A day in the life of a field guide
Updated: Nov 2
BY: Zaytoen Domingo
Have you ever wondered what a wildlife professional does in a day’s work? Let’s talk about a day in the life of a field guide.
A field guide is a specialised person who conducts tours for people visiting nature reserves. A field guide’s job is to teach visitors about natural environments, wildlife that inhabits them, and how to interact with the environment.
Waking up as a field guide
Your day will start with the crisp notes of the African bushveld birds filling the morning air with melodies before sunrise. Your first duty for the day is to prepare the padkos.
“Padkos” is a South African term for packed food. It is a most beloved necessity when embarking on a journey.
The first item on the list is to pack the hot box. A hot box is a flask of hot water for coffee and tea.
You’ll pack a few snacks to accompany the hot beverages. Some must-haves include Ouma Rusks — traditional South African biscuits made from buttermilk — nuts, fruit, and anything else you love to eat.
Then it’s time to pick up the eager guests with your safari drive vehicle. Once everyone is seated safely, you’re ready to set off for the wildlife reserves.
The safari drive to the nature reserve
A good way to start the safari drive with the guests is to introduce yourself and exchange names with everyone before you take off. Once you’re all comfortable, you’ll start engaging in the itinerary for the day.
Before starting the vehicle, make double sure the guests are seated safely. Next, you will usually explain the route that you’ll be taking and mention some key points for safety.
“Out in the safari, you will spot the famous Big Five — the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and buffalo. But first, we need you to sit back and stay seated at all times.”
The journey begins.
During the safari drive around the nature reserve, you will talk about plants and animals that the guests can expect to encounter. For example, if you’re based at the Addo Elephant National Park, you might say:
“We will be taking the Nyathi route past the fever tree forest. On your left you will spot the Sabi pride. The fever tree forest is also home to a nesting pair of paradise flycatchers, so keep an eye out.”
Keep the information fun and lighthearted. The guests’ experience will determine your success as a guide, so make sure your guiding makes them feel as passionate as you do about nature.
At the nature reserve
Find a phuza stop — a traditional Zulu term for “drink”. Unpack the snack box and share a cup of coffee with your guests while breathing in the sunrise.
Get to know your guests while helping them to get to know nature. What better way to soak up the morning sun?
You should also inform guests about the cultural importance and history of the places you cover. This adds to the experience of the trip, by allowing the guests to connect to nature and its significance.
Most field guides don’t have to do data collection, unless you are employed as a researcher. For example, GVI, a sustainable development organisation and partner of Bushwise, runs a wildlife research expedition in Limpopo, South Africa.
Collecting data on plants and animals in wildlife reserves provides valuable information for conservationists. It assists them to track, understand and protect the animals.
Going back to the base camp
It’s time to drive back to the lodge where guests can enjoy a meal. A traditional South African meal might be a braai—an Afrikaans word for “barbecue”.
You can use this time to plan your next safari drive for the second group of guests in the afternoon. The itinerary for the afternoon safari drive should be the same as the morning safari drive, but maybe this time you can pack a different snack box.
An afternoon snack box might include more savoury snacks like biltong — dried, cured meat — and a few sundowners. Embark on the safari drive, talk to your guests and find a phuza stop to enjoy the sunset.
Some of your guests are from Sweden and have never seen an African buffalo. When you come across one, the guests are noticeably amazed and have tons of questions.
This is your chance to test your hand at some fun storytelling.
“The African buffalo loves swimming and bathing in rivers. When you dip your toes in a river in Africa, be sure to do so after the buffalo bathing time at midday.”
“Have you noticed that the horns of the African buffalo look like question marks? They must be very inquisitive beasts!”
After all, storytelling is vital to the field guiding experience.
Back at the lodge, you might want to join the guests for dinner. This is a good time for guests and field guides to come together and share some stories, before you go off to prepare the itinerary for the next day.
Find a relaxing spot outside the lodge and share drinks under Orion’s belt. Don’t forget to make a wish if you see a shooting star.
How can I become a field guide?
The Field Guides Association of South Africa (FGASA) makes sure that accredited tourist guide providers are up to standard. The aim of FGASA is to continue the conservation of nature.
Bushwise Field Guides is FGASA-accredited and holds the highest success rate of students passing FGASA assessments. The organisation is based in Limpopo, South Africa in the heart of the African bushveld.
The best thing about Bushwise is a guaranteed job offer for South African students within six months of completing one of the FGASA Professional Field Guide courses. You’ll get to learn and practise in the places you might end up being based in.
Become a field guide and find out what your day would be like.