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Trueways Anti-Poaching and Survival Course Review

Discussion in 'Bushcraft and survival skills' started by Doodler, May 15, 2019.

  1. Doodler

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    I booked this course “Anti-Poaching and Survival” in South Africa (SA) through Truways Survival (TS). The course instructor was Les Brett (LB).

    We had some amazing experiences, however I felt there was a lack of instruction time during the course.

    LB is clearly very experienced and knowledgeable, is inspiring and is very passionate about conservation to which he devotes his life.

    LB was the only instructor on the course. He did almost all of the catering, including going for the fresh supplies. One afternoon he did a four hour round trip to get supplies. I think it is too much for one person to do all of this. He is an excellent bush cook, and has written books on the subject.

    The camp consists of about ten semi-permanent tents, centred around a huge and beautiful Fig tree. Fairly dense bush surrounds the tree so there is no view/outlook, which I found quite claustrophobic, given the amount of time we spent there. There is a flush toilet and an effective improvised wood fired hot shower, which is fun.

    At the camp we saw some wild cats (bigger than domestic cats), monkeys and a few glimpses of antelopes. A farm is located nearby so we could hear cockerels, cows and donkeys.

    There were no troublesome insects and the weather was beautiful (April). We could sit about in camp in the afternoon with T shirts on very comfortably, like a UK summer day, although out of the shade in the mid-day it would be hotter.

    I booked through TS as this appeared to be the only way of doing the course as I was not part of a group. However, if you were to approach LB directly http://www.dung-beetle.co.za/Home/ with a group booking this would be far better.

    I had trouble getting information about the course before booking. I phoned TS twice to get information, the person I spoke to obviously did not know much about the course and when I asked him if he had been out there to see the course he said no. I asked him what the survival aspects of the course were. His reply was: avoiding the dangers of wildlife and poachers with guns. To me this is not “survival”, if it was, then any course which teaches avoiding danger would also be “survival”, e.g. swimming lessons to avoid drowning. The TS website has numerous courses on “survival” covering water gathering, making shelters, fire lighting, etc, which I would regard as “survival”.

    I asked him if there were any reviews I could read, and he directed me to two that are on the TW website, assuring me that “they are genuine”.

    He suggested I phone LB to get more information saying that I would need to take account of the time difference to SA, and that he thought this was about 5 hours. I pointed out that since SA was south of the UK there would be little or no time difference.

    I exchanged some emails with LB, but the replies were very short, for example “Can you tell me how advanced the course is? Is it intro, middle or advanced?”. His reply: “Hi the course is at a level designed to accommodate and deliver at all levels, covering 16 subjects”.

    One of our five students on the course was not met at the airport, due to a mix up with the number of students on the course (LB had left the airport with 4 students thinking that was the total number). Apparently TS had not sent any paperwork for one of the students. Some phoning sorted this out and brought the minibus back to the airport.

    There was a mix up with the dates also: the dates on the TS website was 15 to 25 April (i.e. eleven days), and all the students made travel arrangements around that. However, during the course LB told us that the course is a 10 day course (8 days on site and a day each side of that for travel). Also I see elsewhere on the TWS website it is advertised as a ten day course.

    TWS charged £1495 for the course, but LB was paid £900 of that per head.

    A typical day on the course consisted of breakfast (cereal), then a lecture style lesson for an average of about 50 minutes on a subject such as the biology of lions, elephants, etc. Then a trip out of camp in the open top safari style Landover, typically for about two hours, finishing about 11.30. This was followed by a brunch, e.g. burger and chips. After that the next activity was a second trip in the Landover, at about 16.30, again for about 2 hours. Dinner about 7.30, typically very good BBQ meat, etc. That was typically all of the course activity time for the day, the rest of the time was “down time” spent in camp.

