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The best way to become a field guide

Updated: Jun 13

So you want to become a qualified field guide? Fantastic! This career is challenging, fascinating, and incredibly rewarding. In this article, we'll help you understand how you can start a career as a field guide – also known as nature site guide or safari guide. Let's start with IFGA, which is the cornerstone of Bushwise's field guide training courses.


What is IFGA?

IFGA stands for the International Field Guide Association. IFGA defines professional standards for the world’s leading wildlife and safari guides. It was created by and for guides across the globe to establish stronger standards and higher expectations for qualified guides. Bushwise is the exclusive IFGA training provider in southern Africa.


How can I become a qualified IFGA guide?

Guides can become IFGA qualified in two ways:

  1. For new guide candidates, by earning their qualifications with an IFGA-certified training provider. For example by joining our 60-day Safari Guide course or our 6- and 12-month International Field Guide course.

  2. For existing guides, an IFGA-certified assessor can conduct an assessment onsite or at their training campus.


Bushwise is the exclusive southern African IFGA-certified training provider, and our trainers are IGFA assessors. Our IFGA courses will allow you to become a CATHSSETA qualified nature site guide and offer the opportunity to work internationally as a guide.


What is CATHSSETA?

CATHSSETA stands for the Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sport, Sector Education Training Authority. This body governs professional qualifications in the mentioned industries, including in field guiding.


Bushwise curriculum for field guide training is aligned with the IFGA standards and Bushwise is accredited with CATHSSETA. This combination means Bushwise offers the most internationally-applicable field guide training, which is also nationally recognised in South Africa.


What is NDT?

NDT is South Africa's National Department of Tourism. CATHSSETA Nature Site Guide (NQF2) is the basic qualification which everyone needs in order to register with NDT as a legal guide. This is your entry-level qualification which will then allow you to apply for work as a nature guide.


These books will prepare you to be able to write the NQF2 theory. All the modules are covered by the one exam, each exam varies.

  1. Your pack will include a logbook and an information book about IFGA and the different IFGA qualifications.

  2. NQF2 study material which is a training manual consisting of many different modules (including taxonomy, insects, birds, grasses, trees etc.)

  3. A guiding skills manual on guiding etiquette and a workbook used together with the training manual to help you study.


What is covered in the Bushwise field guide course?

Our in-person courses cover the following topic areas and more, in addition to significant time in the field getting practical experience. Topics include:


Guiding and Hospitality

To excel as a guide, you must master the subtleties of hospitality, guest hosting, experience planning, and tourism fundamentals. Acquire the soft skills necessary to offer your guests an exceptional experience.


Flora and Fauna Identification

From the smallest insect to the largest elephant, and from ferns to towering trees, discover what makes various species of flora (plants) and fauna (animals) distinctive. Develop a deep appreciation and understanding of biodiversity and the vital roles each species plays within an ecosystem.


Animal Behavior

Why does a lion roar? How do impalas communicate? What does it mean when an elephant flaps its ears? Ethology, the study of animal behavior, helps us comprehend the reasons behind animal actions. Enhance your storytelling skills by interpreting animal behaviors for your guests in real-time.


Viewing Potentially Dangerous Game

In our field, it is crucial to identify warning signals from potentially dangerous animals and know how to respond safely and appropriately to ensure the protection of your guests, the animals, and yourself. Training emphasizes respect and strong guiding ethics when dealing with dangerous game.


Vehicle Skills & 4x4 Driving

Vehicle-based game drives are a cornerstone of field guiding. We provide training on vehicle mechanics and safety, including proper 4x4 and off-road driving techniques. A manual license and driving experience are required. Participants over 21 must obtain their PrDP to transport guests.


Advanced Rifle Handling

Learn to handle a rifle safely and competently, with an emphasis on using it only as a last resort. Rifle handling is part of your training to become a trails guide and covers rifle and ammunition theory and practice. Successful participants will receive a SASSETA certificate.


Track & Sign and Trailing

Experience the thrill of interpreting the "bush newspaper" by examining animal tracks and understanding the stories they tell. Learn to identify various tracks and signs, follow animal footprints, and decode the messages left behind.


Additional Modules

Our curriculum aligns with IFGA, CATHSSETA, SASSETA, CyberTracker, and other institutions. Additional modules cover subjects such as wilderness first aid, reptile handling, survival and navigation, conservation management, habitat rehabilitation, and more.


