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  • Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

What do I need to be a field guide? FGASA and beyond

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

BY: Tasneem Johnson-Dollie

So you’re set on becoming accredited with the Field Guide Association of South Africa (FGASA) and working as a field guide? 

Then you may be asking yourself “What do I need to be a field guide?” Get the answers you need from Bushwise Field Guides, and learn everything you need to know to become a great field guide.

Field guides have the important job of taking people into natural environments, teaching them about the area and animals that are found there, and demonstrating how to interact with nature in an ethical way. 

Since Bushwise was built on a solid field guiding foundation, it’s no surprise that we’re the best in the business.

How Bushwise was built

Bushwise grew out of one woman’s dream of working with large African mammals, at a time when there weren’t many ways to do so. 

In 2001, this self-taught guide, Sophie Nieman, joined GVI. She went on to set up and manage the GVI Karongwe wildlife expedition. 

She later headed the establishment and management of wildlife and community conservation programs across Africa, and in 2006 she launched the first Bushwise course at the Mahlahla campus. 

Two giraffes in the sunset

Today, Bushwise boasts the best field guide training courses in the industry, with the highest FGASA qualification results of all long-term training providers. Bushwise was also awarded the top international internship program at the 2017 GoAbroad Awards. 

Every field guide needs FGASA accreditation, and there are a number of organisations that can get you there. But with Bushwise you can go beyond FGASA.

How Bushwise gets you beyond FGASA

To become a first-class field guide, you need to go beyond just stating the facts, and become great at creating a guided experience. This means providing an experience for guests that is as entertaining as it is educational. 

Bushwise can get you there.

If your heart is longing to be set free in the wide-open African bushveld, ready to drink in the smouldering African sunset, and beat to the cacophony of animal calls, well Bushwise can offer you all that and more. 

All our programs are based in the heart of the bushveld, in Limpopo, South Africa. This means that you’ll experience the African bushveld at its best.

Beyond just basic field guiding skills, you can gain a number of additional qualifications on our programs, like a first aid wilderness certificate or a 4×4 driving qualification.

Our hands-on approach to teaching means that you’ll get all the support you need, no matter what program you sign up for. And with work placements on offer after you’ve completed your course, you can continue to gain experience once you’re qualified. 

With a range of programs to choose from, the following four can help you to become a phenomenal field guide.

Are you asking yourself, “What do I need to be a field guide professionally?” Well, the answer to that is: a well-rounded and specialised education that speaks to exactly what employers are looking for.

Bushwise offers the most comprehensive field guide course available that takes students through classroom theory as well as practical sessions. 

The FGASA Professional Field Guide course covers all the bases when it comes to field guiding, such as:

  1. wildlife tracking 

  2. survival and navigation

  3. viewing potentially dangerous animals

  4. creating a guided nature experience

  5. hospitality and hosting basics in a lodge environment

  6. principles of anti-poaching

  7. rifle competency

  8. 4×4 driving

  9. vehicle skills and basic mechanics

  10. outdoor first aid

  11. wildlife photography

  12. wildlife surveying techniques

  13. practical application of conservation, ecology, reserve management, geology and animal behaviour.

This course can be done over 23 or 50 weeks.

Bushwise students attending an outdoor lecture.

The 50-week Professional Field Guide course also offers a six-month work placement – as either a professional field guide, or in wildlife conservation or management. This has it standing head and shoulders above the rest.

And maybe you’ve got some know-how when it comes to field guiding, but want more practical exposure and experience in the field?

Well, Bushwise’s 60-day Field Guide course and the Apprentice Trails Guide course can give you just that. 

This FGASA-accredited course covers the basics of field guiding. Explore topics like:

  1. introduction to guiding in the natural environment

  2. birds and mammals

  3. ecology

  4. geology

  5. astronomy

  6. weather and climate

  7. botany

  8. animal behaviour

  9. bush first aid skills.

It can also set you up with all you need to know for your track and sign, and trailing assessments, according to Cybertracker standards.

And if you’re just looking to clock up more trail guiding hours, you’ll want to check out our Apprentice Trails Guide course.

An elephant walking in the bush.

Photo by: Ben Coley

For valid FGASA apprentice guides – who are paid-up FGASA members – this 28-day course will get you to the finish line, your FGASA Apprentice Trails Guides qualification.

You’ll set out on foot each day, and take advantage of every opportunity to encounter wild animals. You could easily meet the minimum number of dangerous game encounters on this course, all while sharpening your focus on the ethos of guiding and bush skills. 

Students signed up for the Bushwise FGASA Professional Field Guide course can also add this course onto their syllabus as a 14-day Apprentice Field Guide course.

And for those who want an early start in the field guiding game, Bushwise can cater to you too.

Bushwise students in a safari vehicle with a Bushwise staff member in the drivers seat.

There are limited options for under 21s to gain field guiding experience. 

This is because field guides need a professional driving permit (PdP) for a passenger vehicle, which requires you to be 21 years or older. 

But with Bushwise, you could gain essential career experience without your PdP, through the FGASA Field Guiding and Conservation Careers internship. 

This internship provides in-depth knowledge into field guiding, as well as opportunities to practically apply your field guiding skills in areas such as:

  1. wildlife research and monitoring

  2. anti-poaching

  3. assisting at an eco-tourism lodge

  4. environmental education and animal rehabilitation

  5. game farming and reserve management.

And since this program is offered over 1, 3 or 6 months, it’s a convenient choice for you to get a feel for field guiding.

Leap into life as a field guide

An adult and juvenile zebra running through a thicket.

Photo by: Vaughan Jessnitz

With these practical and purposeful programs on offer, there’s no reason for you to fret about your future as a field guide. 

Choose the program that’s perfect for you, and get excited about your future as a field guide.




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