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Transforming into a safari guide

BY: Sanette Jonker

One of our Bushwise Professional Field Guide course students looks back on her experience and discusses the lessons that she will take forward in her new career.

There were two weeks left for us on campus, a place that had become home.

As the first good rains fell in the Lowveld and the bush changed, I couldn’t help but think of our journey and how we too were transformed – we had blossomed as the trees had blossomed and filled with knowledge as the dams had filled with water.

The lowveld.

In mid-December, we had the ultimate test of what we had learnt at Bushwise: our theory exams and practical evaluations. Our trainers’ hours and hours of pouring out knowledge, and students’ hours and hours of absorbing it, had finally arrived.

It was the week of Final FGASA practical drives, proving that we were worth the badge and had the knowledge to be field guides.

By the time the practical drives came, we had all written our FGASA and Bushwise exams and had just a few practical evaluations remaining.

You could feel the tension in camp-like pressure mounting before a thunderstorm. 

Students were frantically deciding on routes, washing vehicles late in the evening and early mornings, preparing snacks and ensuring we remembered everything we were taught over the course.

A Bushwise student busy writing their exam.

We all love nature, that is why we chose to do the Bushwise Professional Field Guide Course. But there is so much more to guiding than driving a vehicle and finding animals. You have to remember that everything you do has a consequence. 

One of the first things we must consider and be aware of when we are in the bush is safety and respect. Safety and respect for ourselves, our peers, our guests and mother nature. 

It is a great honour and responsibility to be able to guide in a Big 5 area, and this comes with rigorous training and evaluations.

For example, when we were trained in Advanced Rifle Handling and Viewing Potentially Dangerous Animals (ARH and VPDA), we learnt the importance of animal comfort zones. We were also taught the basics of animal behaviour to better understand when it is safe and ethical to approach a sighting without altering the animal’s behaviour. It is equally important to know when to leave the animal alone. 

As a Bushwise student you will go through ARH training.

Safety – for both you and the animal – is paramount. 

This was instilled in us, as well as the respect for the animals’ space and comfort. You cannot conduct either ARH or VPDA if you do not practice safety and respect. That is why so much of our training focused on learning more about wild animal behaviour, how to avoid getting yourself into an unfavourable situation and how to safely extract yourself from such situations.

Honestly, the course and this journey was a ride and a half! I truly believe that each one of us now calls the bushveld home.

Is home a place? In my mind it is a feeling!

As we go forth into the field guiding industry, I hope we continue to learn and thrive in this place we love.

Do you want to feel at home in the South African bush like Sanette? Apply today to jump start your field guiding career.

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