Game Ranger vs Safari/Field Guide

People often confuse the terms “game ranger” and “field guide”. There is a difference, and here is why…

What is a Guide and what is a Ranger?

People often tend to confuse the roles of a Field Guide and Game or Park Ranger. Even though the basis of their knowledge is the same their functions in the industry are very different.

As custodians of the natural environment, guides and rangers are required to work hand in hand in the conservation and management of the wilderness areas around the world, and this is where the differences between a guide ‘versus a game, park, wildlife or forest ‘ranger’ need to become clear. It is common for guides to be called rangers, but this is not technically correct.

How To Become A Game Ranger - Game Ranger Vs Safari Guide

Guides

The Nature Guide (Field Guide) acts as a link between the natural and cultural surroundings and the guests, taking on an educational role. Guides, as the name suggests, guide guests through nature, whether by vehicle, canoe, horseback, or on foot. It is a guide’s job to explain some of the remarkable secrets hidden within the natural environment, and to act as a link between the guests and nature. Guides are also considered to be crucial to conservation since they are able to spread their message far and wide through the many people they meet.

Rangers

What is a Ranger and what are their main function? Rangers are at the forefront of anti-poaching efforts throughout Africa and, as the protectors of wildlife, they play a critical role in conservation management, and they do not usually deal with the general public in an educational role.

Rangers are generally responsible for veterinary aspects of the wildlife, population control, and breeding capabilities, for example, as well as more hands-on issues such as fencing, fire control, road maintenance, and invasion of alien plants.

How To become A Game Ranger - game ranger vs Safari Guide

How to become a Game Ranger?

It takes a unique type of individual to perform the tasks expected of a ranger in what are often extreme conditions. Due to the physical nature of the job a high level of fitness and strength is required. It is also imperative that those seeking employment as rangers have adequate security clearance as they will be involved in law enforcement and in some instances will be trained to carry firearms.

Basic training will be required to develop skills to operate as a Ranger. The training and experience that is offered by an EcoTraining course are invaluable in building on that very motivational foundation. Through learning about the complexity of ecology and understanding animal behavior and various functions and techniques involved in conservation. Thereafter choosing a reputable training provider is critical. The Game Rangers Association of Africa can assist you in making this choice.

The various roles of guides and rangers do overlap, and this makes sense when you consider that they share the same motivation: a deep love and understanding of the ecology of the natural environment.

Those interested in interpretative guiding in the ecotourism sector should look into a career as a Field Guide.

How to become a Safari/Field Guide?

There are many ways and means of becoming a Field Guide, all of them require determination and hard work, and a good attitude. But one of the most successful and rewarding ways of becoming a Field Guide is to join a training organization like EcoTraining. Here’s why.

When becoming a Field Guide it’s really important to have a good mentor. Sure, it’s possible without, learning through online platforms and coursework material, self-study and assessments. But with a mentor, it will really help elevate you from simply competent, to experienced and one step towards exceptional.

I speak from my experience from being a student of EcoTraining, and a ‘Back-Up’ (Apprentice Trails Guide), to being a fully qualified Field Guide and then further, becoming an EcoTraining Instructor. My mentors really shaped who I am as a guide, some of them instilled in me the importance of professionalism in conduct, some the pure joy of curiosity. Others helped me to really understand what it is to be an ethical guide, considering all things before making decisions.

To become a Guide through an organization with EcoTraining, you will first attend a Wilderness First Aid Course, giving you the knowledge and confidence to deal with emergency situations, that although rare in the extreme, can happen when working in the bush and around wild animals.  From there you will complete a 55-day Apprentice Field Guide course that runs through the curriculum that is set aside to give you the fundamentals of the knowledge and skills to take guests on vehicle-based safaris in Big 5 areas. This can be completed in one of any of the 6 EcoTraining Camps, spread across 3 countries, South Africa, Botswana, and Kenya.

During that 55 days, you will cover a huge variety of topics that include at least 15 different topics and will be in the format of 2 bush activities a day, either walks or drives, classroom study, lectures, and evening presentations that will help you develop a wide range of skills that are needed to immerse your guests in an experience that will hopefully last a lifetime. There will be practical observations in the field, electronic slide and sounds assessments and theoretical examinations and quizzes throughout, to keep you focused on your areas of improvement, with the instructors providing regular feedback and encouragement.

How To become A Game Ranger - game ranger vs Safari Guide

If after you pass your 55 days Apprentice Field Guide component, the idea of walking through the bush excites you, you can complete a 28-day Apprentice Trails Guide course, including an Advanced Rifle Handling qualification.  Here you will focus on how to be safe, on foot in the wilderness, avoiding confrontation, focussing on the small details of nature otherwise missed on the vehicle. This will give you the knowledge and skills to step you onto the next rung of the guiding ladder, and an exciting new path.

Some days will be long and tough, but every day will have unique opportunities for learning and growth.  Even if it seems like a disaster, digging the Landover out the mud, fixing water pipes destroyed by elephants, removing trees fallen over the road, and fixing eroded areas off-road, all have important parts to play in the development of a guide, qualifying for this exciting career.

The mentorship and guidance provided by the instructors keep you motivated and impassioned to strive forward and achieve the highest standards. Without the caring, passionate, fun and enthusiastic, trainers and instructors that helped me along the way, who knows where I might have ended up.

About the Author: 

Michael Anderson is an EcoTraining Head Instructor at Karongwe Game Reserve, South Africa.