian joined Camp Hwange as part of the new management team.
Julian holds a Zimbabwean Professional Guides license. As a Zimbabwean professional guide, he is well versed in all aspects of the African bush and has gone through rigorous training and exams, both practical and theory. It is this and a passion for the bush that make guests as enthusiastic as he is.
To find out more about Camp Hwange, visit their website here - www.camp-hwange.com
Julian, please tell us about your background – how, when and why you became involved in safari tourism/guiding and what is your experience in the safari sector until now.
I grew up in Harare but always loved wildlife and Zimbabwe’s wild places, always getting out to the bush whenever I could. I went to children’s bush camps numerous times as a child and it was after one of these bush camps when I was about ten that I told my parents I would be a Professional Guide. I never changed my mind so they started to steer me in the right direction. I went to Agricultural College and then did a diploma in Guiding and lodge management. I started in the industry as a Learner Guide, (see question 2), in Victoria Falls in 2001 as a trainee canoe guide and trainee rafting guide. Due to the situation in Zim Ieft for UK in 2002 and spent some time there before returning to Zimbabwe in 2007. I was adamant that I would finish my Zimbabwean Professional Guides license so got straight back into the industry and passed my full license in October 2010. I have been living my childhood dream and guiding in Zimbabwe ever since.
What is the training regimen required to qualify as a professional guide in Zimbabwe? How did you cope with it?
To answer this question I have put in a little piece that I wrote a while back explaining what I went through to get my license. I knew from a young age that I would be a professional guide so was always focused on achieving it. I loved every minute of my journey to qualifying, even the final proficiency exam.
The first stage in the process of becoming one of Africa’s finest walking guides is a written exam for your learners hunters/guides license. The same exams are written by all who want to be hunters and guides. These exams are conducted twice a year in February and September. The exams written are:
- Habits & Habitat
- The law pertaining to the Zimbabwean hunting/guiding industry
During your apprenticeship you will be expected to do anything and everything that comes up in the industry. This ranges from fixing tyre punctures to gaining the knowledge of fauna and flora of the country and surrounding countries, hosting guests in an entertaining and knowledgeable way and everything in between that life in the bush can throw at you. The slang term in the Zim industry is you are now a gopher…because you can be sent to go for this…. and go for that…. At any time day or night! These years can and should in my opinion be very tough at times but enjoyable for the apprentice as that is what will make he/she the guide of the standard that Zimbabwe is famous for. During these years you will have to personally hunt/skin/butcher at LEAST, four dangerous game animals, (Elephant and Buffalo), to be considered for the next level. It is in your interest to shoot the Elephant in particular with frontal brain shots as this is the only shot you will ever really take as a guide. If you have not taken the animal’s frontal brain there is a good chance that you will be told that you need to gain more experience and the interview stage which you will read about later.
You have to keep a record of everything mentioned above in a log book. It is in your interest to log every activity you do from the maintenance work in camp, vehicle and the concession. Drives undertaken, walks that you have accompanied fully licensed guides on, (of which there will be many!), approaches done on animals - in particular “dangerous game” and of course all your hunts which you will need to have photos of you with the animals shot, you skinning and butchering etc. On everything that you log you will need to have your mentor sign and comment on the activity undertaken. Basically if the activity is relevant in the industry and to you becoming a Pro Guide then log it. Wherever possible and if National Parks were involved you should get them to stamp your log book. This is very important, especially for your hunts.
