Promoting and protecting: a field guide’s role in conservation
Updated: Sep 26
Photo by: Callum Evans
BY: Annie DuPre, FGASA NQF2 and Back-up Trails Guide
In honour of Wildlife Conservation Day on 4 December, we’re proud to highlight the role of field guides in conservation.
The main responsibilities of a field guide are quite straightforward – they guide guests in the field, whether in grasslands, savannah, rainforests, mountains, or other landscapes. They create experiences through sharing their specialised knowledge.
This image was taken pre-COVID-19.
But beyond the basics of guiding, there is so much more that field guides stand for and so much more they can accomplish in conservation and protecting biodiversity (an area’s diversity of plant and animal life). In fact, one of the modules you’ll study in the Professional Field Guide Course is conservation and habitat management.
As a field guide, you’ve chosen a sustainable career, a career that will not only keep you engaged and interested for a long time, but will also allow you to make a long-lasting contribution to nature.
You’ll spend your days in nature, sharing your experiences with guests. Each interaction with guests is an opportunity to educate, communicate, and facilitate the process of appreciating wildlife and wild spaces!
Conservation in South Africa
Photo by: Annie DuPre
South Africa is the third most biodiverse country in the world. It’s also one of the best places to train as a field guide and develop a passion for sustainable conservation! Here are just a few facts about South Africa’s biodiversity and ecosystems:
While South Africa is just 2% of the earth’s land surface, it’s home to 10% of the world’s plant species and 7% of its mammal, reptile, and bird species.
Africa is home to the last in-tact large carnivore guild in the world, all of which can be found in South Africa: lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, and spotted hyena.
Over 850 bird species have been recorded in the country, including 69 endemic and near-endemic species.
South Africa has nine distinct biomes, ranging from desert to tropical rainforest to fynbos.
The country is home to the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of just six floral kingdoms in the world.
There are an estimated 500 private game reserves and lodges in South Africa.
However, South Africa’s biodiversity is also facing some serious challenges. As threats to biodiversity grow, jobs in ecotourism, such as guiding, become even more important.
This is where guiding provides an opportunity not only to educate, but also contribute to sustainable conservation.
What is conservation?
Photo by: Donald Fraser
Conservation is protecting and sustaining biodiversity – habitats, animals, plants, and other living and nonliving elements of an ecosystem – for future generations. It also means caring for these resources in a responsible manner, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.
Guiding as a conservation tool
Take a moment to think about a group of guests visiting South Africa for the first time. You, as their guide, may be the one and only person who speaks to them about wild animals and their habitats. This is an important responsibility.
Photo by: Louise Pavid
As an ethical guide, you’ll promote sustainable conservation practices. There are a few ways you can do this with guests. While on game drives or bush walks, you can talk with guests about the ecological processes they observe and how each animal plays an important role. Seeing an impala as more than just one animal, but a player in a much more complex and important game, is hugely valuable.
You can also have engaging discussions with guests about the role of tourism in conservation. People want to see their visit as more than just viewing animals, and it’s true that revenue from tourism plays an important role in protecting wild spaces. They’ll appreciate you highlighting this!
You can also promote ethical and sustainable tourism by reputable lodges and guides as the best way to experience South Africa’s wildlife first-hand.
Contribute to existing conservation projects
Photo by: Louise Pavid
Depending on where you’re working, you may be able to contribute to existing conservation projects or research.
Projects could include habitat rewilding, biodiversity assessments, game census, species relocation or reintroduction, community engagement, and more. This type of work is usually done by management, ecologists, or game rangers, but occasionally, you’ll get opportunities to help out too.
For example, the black wattle is considered the most widespread invasive tree in South Africa. They have huge water requirements to survive, making them detrimental to the survival of other native species (and therefore the biodiversity of an area). Reserves are constantly removing black wattles, and you may get to assist with this work depending on your guiding schedule.
Some reserves also conduct regular research on key species, and if resources and time allow, you may be able to join research projects or contribute to data collection. Or, before training to become a field guide, you could also join a wildlife research expedition for this opportunity.
Be a voice for the endangered
Photo by: Annie DuPre
As a guide, you are an advocate for wildlife and biodiversity conservation, and people will often look to you for your insights. It’s your privilege and duty to speak on behalf of wild animals.
While on a game drive, you can incorporate your knowledge of endangered species into your chats with guests. There is a lot of confusing information available about wildlife. By speaking up on behalf of rhinos, pangolins, lions, and other threatened and endangered species, you may influence others to do the same.
You can also discourage guests from participating in harmful tourism experiences, such as cub-petting, elephant riding, walking with predators, and other hands-on interactive attractions. These types of interactions hold no conservation value, and can be detrimental to wildlife.
Your impact can then have a ripple effect and influence more people to protect these species and promote conservation!
Conservation and guiding go hand in hand
Photo by: Louise Pavid
You never know the effect you can have on people as a guide.
By showing someone an elephant for the first time in their lives, you could inspire them to commit part of their lives to protecting elephants. Or, by sharing your knowledge about ecosystem processes, you might inspire a young visitor to study a nature conservation course and become a game ranger. You could discuss the dangers of snares with a guest, and they could go on to study veterinary sciences and become a wildlife veterinarian.
There are endless ways that your leadership as a guide can have a positive impact on your guests. By being a proponent of sustainable tourism and conservation, you’ll play an essential role in protecting South Africa’s wild animals and habitats. This is the definition of conservation!
So, if you’ve always wanted to make a positive impact on nature through a sustainable career, why not get started by joining our next Bushwise Professional Field Guide Course?