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Ian Thomson

FGASA Member Number One l Ian Thomson

Have ever wondered who was the first member of FGASA? His name is Ian Thomson, and his FGASA number is 1. He still lives and breathes wildlife and nature conservation.

Humble Beginnings
Born in Scotland in 1945, as a child Ian moved with his family to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Finishing school at the unique bush-orientated Plumtree School, where he developed his first love of the wilds, Ian managed a tobacco, cattle and maize farm, before deciding to join his two elder brothers in the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management.  Thus Ian not only pursued his passion for wildlife but had an in-depth hands-on training in all aspects of wildlife management and conservation.

The Road to Conservation
Initially based in Chirundu, on the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia, Ian was responsible for a huge hunting concession consisting of five hunting camps, hosting local and international clients.  He was predominantly involved with everything that had to do with reserve management, from elephants and buffaloes to even the smallest creatures, insects and plant life that constitute an eco-system.

After every hunting season wildlife assessments had to be undertaken.  This was done by vehicle on the few existing tracks, but mostly with foot patrols, going from waterhole to waterhole, along elephant paths and rivers, up and down hills and even sitting up in trees doing 24-hour game counts.  Although some aerial counts were undertaken using small aircraft, large numbers of rhino, buffalo, elephants and many more wildlife species was best done at water holes. Today’s modern computer technology was unheard of in those days, which meant lots of paperwork back at the office once the appraisals were completed.

Ian pointed out that “In those days’ conservation had to be done on your feet so one knew very inch of your area.”  Ian remembers clearly when one night a herd of buffalo came through the camp surrounding his tent grazing until daybreak. When counted at the nearby waterhole it was estimated there were 1,200 buffalo in that herd. “The now critically endangered Black Rhino were so numerous as to be a nuisance during foot patrol!”

After 6 years in the Zambezi Valley, Ian was relocated to Nyanga National Park as Senior Ranger. Situated in the north of Zimbabwe‘s Eastern Highlands and one of the first national parks to be declared in the country, it features the highest rugged mountains in Zimbabwe.  Whilst stationed here Ian studied Ecology at the University of Rhodesia after which he focused on environmental education, a subject he is particularly passionate about.

As a Warden in the Matopos and Hwange National Parks, Ian gained further experience of different ecologies and wildlife management. Leaving Zimbabwe for South Africa in 1982 he was the Chief Conservation Officer with the Department of Agriculture in the Ciskei, assisting in developing the Double Drift Game Reserve. He also organised a Hippo capture operation at Ndumu Game Reserve in Kwazulu-Natal and transported a number of animals to the Fish River which bordered Double Drift. These Hippo are still doing well there today.

Ian then joined the Department of Conservation of Kwazulu-Natal as Head of Tourism and Wildlife Management, becoming Deputy Director then Director.  During this time, he qualified in Environmental Management (and EIA’S) from The University of Cape Town and Human Resource Management through Wits University.

Discussions about guiding standards in South Africa
While working for the Department of Conservation, Ian and his peers had become concerned about the standards of safari guides and guiding, and that there was no formal qualification available.

This was when Clive Walker called a meeting at Lapalala with Ian Player, Nick Steele, Ian Thomson and Drummond Densham from Natal Parks Board.  FGASA has grown from there with Ian being one of the first members to enrol for his Field Guide qualification.  Thus being at the right place at the right time is how Ian became FGASA membership # 1.  Ian is also qualified as a Professional Field Guide (formerly known as Field Guide level 3) and has an SKS dangerous game qualification.

Role-player in various development projects

  • Leaving the Department of Conservation, Ian consulted as the Technical Advisor for the German KFW Development Bank in Malawi, rebuilding the Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve. This included all aspects of Park Management, provision of new vehicles, habitat management, uniforms, rewriting of management plans, security and up-skilling of staff. During the 5 years, a tourist lodge was refurbished, new lodges designed and built.
  • Ian worked on an embryo plan with Zambian National parks to establish a Trans-Frontier Park. Although this project started in 2000, it was only completed two years ago.
  • As a consultant, Ian has worked in Saudi Arabia, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi and most regions of South Africa.
  • Assisting with the development of Manyoni Game Reserve (previously Zululand Rhino Reserve) and Zulu Waters Private Reserve (formerly Dalton Private Reserve), Ian wrote their original management plans. Whilst at Manyoni, working through the Board of Directors, he arranged with the WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project to introduce a founder population of Black Rhino, and with Kruger National Park to introduce a founder population of elephant. At Zulu Waters, he introduced one of the first breeding herds of disease-free buffalo into KZN.
  • Ian coordinated the Rhino and Elephant Security Group of Southern Africa. This was a SADC range state group which held annual meetings in different SADC countries. A policy document, which was signed by all member states was produced for the management and security of these animals for the SADC region. This policy also formed the backbone of the SADC wildlife protocol document.