    The trips out in the Landover typically consisted of LB driving us around the tracked area of the reserve, in an area of about 3 or 4 square miles. Most of the time we would drive about with LB occasionally pointing out points of interest, e.g. “blesbok” or “grey hornbill”. Sometimes we would stop for a brief walk, of e.g. 5 to 10 minutes, during which LB would give us a few minutes lesson on a point of interest such as a warthog burrow or some tracks. We also sometimes would stop a few times to collect firewood.

    On three of four occasions our brief walks during the Landover drives were for the purpose of approaching buffalo or rhino by foot, getting to within 20 to 40 meters. I found this very frightening. LB had no firearm, and although an expert might say it’s not necessary, it added to my feeling of being unsafe.

    The two hour evening drives often included stopping in a nice area and drinking beers while watching the sunset.

    I found driving about very pleasant: nice to be out in the fresh air in such a beautiful place and great to see so many amazing new animals close up. However, I didn’t feel that I was learning a lot, apart from the names of the animals and birds.

    So, the time spent in camp was usually from about 11.30 till 16.30, and then after 18.30. During this time we spent our time sleeping, reading, etc. A lot of the time was spent sitting in the central camp area talking. Quite a lot of drinking was done by some, sometimes starting in the afternoon.

    Sitting around the camp fire at night was very atmospheric. LB has a lot of amazing stories and many strongly expressed views on the world.

    You couldn’t go out of the camp without LB during the “down time” due to the wildlife hazards, although some of us did go with LB on the occasional food shopping trips in the van. We didn’t get much exercise, so some of us started doing a daily press up routine.

    Some of the items on the TWS website syllabus for the course weren’t covered: “the art of camouflage and surveillance”, “ambush planning and procedures”, and “snare identification and procedures”.

    Also, we did not go on a ”night deployment with an active anti-poaching team”. We did however go out near the end of the course on two evenings just after dark to help the reserve staff feed rhinos and buffalo from a pickup. We each had a turn at doing this, on one of the two evenings, the other evening being an observer from the Landover. The feeding consisted of standing in the back of a pickup with the staff, and emptying bags of feed onto a feeding position on the ground, then driving 50 meters or so to the next one to empty more feed, while the animals milled around the vehicle to get the food. This was an amazing experience, being within touching distance of these amazing huge animals. However, it was all over in about 10 minutes, unfortunately.

    Survival was only covered with a few minutes here and there during the outings from camp, with for example a very brief talk on plants we came across which were poisonous or edible.

    Some of the students on our course tried fire lighting using the bow and drill friction method one afternoon for a couple of hours during “down time” without instruction. This failed, perhaps due to not knowing what type of local wood to use.

    We did cover some items which were not on the syllabus, such as “History of South Africa” which was our lecture for that day.

    A major issue for me on this course was the lack of instructed time. I found this frustrating and disappointing. I don’t think it could be called an intensive course. It was not what I’m used to or expect when I attend courses or help instruct on courses. However, if the above is the sort of course you would enjoy, then go for it!

    I think the course could be greatly improved with the addition of a second instructor filling in the “down time” that we experienced. The cost of that could be liberated by TS taking far less of the £1495.

    This would make attending the course more worthwhile, given the cost and time of attending.
     
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  2. C_Claycomb

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    Thanks for sharing. Do you have any photos that you can post up to go with your review?

    Cheers

    Chris
     
  3. zackerty

    zackerty Maker Plus

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    I have retracted my statements after some thought.
    Sorry about that.
     
  4. Woody girl

    Woody girl Full Member

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    I'm sure you had a good time but it must have been a bit dissopointing. It doesn't sound like you got what you were expecting. Mistakes do happen but paperwork not sorted and someone left at the airport? Hmmm. What did you actually learn about anti poaching and survival that was worth the money?
     
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  5. Nomad64

    Nomad64 Full Member

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    Welcome to the forum. Hopefully this is not going to be your only post (it is a bit frustrating when people join forums just to post customer service gripes), head head over to the intro section to say hello properly and post some info about yourself.

