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Peterhouse's two-year professional hunters and guides preparatory course.

Zimbabwe professional hunters and guides are considered some of the best in Africa and now Zimbabwe's Peterhouse Group of Schools, widely regarded as Zimbabwe's top independent boarding schools and one of the premier independent school groups in southern Africa, offers a structured course for learner professional hunters and guides which is ultimately examined by National Parks. The exams cover information needed for the learner and professional hunters' and guides' qualification and includes modules on firearms, habits and habitats, National Parks laws and regulations and a general paper. The standard is very high and an average of 60 % is required to pass the exam.

Pupils are then able to become licensed learner hunters or guides and seek employment for the practical side under the tutorship of a fully licensed PH or guide. The opportunity to cover an extensive amount of the theory required and leave school with this type of qualification is unique.

As well as a practical session every week pupils are taken on numerous field trips around Zimbabwe during their two years. Pupils are involved in the planning and preparation, packing, setting up camp and cooking for the trip. We have had some rather suspect scrambled eggs but the way to learn is to practice and boys improve considerably when they know that they have to eat the food.

Activities include bush walks with birding and tracking techniques learnt as they go along. Learning how to walk quietly and approach game on foot--and what to do should an elephant decide on a mock charge!

Details of animal and bird behaviour are noted and there is an emphasis on the importance of recording observations. Trees and other vegetation are studied--at least they are stationary so the students have plenty of time to look at them. Traditional and medicinal uses are important and the pupils learn bushcraft--how to make string and fire using natural materials and much more.

Fishing is always on the program, which leads to dissections and accurate diagrams of the catch with detailed notes being taken--the practical is more than enjoying fishing time on the Zambezi!

Firearms, safety rules and the study of ballistics required for hunting is one of the favourite activities. Pupils visit a local accredited shooting range for outings and we have also had the privilege of trap shooting on local farms. The proficiency with firearms with the anticipation of adding up the scores always leads to friendly rivalry and the pupils get to have the experience of firing different calibre weapons under the supervision of experienced professional and citizen hunters and firearms instructors.

Pupils have hunted wildebeest and impala and also done some game bird shooting. A dissection of all the organs is carried out and there are lessons on how to butcher the meat for use in the kitchen--and of course they learn how to make biltong.

Trophy skinning and preparation of skins takes lots of practice and several hours are spent perfecting this. A visit to the local taxidermist gives an insight into what is done during the tanning and mounting of trophies.

Our recent trips have taken us to Imire Game Park, Rifa Conservation Education Camp, Nyakasanga, Malilangwe and Gonarezhou, Mana Pools, Lake Chivero and Kariba to mention a few destinations. Each trip brings its own special excitement of discovering different things in the bush and the experience of different vegetation and scenery.

After dinner discussions around a camp fire include topics like poaching, conservation and the ethics necessary in the hunting industry. The hunting stories from our professional hunters and guides always lead to questions and sharing of experiences. With our beautiful clear skies in Zimbabwe for most of the year and a minimum light pollution in the Zimbabwe bush, astronomy is a great topic for discussion and pupils are taught all the major constellations and how to find their way in the dark.

In some of the more remote places the pupils will have to change a tyre and learn the tricks of good bush mechanics -there is no garage around the corner. Under muddy conditions four wheel drive is required and a winch may be needed to get out of sticky situations. Driving a motor boat is taught and the pupils also learn the theory and practice of running a canoe safari--they write the Canoe Guide special paper exam as an extra at the end of their Sixth Form year which gives them another opportunity for employment.

Whenever we visit a national park the rules and regulations are studied and different aspects of the law syllabus discussed. There is always time for some relaxation and an appreciation of scenery--a sunrise or sunset worth a photograph. The use of different cameras is taught and the tricks of taking some of the beautiful photographs we see printed in books. Our main aim is to spend a maximum of time in the bush--we never know what is around the next corner!

Conservation theories and principles are taught so that all pupils will have a good understanding of how to look after our natural history heritage. Ecology is brought into most of the topics as it ties up all the aspects of the syllabus. The time spent on these field trips equips our pupils with information they will need to go into the next few decades with confidence to be the conservationists of the future in Zimbabwe.

In 2014 we have had our first girl enrolled as a pupil and there is a theory that girls make the best guides!

The Peterhouse schools are situated on two estates on either side of the main road between Harare and Mutare just outside Marondera and share two conservation areas, Calderwood Park and Gosho Park. The Group is unique in Zimbabwe as it caters for children all the way through from pre-school to tertiary education level making it a truly special entity.

The schools form a caring, friendly and dedicated community for the growth and development of its pupils. The grounds are extensive and our conservation areas are used for both environmental education as well as recreation. Essentially, they are areas of pristine Brachystegia woodland with streams, their associated grassland areas and rocky outcrops (some with San bushman paintings). The bird life is particularly good with over 237 different species recorded by the Mashonaland East Birding Group with a complete range of the Brachystegia species such as Spotted Creeper, Miombo (Northern) Grey and Rufousbellied Tits. The presence of the latter species bears witness to the undisturbed nature of the woodlands and there are currently seventy-two tree species recorded by the Tree Society. Within Gosho Park are a number of game species such as giraffe; zebra; kudu; eland; waterbuck; wildebeest; bushbuck; duiker; klipspringer and steenbuck.

An old native American proverb "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors--we borrow it from our children" underscores our approach to conservation education, and there is no doubt that having such a structured and formal course not only better prepares the students for their future vocation, but also ensures that the industry can benefit from the highest possible quality of apprentices.
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Author:Raynor, Penny
Publication:African Hunter Magazine
Geographic Code:6ZIMB
Date:Apr 1, 2014
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