So now if you have at least four dangerous game animals in your log book and you and your mentor think that you are ready for the next stage then you must now do your advanced first aid course which is a week long course with an exam at the end. You must pass this exam to get your certificate. Then you will have to register for the shooting exam which happens twice a year in February and September at a shooting range. The minimum caliber allowed in Zimbabwe to guide is .375. Saying this it must be noted that you will be marked down if you do not hit bulls eye with a .375 as opposed to using a .458 or bigger - this is due to velocities and bullet weight etc and the ability for a bigger caliber to perform better if the shot is not 100% accurate. This exam entails various exercises that are aimed to mimic an animal charging in and away, chasing up a wounded elephant etc. All of these shoots are timed and you are scored on accuracy. After you have done all the shoots your scores will be added up and you have to achieve a certain grade to get your shooting certificate. You have to shoot accurately and fast to pass this exam. So now if you have passed this you will now have:
- Learner guides license
- Advanced first aid certificate
- Shooting certificate
- At least four dangerous game that you have personally shot
- A log book with all your previous years experience noted
The interview is a tough process; you will be standing in front of 8-10 qualified hunters/guides with at least ten years experience with a full license. As a guide you will be expected to identify a range of mammal skulls ranging from dwarf mongoose up to lion and anything in between. You will need to tell the examiners what and why each skull is going into dentition, eye placement, skull morphology etc., etc. After doing this you will shown a big range of skins and asked to indentify these again explaining your answers. After you have been through these you will have questions fired at you by all the interviewers on anything and everything that the industry entails for anywhere up to an hour or more in some cases. You will then be asked to leave the interview room while the examiners deliberate. You will then be called back in and told if you have passed or failed. If you fail you will not be told why and you will have to register for the interview again in a few months time. The words you want to hear are “we would like to invite you to proficiency”
Proficiency happens once a year in the first week of October. What will normally happen is you will team up with another apprentice or two to split costs and you will be expected to set up a full fly camp in a area that you will you will told about a month or two prior to the exam. You may only go and set up two days before the exam officially starts. You will have to set up a fully functional fly camp with space for at least two guests, (who will be examiners). Your camp must cover everything from ablutions to dining area etc. Your camp will be expected to run for a week so you must have all food, drink etc on site for the week long exam. You may take in some camp hands to assist in the running of your camp e.g. a cook and a waiter. On the day the exam officially starts the examiners will come in a inspect your camp and you will have to show them around. Normally then the apprentices will be divided into groups of about 5-6 and this will be your group for the whole exam process. Then for the next week you will be out in the bush with your group and examiners everyday all day with them and they will be testing you on whatever they want during this time. You will be doing approaches, being asked any question they can come up with out there covering all fauna and flora, tracks birds etc., etc. Each group will be allocated animals that will be hunted over this period. As a guide you will have to shoot an Elephant on proficiency.
To digress slightly here, all apprentice hunters and guides have to go through all the above stages. Hunters obviously following their chosen profession more and concentrating more on the hunting side of things and they have to have at least five dangerous game animals in their log book and they must have experience with cats also. You will all be together on the final proficiency.
Generally all the guides on the proficiency exam will be shooting Elephant and some hunters will shoot buffalo as the hunters by now will have had a lot of experience in the hunting of dangerous game. Normally an apprentice hunter will be teamed with a guide and the hunter will have to get the guide into position for a frontal brain shot if it is a elephant and it will vary if the animal being hunted is a buffalo. The guide then has to take the shot with the hunter backing him up with the examiners watching. If it is a frontal brain shot on an elephant you have to drop the elephant with one shot or everything you have done up to now is of no use and you will fail immediately and have to come back the next year to proficiency. However if you have done well in everything leading up to the shooting of the elephant in the examiners eyes and you drop the elephant with a good frontal brain shot. Then you will then be expected to. with your group, skin and butcher the elephant as to a set standard. With only six of you this is no easy feat. Throughout all of this you will be getting examined. The skinning etc is very important but definitely your frontal brain shot is the most important part of the exam. If you do all of this and the examiners are satisfied and pass you, you are now licensed to walk guests and are a…….
Zimbabwean Professional Guide.
Your's truly undergoing a briefing with Julian prior to approaching an elephant. Courtesy and copyright, @Safaridude.
How, as a guide, do you mentally prepare for taking each individual client/group out on a walk, especially when approaching dangerous game? How do you prepare you clients before and during each walk?
Walking is what Zimbabwean Guides do. Our training as you have read about above is second to none in the industry. This means that by the time you are licensed to walk you will know animal behavior and how to act when in the various situations that arise when walking. Be it having an Elephant Bull slowly walking up to you or a lion charging you. Your training will kick in. So I guess to answer your question in a round about way, I am always most relaxed and happy when walking in the bush. If the guide is relaxed the guest is generally relaxed. I always talk my guests through what is likely to happen when we approach different animals and tell them what my reaction will be. Basically when approaching dangerous game each situation is different so stay close and listen to me!
