- IAN MCCALLUM, POET, PSYCHIATRIST & TRAINER AT THE TRACKER ACADEMY
The Tracker Academy, a training division of the SA College for Tourism, operating under the auspices of the Peace Parks Foundation and funded by the Rupert Family Trust, was founded and hosted in part at Samara from 2010 until 2022. The one year full-time intensive course into the dying science of tracking, led by experienced trainers, was the first of its kind in Southern Africa. Samara made its land available free of charge to the Tracker Academy for all its semi-arid practical training sessions and as part of its charitable donation to the Academy, also provided lecturing facilities and accommodation for the trainees – 8 at any one time.
The course focused on developing tracking competency, conservation awareness and life skills, including literacy and positive health. An even more important focus than tracking was on empowering these young individuals to believe in themselves and their futures.
Pokkie is one of South Africa's "21 icons"
The chief trainer at the Academy thus acted both as mentor and substitute parent. One of only six Master Trackers in South Africa – the highest honour for a tracker – Karel ‘Pokkie’ Benadie was born in the Karoo National Park. His love of nature was instilled during his early years growing up in the bush. He eventually contributed to a scientific paper on black rhino feeding habits, despite at the time being unable to read or write, using CyberTracker, an icon-based application on a handheld computer device. It is thought that this was the first time an illiterate tracker had co-authored a paper based on data he had collected independently, to substantiate a hypothesis he had himself proposed. In 2013, Pokkie was named as one of South Africa’s 21 Icons for his work in tracking, alongside such greats as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
94% of graduates have found permanent employment
The Tracker Academy endeavours to contribute significantly to the preservation of indigenous knowledge in South Africa by creating passionate African naturalists. The aim is to empower the custodians of Africa’s environments to preserve the continent’s last remaining wild areas. Pokkie and the Academy are particularly proud that, a decade on from its inception, 94% of its graduates have found permanent employment in the fields of tourism and conservation.
Samara’s team of trackers have been trained by the Tracker Academy and the knowledge they have acquired is showcased to Samara guests during game drives and bush walks.