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Walking Safari in Zimbabwe

Get a Job as a professional Safari Guide (field Guide)
When I was working as a Safari Guide, I would often get people saying how lucky I was to have such an incredible job, many of them would be my guests from overseas. A few would take it a little further and enquire as to how you would become one, but many would assume that because they were not from Africa, it was impossible... this is not true. I won't pretend that I know everything, far from it, but here is my story and how I became a qualified Safari Guide in South Africa and how you could too.

Field Guide / Safari Guide / Game Ranger?

In the UK most people use either Game Ranger or Safari Guide, in South Africa, these terms are also used interchangeably. Strictly however, they do describe different jobs.

The Field Guide: Field Guides are people who interact mainly with guests and clients. They are primarily responsible for providing a guided experience, on foot or in vehicles; to the public in natural areas and locations such as game reserves, game farms, conservancies as well in Provincial and National Parks.

The Game Ranger: Game Rangers are primarily responsible for the physical and resource management of game reserves. Working with savanna ecologists, game reserve and wildlife managers; they manage and maintain the biological populations of reserves in addition to roads, fencing, water resources, erosion control, alien plant control, burning operations, population control and bush clearing among other tasks. On many reserves the field guides are utilised on an improvised basis to assist in the game ranging tasks.

Early Beginnings

Even though I grew up in a town, most of our family vacations would be spent at one of the many fantastic wildlife areas in Zimbabwe, like fishing for Tigerfish on Kariba dam, camping in Mana Pools, enjoying the spectacle and the wildlife at Victoria Falls or game viewing at Hwange National Park and so I always knew that I wanted to work in the Bush or at least the outdoors either as a Safari Guide (field Guide) or on a farm.

After leaving school I looked into what it would take to become a Field Guide in Zimbabwe. They have probably the best safari guides in the world, this is because the course is the most long lasting and extensive. To be a guide in Zimbabwe, you also need a hunters license, the idea being that you need to know how to take down an animal should it pose a risk to either yourself or your guests. I applied for the course only to find that you also need to be "Zimbabwean" now I won't go into the politics of it all, but even though I was born in Zim as was my father, because I have a British passport, I was not deemed acceptable! So the idea was shelved and I moved on into becoming a graphic designer and later a web designer and developer!

Living in The UK

After living in the UK for a few years where I would only travel home every year for a week or two, to visit my parents and get my annual fix of life in the bush, I thought that the dream of living and working in the African bush had gone. That was until by accident, when I was looking for an adventure holiday, I found a field guide course in South Africa that would enable you to become a fully qualified FGASA Safari Guide and the good news was that you do not have to have a South African passport to enroll!

The Field Guide Course is a year long, the fist six months spent at the campus (on a game reserve) learning theory as well as daily piratical lessons in the bush, where at the end of it you write your level 1 field guide certificate. If you pass, the second six months is spent working on a real commercial safari lodge as a field guide, at the end of it writing your level 2 field guide certificate.

Field Guide Training in South AfricaThe first 6 Months

An average day would consist of an early morning game drive or bush walk, followed by theory lessons in the morning, lunch and then piratical work in the bush in the afternoon. The evenings were either spent relaxing, studying or socialising in the pub (bar). The work load is really tough as there is a huge you have to learn, but for me it was really enjoyable, because I was learning more about what I loved, Africa's wildlife and the bush. I suppose I was at an advantage over may of the other pupils as I already knew quite a bit about the bush and the wildlife, but that does not mean that you cannot do it if you are new to it. One student was from the UK and had never visited Africa before enrolling on the course! With hard work and a real interest in the subject he was definitely one of the best students on the course as were many of the other overseas students. On top of learning about the environment and all it's wildlife, we learnt about survival techniques, first aid, using a rifle, 4x4 off road driving, hotel catering, weather, local cultures and even about the stars.

The Second 6 Months

After successfully passing the written level 1 field guide exam as well as the assessment game drive where you take out a examiner on a game drive to show that you know not how to conduct a game drive, showing your knowledge on the local mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, flowers, trees, geography, weather, stars and cultures as well as how to handle the 4x4 vehicle and the guests! I was placed at a working safari lodge where I worked as a field guide for the next six months. It was excellent, but I will not deny that it was also extremely hard the work is relentless, 7 days a week for four weeks, then a week off. The hours are long, from before the sun rises to get the safari vehicle ready, for the 3 - 4 hour sunrise game drive, returning to have breakfast with your guests. Then cleaning your vehicle, collecting guests, supplies or fuel from the game reserve main entrance about an hour from the lodge in the bush. Then in the afternoon another game drive until after sunset, returning to a quick shower and then dinner with your guests and staying up with them in the evening entertaining at the bar.

