“From training with EcoTraining on their one-year Field Guide course, to guiding in southern Africa and now guiding for Leopard Trails in Sri Lanka … This is my story of how I began my professional career in wildlife tourism and conservation, based outside of South Africa.
“Born to a British mother and Sri Lankan father, I found myself stationed in both Sri Lanka, the UK and Australia during my school days. During my years in Sri Lanka I used to work as a field assistant for various wildlife-related projects, and spent a lot of my time visiting various national parks in the country.
“It was through this that I soon learnt that I wanted to be in the field of wildlife conservation and nature tourism. While friends and colleagues all went off into the world of business, banking and other fields, I remained with my head in wildlife books and continuously went on field trips to expand my knowledge and experience.
“After spending some time learning about spiders in Sydney, I found out about the EcoTraining year-long course on offer in South Africa and immediately signed up for it. This turned out to be the beginning of an adventurous career as a field guide in Sri Lanka’s national parks. Since then I have also developed a keen interest in photography and lodge management.
“Despite the fact that EcoTraining is based in southern Africa, I strongly feel it is applicable to anybody looking into a career in wildlife tourism and/or conservation, whether your area of operation is in southern Africa or anywhere else in the world.
“Just as in any field of work, working in wildlife tourism needs a solid foundation and there is no better place in the world to receive this exposure than in southern Africa, given the high concentration of game and the expertise that has developed there (including the FGASA Level 1 qualification) due to the size of the wildlife tourism industry.
“My training with EcoTraining began at Selati Camp, where I covered the first few months preparing for my Level 1 FGASA examinations. This preparation and training consisted of discipline, strict ethics and hands-on experience on every walk and drive (done twice a day), as well as afternoon lectures covering all aspects of the natural environment from rocks and soils to animal behaviour and biology.
“From Selati I was sent to Karongwe, where 16 of us continued our training with some of the best in the industry in animal tracks and sign, wilderness survival, and of course the continued experience of walks, drives, and practical assessments and feedback.
“Karongwe was also where we started preparing ourselves for our next camp, where experiences really rose to the next level in the ‘trails’ course at Makuleke. Before we began our training in Makuleke, we had to be up to date with ethics, safety, guiding skills and, of course, situational awareness.
“I successfully qualified in my Trails Guide course and EcoTraining positioned me to work at Vuyani Lodge at Moditlo, near Hoedspruit, where I continued to guide as well as get a taste of lodge management. I also voluntarily took part in assisting the anti-poaching team and recording rhino numbers with the reserve management team.
“EcoTraining provided me with the foundation to run a safari tourism operation, as well as a foundation to continue studying wildlife, as I do today at Leopard Trails in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a biodiversity hotspot and an up-and-coming safari destination. In recent years Sri Lanka has become known for having the highest concentration of leopards anywhere in the world (in both Yala and Wilpattu National Parks)!
“At present I continue to work full time for Leopard Trails, and continue to work on leopard research and leopard identification projects in both Yala and Wilpattu National Parks.
“I strongly encourage any of the current students reading this to come and experience an ‘out of the ordinary’ six-month placement with us here at Leopard Trails in Sri Lanka.