Of the many walks you’ve done, what have been your top five in terms of encounters and why?
It would take a while for me to write about my top five. I always write about my encounters soon after they happen and post them regularly on my blog and facebook. I have posted some of them in the guides story section here on Safari Talk. I think that all of them have their own appeal. The time I managed to get my four guests and me in on our bums to about fifteen meters from a lioness feeding on a buffalo. We then sat and watched her feed for a while before pulling out is up there. Also when I managed to get my guest and I in amongst six elephant bulls and shared a moment with them. That was spiritual for me. I will continue to post my stories here on Safari Talk so you can read them if you are interested.
Tell us about the history of Camp Hwange: who is involved for instance? What had to be done to secure the concession? When did you move into the concession and what was the area like when you first took possession of it? What changes have been made to open it up for safari use? (Other than camp construction.) What are you still planning to do to improve tourism infrastructure?
We moved onto the concession in 2011, when we first came here we basically had to open the road to get in. We followed an elephant path in and that is still our main road in today and is still used by the elephants. The area was basically virgin - we arrived and we had to open up all the roads on the concession, we now pump the waterhole in front of camp and also pump the waterhole on the edge of our concession, taking the maintenance of it over from National Parks.
What the design brief for the camp and how long did the EIA process take to complete? What have been the hurdles encountered to date?
The Design brief was always that it was to be a beautiful bush camp and that was it is. If we as the guides are doing our jobs you will not spend a lot of time in your room or in camp for that matter! There have been all sorts of hurdles along the way, basically ones that any new camp operating in Africa will encounter. The EIA took about six months from start to finish. We had someone from museums and monuments and the representative of the EIA Company at the site for it. We operated as a tented camp for a couple months is 2011 to get the word out that Camp Hwange was here. When returning from a drive one morning on a particularly windy day I was looking a the tented camp from a distance and thinking to myself, “I am sure there was four tents when we left.” As we got closer we saw just the toilet sitting there to remind us that there was indeed a tent there when we left. The guest whose tent it was turned out to be a great sport and laughed.
What are the camp’s eco credentials? For instance how is grey and black water treated and from where is water drawn? Why does the camp not have a plunge pool? How is waste material disposed of and recycled? Electricity generated and supplied? Etc…
All the lights and water heating in the camp run on solar. We have a bank of solar panels and batteries at the back of house. We do have a back up generator, which is run for a couple hours a day to supplement charge the batteries. Our black water system in camp is septic tank and soak away. We do not have a plunge pool because we don’t feel that in an area that it is so hard pressed for water it is right to be swimming. As far as waste material, we take all of our rubbish out of the park and dump It at the council dump in Hwange Town. It is quite a task as a busy camp can create quite a bit of rubbish.
A recent discussion on Safaritalk with interesting input surrounds the use of internet, wireless connection etc whilst on Safari, (for more see here), what is your opinion on the use of internet whilst in camp, use of Ipads, tablets, iphones etc and what facilities do you offer guests should they need to use it?
This is an easy one for me. No Internet in camps, you are in the bush! We do have satellite email in the office for staying in comms with the office that if a guest has an emergency they can use it. Be prepared to wait ten minutes for a page to load though!
How large is the concession area and what habitats/biomes does the concession comprise of? How does each biome cater for different species?
The concession is roughly 50 square km, which is a good size. It is a brilliant area as we have mopane, teak forest and grassland. These are basically the biomes that Hwange has and we have all three on our concession. All the biomes cater for different animals at different times of the year. The teak generally is not the most productive of areas however if you want to find elephant bulls in the wet season, the teak is a good place to start as they are in there feeding on the new grass. Once it starts to dry up then work the mopane and grassland.
How do annual weather patterns impact upon wildlife densities in your concession in Hwange and what instances have you seen where severe weather patterns have adversely affected animal behaviour?