In between all the hard work there are truly magical moments. Because I was going out in the bush everyday, I got to see some incredible sights, from lions hunting hartebeest and feeding on a zebra kill, cheetah's sheltering from the rain and rather optimistically hunting Kudu, to seeing my first pangolin in the wild.

You log all your game drives and to gain your level 2, you need to gain a certain amount of hours guiding (kind of like pilots licenses) and then at the end of the year take your level 2 written exam as well as another level 2 assessment drive.

Video of Welgevonden Game Reserve in South Africa
A few memories of working as a safari guide: Below is a video that I put together of a some photos that I took whilst working as a field guide (safari guide) at the Shidzidzi and Nungubane lodges on the Welgevonden game reserve in the Limpopo provence of South Africa.

What It takes to be a Safari Guide

Most people on the field guide course, including myself were there because we love the outdoors and the wildlife, which is important, but not the most important quality of enjoying your job as a field guide. The most important aspect of becoming a field guide and working on a safari lodge is that you have to enjoy working with and talking to people. Most of the time you are going to be with guests and there will be times that you would much rather be alone, but the guest comes first and you have to be willing to put everything aside, put a smile on your face and treat your guests like kings. Remember for some of them, this is a once in a lifetime experience and it is your job to make it the best experience ever.

Whilst I love the bush and all it's wildlife and many people say that I am really good with people I did find that for me I was just not getting enough "me" time and that was one of the reasons as well as for financial reasons, was why I decided to return to the UK for a while. I still go back and spend sometime in the bush every year, either on holiday and sometimes working at a lodge, just to keep my knowledge levels up. It is amazing how quickly you forget the latin name of a Buffalo Thorn Acacia if you are not using it everyday!

I'm too Old to become a Safari Guide Rubbish!

I was over 30 when I went on the course and I was far from the oldest person on the course. We had a wide range of people studying to become a field guide for 18 year old South African school leavers to a 40 year old french guy and everything in between.

Field Guide - Not a Job for everyone

I can't stress this enough, whilst it may look like the best job in the world, as with everything in life there are also down sides. Becoming a Safari Guide (field guide) is not a job for everyone, you must be willing to put up with very long working hours, some very annoying guests and often terrible working and living conditions. If you can get past these and other problems you are well on your way to enjoying all the good things about being a field guide in Africa.

Best Bits about being a Professional Safari Guide:

  • Best office in the world
  • Everyday is an adventure
  • Meet many interesting people
  • Get to see wildlife everyday
  • Constantly learning new things about nature

The Worst Bits about the Job:

  • The Pay is not great
  • Very Long Working Hours
  • Often not great accommodation
  • The one in a thousand annoying guest

More information

Below are some links that I hope will help you in finding your dream job of becoming a field guide:

Field and Safari Guide Courses

The 1 year course that I took at the Bush Academy sadly no longer exists, however you can still study in South Africa and get your FGASA Level 1 qualification.

One really exiting option is to an Internship Scheme with the South African National Parks:

Volunteering in South Africa South African National Parks Volunteer Programme

This project is ideal if you are looking for long term voluntary work as well as the possibility of gaining some qualifications that could lead to you becoming a fully qualified safari guide (field guide). On this project you will play a part in the long term conservation of South African national parks and lasts for 6 months or one year.

On the course, you will gain high-profile experience in environmental education and conservation, and receive comprehensive training including a two-week placement at the world famous Kruger National Park. Volunteers will work for either six months or year in and around South Africa’s most famous national parks. With membership fees, manuals and exam fees included, you also have the opportunity to gain a Field Guide Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) level one theory qualification that will not only allow you to gain a valuable qualification but also enhance your Knowledge & appreciation about the fauna and flora in the Park that you are working in.

Volunteering in South AfricaYour first two weeks will be spent on a training course at the Kruger National Park, then you will be transferred to the park they have been assigned to. This could be in a wild arid area such as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier park or a coastal area such as Tsitsikamma on the Garden Route, it just depends on each parks permanent staff situation, available accommodation etc, but each park is an area of outstanding natural beauty and extremely important for the future of South Africa.

