There are so many variables in field guiding, previously known as a game ranging or game ranger, and possibly the biggest of these is your guests!
Thus, the field guide’s attitude and enthusiasm are most important as guests spend at least 6 hours each day with you as their field guide, and at some game lodges you join your guests for dinner so you could be spending up to 10 hours per day with them. If you are not passionate, pleasant and enthusiastic it’s going to be an awkward experience for both you and your guests.
It is of key importance that you have a passion for nature, conservation and preservation. Then comes people skills, an encyclopedic knowledge of natural history, of animal behaviour and having the ability to interpret this information to your guests. These being some of the many areas we at Bushwise field guides focus on to provide the exceptional, above average and experienced Apprentice field guides.
Like anything in life, you get people who are better at what they do than others. So, what makes an exceptional Field guide?
This is a difficult question to answer, because the difference between a good field guide and an exceptional field guide often lies in the subtleties of a gifted individual. All field guides, as a minimum requirement, should communicate well, be polite, approachable, knowledgeable, professional, attentive and respectful of the environment. These basic qualities are essential to any decent safari experience. The key characteristics are not necessarily skills, but rather the personal traits of the individual. One of these being humble, there is no place for an ego in the guiding industry. What many field guides and even guests do not realise, is that going on safari is not only about facts regarding animals or the bush – books and the internet offer ample information, what everyone is really after is what you cannot experience in a book or online – a genuinely wild safari adventure.
In addition, what makes a field guide truly exceptional is your attention to detail, sense of humour, story-telling ability and total infatuation with the African bush. Your enthusiasm should be contagious, infecting all within hearing distance, and deep respect for wildlife should be evident in everything you do. These qualities elevate an experience from the enjoyable to the unforgettable. As a field guide with these qualities, you will lead your guests through the wilderness with complete confidence. Not lecturing, but creating an interactive experience focused on your guests and their specific goals. This is to ensure total comfort and enjoyment as you explore the many mysteries the African bush has to offer.
A passionate curious nature, coupled with constant learning and challenging yourself as a field guide will ensure that you retain your passion, a practise we as trainers at Bushwise field guides strongly encourage throughout our 23 and 50 week courses that we conduct. You should continually learn because it becomes impossible to be enthusiastic about facts if you have been regurgitating the same facts for the last 10 years.
Lastly, become a ‘finder’ field guide, the field guide that tends to go out earlier, rather than being a ‘follower’ field guide. Go out 30 minutes earlier on drives or walks, from my experience most guests do not mind getting up earlier. By adopting this attitude, you and your guests will be rewarded with the better sightings which gives you the advantage of providing the best field guided experience ever. The proactive, committed field guide will suggest this to guests while the ‘follower/clock-watcher’ won’t, (sadly most field guides have become ‘clock-watchers’). ‘Clock- watchers’ will spend no more than the suggested 3 hours on each game drive. They have fallen into a rut and are purely performing a task as they have not adopted the simple practise of self-improvement outlined above.
If you find yourself in this predicament, SNAP OUT OF IT! Spend time on some self-reflection and remind yourself why you became a field guide in the first place. Spend less time with negative people and influences, and rub shoulders rather with dedicated professional field guides to rejuvenate the passion for the great outdoors and work at lodges that honour and respect this quality in their field guides.
Blog by General Manager & Trainer, Trevor Myburgh