By Wilma Bedford
Regardless of the technological world we live in, it still remains many a young person’s dream to become a field guide or game warden. However idyllic it may sound, it’s not always moonlight and roses, as it requires a very special person with a genuine love of nature to eventually be able to turn it into a successful career.
Requirements and training
A candidate must be 18 years old with a minimum Grade 10 pass and will then register for the one-year Level 1 training course with the Field Guide Association of South Africa (FGASA). The first six months are dedicated mainly to theory that comprises books pertaining to veld, game and bird life, with a final exam that requires a minimum pass of 75%. Only candidates who pass may proceed with their practical training. This demands long, difficult hours in the veld, that will require considerable perseverance. Candidates then have to pass a final assessment by assessors who will test your knowledge of the veld to the ultimate. Only then you will be signed off as a successful FGASA Level 1 student.
Candidates must also be in possession of the following certificates:
Advanced fire-arm handling, First aid in the bush, Public transport licence, Tracking.
For further qualifications and training, a field guide can register for FGASA Level 2 (NQF4), as well as Trails Guide, that entails at least 150 walking hours as pupil and later as leader with a trained guide. During this time the candidate must also pass various assessments.
Most training centres endeavour to place their students with an existing game reserve or lodge as a learner field guide after completion of the course, depending on the availability of posts. Now the adventure begins, but to make a success of it the following requirements and characteristics are of cardinal importance:
Discipline. A field guide’s day normally begins before sunrise to make sure the game vehicle has been prepared, coffee and morning snacks are packed, and your guests have been awakened to prepare for the early morning drive, after which you return approximately three hours later to enjoy breakfast with them. So, if you aren’t an early morning person, this career is not for you.
A field guide’s work cycle usually functions in a cycle of six weeks on duty and then two weeks off to recharge your batteries. If your lodge is fully booked for most of the year, it can become very taxing to work 35-40 hours straight with guests who can become quite demanding. It requires the highest degree of perseverance and self-discipline not to neglect your guests.
Be host/hostess. As field guide your guests’ adventure depends largely on your personality, knowledge and experience. They are put in your care for the full duration of their visit. From their arrival, their first introduction and familiarisation with all the facilities depend on you. During the game drives and hiking trips the field guide must also make sure his guests were clearly informed beforehand about the rules as well as the dangers they may encounter. During meals and when relaxing around the camp fire you also have to make sure your guests are comfortable and at ease; only after you have seen them safely to their quarters can you relax yourself.
Personality. The most important trait here is a genuine love of nature that was preferable cultivated from childhood by personal experiences in the veld and the bush. A field guide must also be a spontaneous and relaxed person, who lets his guests feel comfortable and happy at all times. Their bush experience is largely in your hands and your experience of the veld becomes their experience as well. You have to answer questions patiently – even if they may sound how far-fetched. Guests can also be difficult, pedantic, demanding and rude and sometimes you have to defuse confrontations and be able to handle guests with grace.
Storyteller. Share your bush experiences and sightings with your guests, but only on request; your guests also have a story to tell, listen to it attentively and with interest, you might learn something from well-travelled visitors. The best time for a story is around the campfire, during and after meals over a drink. During game drives you can share certain highlights with them and make them part of your experience.
Compensation. Although a field guide’s salary is graded fairly low due to fringe benefits such as full accommodation, he can augment his salary with tips from his guests. A good field guide earns as much a double his salary in tips, as most of them are foreign visitors who with our current exchange rate reward generously for an unforgettable bush experience. However, the best acknowledgement for a good field guide is when your name appears regularly on one of our world-famous lodges’ Trip Advisor, because YOU made it an unforgettable experience for your guests.
Field Guide Association of South Africa.
Interview with a practising field guide