    Although I have not been directly involved in African anti-poaching operations, in a past life I had a role which involved working closely with anti-poaching teams, providing transport, logistical and other support. I have seen anti-poaching squads at work and training and drilling and honestly I’m not sure how that would readily translate into a ten or eleven day holiday experience. TBH the most I think you could realistically hope for is a safari holiday with a bit of a twist.

    That said, if there was a significant mismatch between what the brochure said and what you got (allowing a bit of leeway for the vagaries of life in the African bush), then if you feel strongly enough about it then I guess you can take it up with Trueways as you would if you booked a package beach holiday and the hotel was half built and/or much further from the beach than the brochure claimed.

    It may require a bit of a leap of faith but IMHO self drive safaris are the way to go if you are frustrated with organised There are plenty of companies in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana where you can hire a fully kitted expedition 4x4 (sadly not many Landies these days), pick it up from the airport or have it delivered to your hotel and just do your own thing.

    UK based Safari Drive are one of the more expensive but have a reputation for providing great support and planning assistance.

    https://safaridrive.com/

    There are plenty of cheaper options but you will have to do more planning etc yourself,

    https://www.keatravel.co.za/category/4x4

    South Africa and Namibia are great and cheap but IMHO (if you can crack the Byzantine booking system), Botswana offers the best experience - for a few dollars a night, you camp in the bush often miles from anyone else with no fences between you and whatever is around.

    If you are interested in a guided or organised trip in the future, Ben at Wild Human (formerly Woodsmoke) runs courses in Namibia - I went on a course in the U.K. with Ben over a decade ago and was very impressed.

    https://www.wildhuman.com/?mc_id=33

    For guidebooks to African mammals which go beyond just identification, I can highly recommend Richard Estes guidebooks.

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Safari-Com...+Safari&qid=1558528543&s=gateway&sr=8-2-fkmr0

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Behavior-G...VM2E3KSZXEG&psc=1&refRID=0SM8PXE3SVM2E3KSZXEG

    I hope you have not been put off exploring Africa further many your recent experience, it is a fantastic place and it really is not as hard to do your own thing there if you want to.

    :)
     
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  6. Doodler

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    looks like truways got misspelt (sorry probly my fault), its trueways not truways...… https://truewayssurvival.com/ :) how do you insert a photo?
     
  7. Janne

    Janne M.A.B (Mad About Bushcraft)

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    Doodler, what kind of Bushcrafting do you do?
    Any fishing?
    Like knives?


    ( just want you to present yourself a bit. To start with a complaint, legit and justified or not, is not interesting.
     
  8. Doodler

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    Hi, I am keen on sea kayaking, which can involve some bush craft skills when your on the beach, often on a small island. Also, I do a fair bit of fishing off the kayak and sometimes put out a lobster pot if I'm staying for a while. I did a course in jungle bushcraft last year with Secret Compass, the course was called "jungle guide course" for ten days, learnt a lot. Very interesting learning from the locals how to light fires, collect firewood etc in a very damp environment.
     
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  9. C_Claycomb

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    Reading Doodler's review of the course put me in mind of three trips/courses I have been on.

    The first was the Woodlore Fundamental course I attended in 2003. Back then there were no British bushcraft forums and not much in the way of an on-line community. I looked for reviews of the course and found nothing, so decided to write one myself, and post it on British Blades, mainly for the knife side of things. I enjoyed the course, and had a great time, but I wanted to post a balanced and informative review, so I included things that I thought could have been better, as well as thing things that went well. It was partly a result of that article that I was asked by Tony to be a moderator here. I did a second write up, less knife related, and posted it here. I thought it was an enjoyable and informative cours and I always recommended the course and company. Woodlore didn't see it that way and in one of their communications to Tony, made reference to my review and were quite negative about it.

    I write plenty of stuff as an engineer, but that profession tends to put more importance on detailing problems and areas for improvement than it does for waxing lyrical about things that went right and worked as they were expected to.