All of the pumped waterholes are basically in the more northern section of the park so as it gets drier and drier many of the animals gravitate to the North. To give you and example towards the end of the dry season all of the water points still holding water are getting frequented by huge numbers of animals, particularly elephant. This means that the vegetation surrounding these points comes under massive pressure and its nutrient value is right down. When the rains come many of these animals bombshell to areas of the park that now have natural water and vegetation that has not been touched for months. We can go from seeing 500 elephants one evening then we get a big storm as the rains start and you will go to the same waterhole the next day and not see even one. In 2012 we had a particularly bad dry season and there were elephants dying all over the park. We had over twenty die at our waterhole in front of camp. We did also save nineteen baby elephants that were stuck in the mud in our waterhole. The following two seasons we have not had to rescue any.
One of the concession's resident males crossing between 2 Camp Hwange vehicles. Courtesy and copyright @Safaridude.
What differences in wildlife behaviour have you noted from when first opening the concession till now? What are the most productive hotspots in your area and why? What are the rarities you’ve seen on the concession and how have guests reacted to seeing them?
We have seen huge differences in the way the wildlife behaves on and around our concession. When I first came to the site of the camp I was living in a tent cooking on a little fire where the office now stands in camp. I did not see a single animal round where the camp now stands for months. Gradually we started to see stuff. For example when we first saw the lions that were the resident pride then they would run for thick cover soon as they saw the car. We would then try and park at a distance and just wait it out. Once it got dark they would get braver and come up to the car, especially the cubs who were very inquisitive after dark. Slowly they got more used to us, it took many hours just parked at a distance waiting for dark. Till finally we have the lions we have today that are very relaxed round cars. We are now working on making them relaxed with us on foot. That is another story! As far as hotspots, if I had to pick one it would have to be Dwarf Goose pan I think, it is just a very popular waterhole. As far as rarities we see Serval very often in the grassland round camp. We also see Aardwolf quite a bit on night drives.
How was Hwange National Park affected by Zimbabwe’s recent tumultuous past in terms of both conservation and tourism and what signs of recovery are you seeing now tourists are returning in numbers to the country?
Tourism basically died from about 2000 onwards dues to all that was happening in Zimbabwe then. A lot of camps and operators shut down, as there was just no business. However the wildlife in the parks generally continued to do well. Obviously there was and increase in poaching due to the times but no to the extent that was being reported in the media. We are now seeing a huge increase in Tourism in Zimbabwe, which is fantastic.
What is being done to promote Hwange National Park to a safari going audience and what, in your opinion does it offer over, for instance, Kruger National Park in South Africa? What more can be done in your opinion to attract a greater number of visitors?
All of the operators in Hwange and indeed Zimbabwe are working tirelessly to promote their camps and the country as a whole is back on the safari map again. I don’t have a lot of experience with Kruger but do know that I never want to work in a place that has tar roads and the possibility of getting a speeding fine as you do in lots of Kruger. Basically for me Hwange is still wild. We have guests who come and ask why some of the animals are so skittish. The answer is that this is still a wild place; there are no fences here and no masses of traffic. We can do a full day safari sometimes and not see another car the entire day.
How do your guests usually combine Hwange into a more comprehensive Zimbabwe itinerary and what are the logistics of visiting Hwange and then other areas or viça verça?
A lot of our guests will do a combination of possibly Hwange, Mana and Kariba for example, which I think, works well. Also you must remember that Hwange is huge and to see the Sinamatella area does not mean you have seen Hwange. The main camp area offers a whole different side to be seen. To access Sinamtella it is an easy two hour drive from Victoria Falls and then another hour of you want to come to us at Camp Hwange. If you were planning to go onto Main Camp that would be another two hours of driving to reach there. It is a massive park.
Buffalos at the camp's waterhole.
Hwange’s pumped water supply: one obvious question is how sustainable are the pumped pans and waterholes in the long term for wildlife concentrations in the park? Have they led to a reliance by certain species to the detriment of not only others but the ecosystems as well? What happens if pans are no longer pumped, (as has been the case in the past) – what happens to wildlife in that area and likewise, how does the environment recover and how quickly? Is there a simple answer: can the pumps be switched off indefinitely, or at least rotated in order to create a mini migration pattern?