The word retirement does not exist in his vocabulary

Recently, while working in Zululand, Ian has been lecturing international students from universities and colleges in the United Kingdom England about all aspects of Wildlife and Environmental Management.

Ian does not believe in retirement. Being very active in wildlife and conservation, continuously thinking of new ways to empower people with environmental knowledge and sharing his experiences and knowledge, Ian enjoys guiding and taking people on walking safaris in dangerous game areas. If that does not inspire you, then nothing will!

It takes only one person to make a difference… Ian is one of those people!

If you find yourself daydreaming of being in the African wilderness or have a passion to make a difference. Why not take a look at the EcoTraining Courses that we offer.

FGASA | Frequently asked questions and answers

Starting out in a new job or career can be a daunting prospect. We at EcoTraining have found that these are some of the most frequently asked questions when students consider joining our 1 year ‘Professional Field Guide course’ or our 55 day FGASA level 1 (NQF2) course.

A year is a major commitment to a future in any industry and getting a guiding qualification is no exception. Proper research and due diligence is an important process when deciding what course is best for you. Before we share answers to frequently asked questions, let us give you a brief background of what FGASA is and what they do.

FGASA, the acronym stands for ‘The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa’. A Section 21 company, it was formally established in 1990 by a group of professional guides aiming to set a standard for nature guiding practice. FGASA represents individual tourist guides; nature, culture and adventure guides; trackers; and organisations involved in offering professional guiding services to members of the public. FGASA is an accredited provider with CATHSSETA. It has set the guiding standards for many years and continues to maintain the highest standards within the guiding industry. In conjunction with CATHSSETA within the National Qualifications Framework, FGASA promotes the standards for guiding throughout southern Africa.

Great! Now take a look at the answers to some of the most pertinent questions that we get asked…

Is the FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2) the same course as FGASA Apprentice Field Guide?

The ‘FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2)’ name according to FGASA has changed its name and is now known as the ‘Apprentice Field Guide’. EcoTraining’s programme, FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2) is the exact same course as FGASA’s Apprentice Field Guide and upon successful completion will achieve an NQF2.

What NQF level is FGASA level 1?

EcoTraining’s FGASA Field Guide Level 1 course (FGASA’s Apprentice Field Guide equivalent) is a NQF level 2 which consists of 41 credits. The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) currently collates credits assigned to various formal courses at a specific level. The EcoTraining FGASA Level 1 (NQF2) course is recognised nationally in South Africa. The FGASA Field Guide (NQF2) must be registered with the National Department of Tourism in order to legally operate as a Nature Guide.

How much does it cost to register for FGASA level 1?

Currently the registration fee for South African membership is R1,760.00. This is done by EcoTraining and is included in the course fees for EcoTraining courses.

Can I do the FGASA training if I don’t have a matric?

Matric is not a requirement for any EcoTraining courses. However, as both the course material and instructions are in English, participants on the course are expected to have a fair command of the English language and must be able to speak, read and write English. If you are unsure if your English is good enough, contact EcoTraining to find out.

What is the pass mark?

Students are required to obtain a pass mark of 75%. There are two elements to the qualification. Theory (which has to be passed first) and a practical. A student is only considered to be competently qualified once both elements have been completed and passed.

Am I allowed to drive guests at South African based lodges?

If you are younger than 21, then the answer is unfortunately not. South African law requires that the necessary license, a Public Driving Permit, can only be obtained at age 21. But do not despair or let that detail derail your guiding ambitions. Consider becoming a Trails Guide and conduct on-foot guiding.

If you want to be a nature guide, get involved in conservation or just want to learn more about nature and the environment, then FGASA is definitely something that should interest you.

We hope these answers help some of the questions you may have. Should you wish to know answers to any other question not listed above, contact enquiries@ecotraining.co.za and we will be happy to assist you with your research.
To find out more about what we offer, please visit our website.