    My impression of Doodler's review was that it was very like how I would write. Reading it as a complaint may be overly harsh on Doodler's intent.

    The second trip was one that three of us from this forum made to visit Torjus Gaaren in Norway. The three of us flat-landers from the UK trundled off on what we thought was going to be mostly a fishing trip, with a little walking. Well, the countryside was simply awesome, tons of wild life, stunning scenery, met just one other person out all week, but the terrain was a lot harder than any of us had expected. Lesson, when a 20 something Norwegian from a glacial valley farm tells you that there will be a little climb the first day, and then it is all pretty flat...don't believe it ;)! It was a good trip, and I look back on it fondly. The guys that went in winter were warned, but they had a really tough time and there were bad feelings all around. The problem was one of different expectations, client vs guide. It wasn't enough to have communications before hand, people needed to be explicit and have things spelled out. People generally don't like doing that, being explicit enough so that there is no room for errors is a lot like being blunt to the point of being rude.

    Sometimes things work out without being explicit. I had two days with a guide in New Zealand like that, but I think that was luck. I have seen or heard of more times when conflicting expectations, aided by poor communication, have been a problem than not.

    The final trip was to Namibia, making up numbers, with Worldwild Adventures. This was very much an Africa experience trip, rather than a bushcraft course. There were two western guides along with some local trackers for parts of the trip, and there were six of us clients. As a make-weight member of the trip, I wasn't paying full price, and I went with absolutely no expectations on what we would do or what we would see. I was along for the ride, and when the other clients were deciding what they wanted to do, I tended to leave them to it. This did mean that once or twice we didn't do things I would have liked to do, like we never got out early enough while in Etosha to stand a chance of seeing any big predators returning from the night's hunt. I heard how on earlier trips, some clients had arrived with very set ideas about what they would be doing, some quite erroneous, that caused problems. They hadn't been clear before heading out, and the guides hadn't thought to spell things out from their side either. Again, expectations from different people that weren't compatible.


    Looking at the Trueways web page, the description of the course, contents, and looking at photos, I think that you would need three to four staff to support a group of seven or eight clients, if they were to deliver what they say the course will deliver. On our Namibia trip, one of the guides and two of the clients were North American, operating on the idea of a full-service experience, all put on by the guide. We did what we could to help things run, and we didn't need to go for additional supplies, but if we had needed supplies, or there had been less client participation in camp chores, it would have been very hard on the two guides, and that was without them delivering lesson content.

    Chris
     
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  10. pritchi

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  11. pritchi

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    Thanks Doodler. My son and I are booked onto the very same course in 2 weeks time so some useful info. Will report back with our experience
     
  12. Broch

    Broch Full Member

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    I think this is more to do with Les Brett than Trueways to be honest. A friend of mine went out on what was supposed to be an 'anti-poaching tracking' course earlier this year and it was more a tame wildlife safari. Les charges big money to do a very much longer training course and isn't interested in giving 80% away for 20% of the revenue as far as I can make out. On my friends trip it was more the participants (experienced trackers) that delivered value than Mr. Brett himself.

    However, this is all second hand so there's probably a 'third truth'.
     
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  13. Doodler

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    Hope you have a good trip pritchi! watch out for ticks, there was a lot about. I caught African Tick Typhus off a tick bite there. I would wear long trousers tucked into the socks, use lots of DEET repellent on socks and lower legs, remove ticks quickly and carefully ..... watch for any bites going a bit septic, then purple then black in the middle, and having flu like illness with it, swollen lymph glands in the groin, usually about a week or so after coming home.
     
  14. Nomad64

    Nomad64 Full Member

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    Very true but the problem with a single (albeit very detailed) review from someone with no track record is that it is difficult to gauge whether their expectations were realistic and description of their experience reasonable and objective.

