Five of the biggest differences between field guides and game rangers
Updated: Sep 25
BY: Tasneem Johnson-Dollie
Looking to become a conservationist? Well, getting a feel for the differences between what game rangers and field guides do is a good place to start when planning for a career in conservation.
Yes, field guides and game rangers work at the same establishments, and they may even interact with each other on a daily basis.
But field guide and game ranger jobs add to wildlife conservation in their own unique ways.
Here are five of the biggest differences between field guides and game rangers that can help you to make up your mind, and get into a career that meets your expectations.
1) Where do wildlife rangers and field guides work?
Both game rangers and field guides work in national parks, game reserves and private lodges.
In fact, field guide and game ranger courses may offer their practical component in the exact same places.
But, game rangers are more concerned with the maintenance of the wild spaces that make up lodges and reserves.
Field guides, on the other hand, focus more on tourist activities – which means they’re most active in areas of the lodge or reserve where tourists are allowed to go.
2) What field guides and game rangers do
Wildlife management became a key focus area in South Africa around the early 1800s. This sparked the establishment of game reserves, nature reserves and national parks.
Here, people who were passionate about conservation could make a living working with wild animals in their natural habitats.
Many of these establishments were run by individuals who had years of experience living in or visiting the bush. These pioneers came to be known as game rangers or wildlife rangers.
The title just made sense, since the word “ranger” is used to refer to the “keepers” – or maintainers – of natural spaces.
With their wealth of practical bush and wildlife knowledge, wildlife rangers were able to take tourists out into the wild.
This made it easier for individuals with less – or no – experience in the wild to explore safely.
Safari drives are still the most well-known of these early activities. But, over time, tourists wanted new ways to experience the wild, and the role played by game rangers developed into something much more specific.
Today, the type of work done by game rangers still includes managing game reserves and collaborating with other reserve managers, as well as ecologists.
But if you decide to go into a career as a wildlife ranger, you’ll be expected to:
manage animal populations and check for diseases
maintain the reserve’s roads and fences
manage water reserves, water erosion and alien plant growth
ensure that the game reserve is run sustainably
control threats such as poaching
interact with the public and local communities, and add to their understanding of and contribution to conservation.
As tourism in the country grew, other activities like bush walks became more popular. And, specialists who could provide the best guided experiences in the wild were even more in demand.
But, with wildlife rangers already having lots of responsibilities that were essential to the well-being of the reserve’s plants, animals and economic well-being, they couldn’t take on much more.
This is when the conservation career known as “field guide” came about. It was set up to see to the needs of tourists visiting reserves and to lighten the load for game rangers.
Field guides were trained to:
take tourists out on walking or 4×4 safaris
provide a guided experience that adds to the guests’ understanding of natural environments and the animals that live in them
assist wildlife rangers in their daily activities in the field whenever necessary.
And this is what you’d get to do if you decided to go into a conservation career as a field guide.
3) What game rangers and field guides study
Field guides and game rangers study similar topics but work towards different qualifications.
Wildlife rangers need to have a tertiary-level qualification that’s relevant to conservation. This means that you’ll need to achieve at least a national diploma with a wildlife focus.
Your game ranger studies should also equip you with everything you need to know about African ecosystems and their conservation.
Field guides also need to have a good understanding of all the plants, animals and natural environments that make up African ecosystems.
But, as an aspiring field guide, you’ll only need to complete the theory and practical components of a Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) accredited field guide course to be able to work in the industry.
So, being smart about the qualification you get is key in ensuring that you can land the conservation job you’re hoping for.
4) Where to study field guide and game ranger courses
You can get involved in programs that gear your professional development towards game ranger jobs at any one of these South African institutions:
Cape Peninsula University of Technology
University of Cape Town
University of the Western Cape
University of South Africa (UNISA)
Southern African Wildlife College
Tshwane University of Technology
University of Stellenbosch
College of African Wildlife Management.
And if you’re looking to land jobs as a field guide, you’ll need to achieve your qualification on a field guiding course that’s accredited by FGASA.
Where would you go to do this?
Well, there are many different field guide training providers. But, Bushwise Field Guides offers an award-winning FGASA Professional Field Guide course and boasts the highest pass rate in the industry. Not to mention that Bushwise has an employment guarantee that ensures all South African graduates will secure a role within six months of completing this course.
And, on our FGASA Field Field Guiding and Conservation Careers internship, you could learn all you need to know about field guiding and gain comprehensive practical experience that adds to your employability in the field.
5) How wildlife rangers and field guides make an impact
So how do field guide and game ranger jobs differ in the impact that they have in conservation?
Well, despite the differences between these conservation careers, getting involved in either of them means that you’ll make a meaningful impact in the conservation of ecosystems.
But, wildlife rangers are more focused on wildlife and reserve management. And, while they’re bound to interact with lodge and reserve guests from time to time, it isn’t the focus of their day-to-day activities. The work they do has a direct benefit for wild animals and their well-being.
In comparison, a field guide’s main aim is to interact with tourists in an informative and engaging way, and assist in broadening their understanding of the wilderness. In this way, they build on the global community’s awareness of wildlife conservation and the role that each individual can play in it.
Start your conservation career
So, which conservation career do you see yourself in?
Well, now that you know the differences between field guide and game ranger jobs, you can have a clearer vision of where you’re headed.
And this will make it easier to work towards the conservation career that speaks to your strengths and passions, and pick the field guide or game ranger course that will get you to where you want to be.
Even if you’re still not quite sure, you could start out on a field guiding course, and build towards a career as a wildlife ranger in the future.