A Bushwise student studies for a FGASA qualification outside at one of our campuses.

In order to obtain any of the CATHSSETA qualifications (ie, Nature Site Guide NQF2), you will need to complete a written theory exam as well as then complete a practical assessment/exam.  You cannot obtain any CATHSSETA qualification without doing this. Both components are included in your Bushwise course.


Practical Assessment:

The practical assessment is NOT the same as practical work experience. You do not need to have any prior practical working experience in order to do the practical assessment. You will, however, need to have a broad knowledge of the area in which you are going to be conducting your practical assessment.


Before being practically assessed/examined for any level:

  • You need to be affiliated with an accredited training provider like Bushwise.

  • You will need to have a valid first-aid certificate

  • You will need to have handed in your workbook to the assessor/training provider


The assessment is only one day and it consists of taking the assessor on a guided nature experience, in a limited geographical area (either with or without paying clients). If you are not on a course with an accredited training provider, then your practical assessment/exam should be done either in the area you are currently working in or the area that you will be considering working in, as it is a site-specific assessment. Remember, our IFGA and CATHSSETA accredited assessors can assist with this assessment as well - learn more here. If you are not on a course with an endorsed training provider, you will need to contact the assessor directly to organise your assessment (Bushwise can also assist with this).


#1 Option: Study in the bush!

Your first option in obtaining your field guide qualification is to go on a course with a CATHSSETA accredited training provider (like us!). By attending a course you not only attend daily lectures to assist you for the theory exam, but you will also gain a lot of practical knowledge regarding all the different aspects of the bush, which will be beneficial for your practical exam, as well as providing you with some experience.


You will also be trained by experienced staff with working backgrounds and knowledge on what is expected of a nature guide, working at a lodge, who will be taking paying guests on a guided experience within the bush. The Bushwise trainers combined have over 100 years of working experience.


#2 Option: Joining an online field guiding course!

If you don't have time to join an in-person course, you can also consider beginning your training through an online program. Bushwise offers three online courses, the longest of which (at just 12 weeks) gives you the basis you need to pass the CATHSSETA NQF2 theory exam.


Because real trainers (experts in their field) run the online courses, and there are other student from around the world with you, you'll have fascinating interactions as you learn all about nature and wildlife. The flagship online course we offer is the Bushwise Field Guiding Online course. This is also included in your preparation for either of our in-person courses.


Once qualified, what are your options? 

Once you have completed both theory and practical you will qualify as a CATHSSETA Nature Site Guide (NQF2).  This entitles you to legally guide in the SITE in which you were declared competent to guide (i.e. where you did your practical). A site is a game reserve, national park, or nature reserve for example.  As a site guide, you cannot conduct a guided experience throughout a province or over the entire country.   You are restricted to the sites in which you have been declared competent to guide in.   


CATHSSETA and Bushwise will provide you with your certificate and a letter which will enable you to register with NDT (National Dept. of Tourism). This is who you must be registered with in order to guide legally.


Bushwise is accredited with CATHSSETA (culture, arts, tourism, hospitality and sports sector education and training authority). Once you are fully qualified, we will load your achievements onto the CATHSSETA database. Once we have done this, it can take anytime from 3 – 6 months before certification from them, and this is also dependent upon if we have received all the required documentation from you (certified ID/passport and highest education).


What else is required once I have my qualification in order to work as a Field Guide?

You will need a valid Level 1 First Aid certificate. This covers basics such as shock treatment, CPR, basic sprains, burns, wounds, bleeding and bandaging etc.) is needed before any CATHSSETA certificates will be issued.  You do not need to have this prior to joining, but you will need to get it either during study or once study is completed before you will be issued with your certificate.


Some training providers include this in their course, the first aid training provider must be registered with the Department of Labour. You will also not be able to register with NDT without a valid first aid certificate and the international first aid is not accepted by NDT.

Learning first aid is an important and essential part of a FGASA qualification.

 Bushwise has built a reputation as a leading training provider in the safari industry based on our exam pass rate average, employment rates and level of professional and high-quality training. We offer one of the most comprehensive courses available.


The course has been designed to develop highly skilled professionals in the exciting industry of field guiding. The aim of the course is to provide a well-rounded and specialised education and the training is specifically intended to provide the vocational skills and qualifications required by employers in South Africa and the wider Southern Africa region.


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