The pumping of water in Hwange has always been a topic of discussion and will continue to be for a long time. Are they sustainable, that is the big question. How old is the water that we are pumping? Is it renewing itself or are we pumping aquifers that don’t renew with the rainwater? These are questions that I don’t know the answer to I am afraid. If you read Ted Davison's, (the first warden of Hwange), book, you will see how the numbers of animals began to increase dramatically since the introduction of the pumps. The huge elephant population in Hwange relies heavily on the pumped water in the park. This does however create immense pressure on the vegetation surrounding these pumped water points in the dry season. An elephant will only go so far from water before it has to return to drink. I have been told by a reliable source that there are over one hundred boreholes in the park and at the moment around sixty are pumped in the dry season. If those other forty or fifty odd were also being pumped in the dry time it would make a massive difference. I do know that now that we pump we can never stop, unless you want to see a huge die off in animal numbers.
How does Camp Hwange interact with The Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Authority and other tourism and conservation stakeholders in assisting conservation efforts in the park?
We have a very good relationship with ZPWMA are always happy to assist in any way that we can. We currently supply the diesel and maintain two parks pumps as well as our own pumps. We also assist them with deploying of rangers on patrol and also assist in the maintenance of the roads in the Sinamatella area. We also recently donated in the form of time, money and volunteers to the Sinamatella school. We have plans in the pipeline now to donate another two engines and diesel to pump another two waterholes within the park.
How were traditional wildlife migration routes affected by human developments in the 20th century? So now, what are the migratory routes still left open and when do wildlife migrations occur? Surrounding Hwange National Park, where are the wildlife dispersal areas and how do communities benefit from having wildlife in their areas?
The bottom line is that we as humans have pretty much stopped a lot of the big mammal migrations now due to us ever expanding and squeezing these animals into smaller and smaller areas. There is work going on now to try and establish migratory routes and trans frontier parks etc. I am not so sure about some of them as they will open routes that will take these animals into direct conflict with humans. Humans that are not so keen to see these animals in there areas, and if they do see them may just look at them as a source of protein. As Hwange has no fences animals can and do disperse to all areas around the park like the Gwaai, Ngamo, Tsholotsho, Matetsi and into Botswana. There is a very good program called Communal Areas Management Program For Indigenous Resources CAMPFIRE is the acronym. This basically is a Zimbabwean community-based natural resource management program. It is one of the first programs to consider wildlife as renewable natural resources, while addressing the allocation of its ownership to indigenous peoples in and around conservation protected areas. It has been working very well for sometime now, though there have been a few hiccups.
In terms of poaching, (which was particularly highlighted last year with the elephant poisoning case), where are most instances occurring and what type of poaching is it? With Hwange being so vast, how difficult a job is it for authorities to regularly maintain anti-poaching patrols? Just how important is the cooperation of local communities in combating poaching?
Poaching is an everpresent threat to Zimbabwe’s and indeed the world's wildlife. There has of late been a massive increase again in ivory poaching throughout the region as was highlighted in the cyanide poisoning cases last year. Majority of the poaching is happening on the boundaries of the park but It is a huge task to police Hwange as it is so big, and sadly the ZPWMA are under funded and under manned. They do however still do their best and do get results. I feel that the incorporation of communities is key is combating this threat as someone always knows something!
What are the logistics and options for self drivers visiting Hwange and of all the public rest camp areas, what are your favourites and why?
There is decent road network within the park and it is great place to self-drive and explore on your own. There is also a decent number of public campsites that can be booked in advance. They range from decently equipped to very basic and most have an attendant that is always happy to help. I think as far as my favorite, probably would have to be Masuma. It is a very popular waterhole, I have seen lion and Cheetah kills there aswell as a number of other amazing sightings.
You have been involved in focus group meetings for the new Hwange National Park Management plan: so what does the future hold for Hwange in terms of tourism, (ie how many more properties can be developed), conservation, (ie elephant population control, drilling of more boreholes), and incorporation of bordering communal areas, (and communities)?
I have been involved in these meetings and we are still waiting to hear what the outcome is from this. We all put a number of ideas and plans forward but we will have to wait and see what comes of it. As far as what does the future hole for Hwange. I like to believe good things. We have to remain positive, if you live in Zimbabwe you have to be or you will become very depressed very fast!
All images courtesy and copyright Julian Brookstein and Camp Hwange unless otherwise stated.
The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.
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