More Details & Enquiry Form >> South African National Parks Internship Scheme

View All >> Volunteering Wildlife Work in Africa

 

South Africa Internship Field Guide Course

Another option is to go on a course where the main purpose is to train you to get your FGASA qualifications: Known as the South Africa Internship, it's duration is almost 6 months and in that time you will develop your personnel management, leadership, wildlife conservation and field guiding skills and all the time working at beautiful safari lodges, living and working in the African bush with incredible wildlife.

Where is the course Located?
The course operates out of two reserves: The Karongwe Game Reserve (KGR) and Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve (VLNR) that are both situated in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, approximately 500km northeast of Johannesburg.

What is Included?
All accommodation and food as well as expedition equipment and training is included. National park fees, permits as well as the comprehensive training necessary for research techniques, an Emergency First Aid course, 24-hour in-country support and a 24-hour emergency phone line is also included.

What Skills and Qualifications will I Get?
You will be studying for your FGASA Level 1 qualification (Exam and certification optional), this includes:

  • Mammal Introduction and Herbivore Identification
  • Field Guide’s Reptile Course
  • Spotlighting; basic 4X4 driving; planning of game drives and walks
  • Survey Skills: Radio Telemetry; GPS use
  • First Aid & CPR training (certification optional)
  • Individual Predator Ecology and behavior
  • Wildlife Management, Basic wildlife diseases, Large herbivore ecology and behavior, Basic animal tracks and sign skills
  • Biodiversity survey techniques (Small mammal trapping, Invertebrate surveys)
  • Field Safety: Radio use, Emergency Action Plan implementation and drills.
  • Setting up a bush camp; Sleep-out in bush; bush skills and survival
  • Communication and facilitation skills; dealing with guests.

South Africa Internship Field Guide Course
Follow the link above for more information including an enquiry form that you can fill in where the operator of South Africa Internship will send you more details about this package.


 

The Bush Academy LogoThe Bush Academy: Professional Field Guiding and Lodge Management Course

I studdied through the Bush Academy in the Limpopo province of South Africa, which I would highly recommend.

Important Update: I have been informed that The Bush Academy is now closed. However there are other safari guide courses available, that I can't personnaly vouch for, but have heard that they offer the same excellent tuition as what I experienced at the Bush Academy.

If you would like to study to become a guide in South Africa, you can take the South Africa Internship Field Guide Course (follow link for more information, includoing an enquiry form)

The Bush Academy was the ideal training to enable young people with skill and dedication to make a success of a challenging career in the game lodge industry. The focus is on outcome-based training with 6 months academic & practical training at the Academy and 6 months work experience at a Three Cities game lodge. The school follows the FGASA and THETA curriculum and qualifies the student with certification from both.

The Field Guide: Conservation; General Knowledge; First Aid Certificate; Reserve Management; Ecotourism.
Bush Skills: Field Craft; Shooting; Weather and Climate; Astronomy; Motor Vehicles (4 x 4 driving)
Bush Knowledge: Geology and Soils; Taxonomy; Ecology; Animal Behaviour; Botany; Grasses; Molluscs Fish; Arthropoda; Amphibians; Reptiles; Birds; Mammals
Lodge Management: Food & Beverage; Front Office & Housekeeping; Spirit of Hospitality; Supervisory Skills.

The Bush Academy Campuses used to be situated in the Waterberg area in the Limpopo province and used to offer the student training excellence and personal attention.

Old contact details (No longer valid)

Bush Academy: Tel: (031) 360 9300 Fax: (031) 360 9333 enquires@bushacademy.com Their webiste is currently down, but was: http://www.bushacademy.com/

If you would like to study to become a guide in South Africa, you can take the South Africa Internship Field Guide Course (follow link for more information, includoing an enquiry form)


 

The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) - Founded in 1992. It is a non-profit organisation representing individual field guides, trackers and organisations involved in offering professional field guiding services to members of the public. FGASA aims to promote a culture of professional guiding based on a strong ethical well-informed, safety conscious approach to provide the visitor to the African bush with a pleasant and memorable experience. FGASA strives for professionalism, representation and integrity within the Southern African Field Guiding industry and is committed to the growth and recognition thereof for the benefit of all of its members.

South African Field Guide training Courses
Follow the link above for more information on where you can study in South Africa to gain the qualifications necessary to become a safari guide.

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South Africa Internship Field Guide Course

Study To Become a safari guide in South AfricaStudy for your FGASA Level 1 qualification, this 6 month live in course operates out of two reserves The Karongwe Game Reserve and Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. Follow the link above for more information including an enquiry form that you can fill in where the operator of South Africa Internship will send you more details including how to enroll in the next course.


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