The program I enrolled on is run by SA-based training provider Bushwise, who provide courses in Field Guiding and Bush Hospitality. The Guide course is a 23 week programme which results in the Level 1 Nature Guide qualification from the Field Guides Association of South Africa (FGASA). Successful completion of the study period is then followed by a 27 week work placement at a safari lodge or research project in the surrounding area.
From the FGASA website:
The level 1 guide should be able to identify the major living and non-living features of the natural environment in which s/he operates and interpret them at a level based mainly on observation and from an elementary scientific and cultural perspective.
The course covers topics including:
- Identification of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and fish
- Ecology, geology, weather and climate of Southern Africa
- Plants and biomes
- Understanding and interpretation of animal behaviour
- Approaching dangerous game
- Navigation and survival
- Conservation management and the poaching crisis
- Bush safety and first aid
- 4×4 driving
- Rifle handling
- Wildlife photography
- Identification of animal tracks and signs
For the study period I lived on ‘campus’, just outside the 30,000 hectare Greater Makalali Private Game Reserve in the lowveld Limpopo province, South Africa (click here to see it on a map). It is about 20 miles west of the northern Kruger National Park region, and an hour’s drive from the nearest town, Hoedspruit. The course was a mixture of classroom-based theory and practical tuition on the reserve in the form of game drives and walks, and was assessed by weekly written tests. The final FGASA assessment was in two parts; a written exam and a self-conducted three hour game drive.
I’m happy to say I passed and am now a qualified field guide. For my internship I have been placed at GVI Karongwe, a conservation research project and volunteer expedition. My day-to-day life now revolves around taking volunteers out on game drives on the Karongwe Private Game Reserve to locate and study animals. It is quite literally a dream come true!