    Although the OP has not engaged with the forum outside this thread, the review is certainly more objective than those posts that appear across multiple forums and FB groups from someone with a customer service gripe or other grievance who have joined just to vent their spleen or embarrass the subject of their ire, only to disappear, never to be heard from again. I guess the ball is in the OP’s court on this.

    Having looked closely at the TWS advert for this “course”, two things in particular would concern me;

    (a) Having seen the questionable impact of “voluntourism” first hand, I am very cynical of any holiday/expedition/course that suggests that you will “make a difference”. Quite simply you won’t - there are plenty of locals capable of painting an orphanage, digging a well, playing football with school kids, or in this case possibly removing a snare from a bush. Having a rich, (typically) white tourist coming and do it is at best demeaning and can be damaging. I spoke to a couple of UK teachers on a gap year in Malawi who were appalled to find that the arrival of some free teachers had resulted in a couple of local teachers being made redundant. The law of unintended consequences applies to just about anything you do in Africa.

    The difference you can make is simply by being there and spending your money. I’m not a fan of the big budget safari operations but thy employ lots of local staff which means that money trickles down into the local economy. Again, this can have negative unintended consequences with the safari lodge bellboy with the nice smile getting more in tips in day than the local teacher or nurse makes in a month. That said, money in Africa does get spread around and the more the community adjacent to national parks and game reserves benefits from tourism, the less likely they will drawn into poaching - which is dangerous and poorly paid.

    If the course is being run on a shoestrng by a one man band then profits may get ploughed back into funding anti-poaching activities, the fewer people employed the less benefits accruing locally.

    (b) There is big money behind poaching for rhino horn and elephant tusks and countering it is a dangerous activity and the casualty rate amongst rangers is high.

    http://globalconservation.org/news/park-rangers-frontline-being-killed-astonishing-rate-new-solutio/

    I’m afraid that the idea that after a week’s training, people who may never have set foot in the African bush would be ready to take part in a meaningful night deployment with an “active anti-poaching team” as advertised in the blurb makes as much sense as it would Thomas Cook offering civvies the chance to join squaddies on patrol in Helmand a decade ago!

    There would be a lot of paperwork to fill in if a guest got shot (probably even more if the guest shot someone), so I suspect that this is unlikely to be in an area with any realistic prospect of nocturnal shoot outs with the bad guys. I note from the OP’s report that this did not happen anyway.

    I have not been on the course and have no experience of the course director but having worked closely on the ground with anti-poaching teams elsewhere in Africa, IMHO, the most anyone can realistically hope for from a course like this is an interesting safari holiday rather than duking it out with bandits in the bush or getting a qualification likely to lead directly to employment opportunities.
     
    #14 Nomad64, Sep 20, 2019 at 10:15 AM
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2019 at 11:00 AM
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  15. Nomad64

    Nomad64 Full Member

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    I hope you enjoy your trip.

    Having looked at the suggested kit list - check what the night time temperatures will be where you are going and make sure your sleeping bags are suitable. It can get very cold at night in the bush esp at altitude.

    A few decent guidebooks will make a huge difference to your experience. In addition to the Richard Estes mammal guides I mentioned in post #5 above, the following are worth taking and cheap as chips secondhand!

    Tracking guide;

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-listing/1868258963

    Southern Africa bird guide

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-l...?ie=UTF8&condition=used&qid=1568971578&sr=8-5

    Not used it but the Sasol bird guide is supposed to be good but a bit pricier.

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/offer-l...?ie=UTF8&condition=used&qid=1568971578&sr=8-5
     
  16. pritchi

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    Thanks for your responses everyone. Will certainly watch out for the ticks! In truth I was of a similar mind on reading the advert that this might be a rather oversold budget safari with an environmental education twist. Still, am looking forwards to getting back to Africa (I worked in Kenya in the mid 80s) and just chilling for a couple of weeks. Nomad, thanks for the suggestions and book ideas. Ive ordered the tracking guide. best wishes, Paul
     
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