Perseverance knows no obstacles, my journey of becoming a Lead Trails Guide

"Wildlife, Nature conservation, and guiding were a few key words that I sought out and followed over the past few years. It led me, to be who I am now. A Level 1 Nature Guide and a Lead Trails Guide. It all started as a dream that needed to be realised" - Haritha Pilapitiya

Haritha Pilapitiya, also known as Hari overlooking the Banyini Pan and the surrounding floodplain in Makuleke.

Dating back to my childhood, all I can remember was walking around my father’s rubber and tea estates, with my air rifle I got for my 5th birthday. I constantly walked around barefoot, climbing little ridges, trees and just always looking for a way to get a little adrenaline going and some bruises to remember them by.

My high schooling career was very occupied with lots of sport activities. I played rugby, participated in motor cross and I was a professional sports shooter for seven years until I decided to come to Africa. School was fun, shooting was better! I traveled the world representing my country in a discipline of shooting called IPSC. I won many National, International and Austral Asian championships and titles. These seven years went by very quick and it was soon time for me to make a decision as to what I was going to do as a career choice. My choices were either shooting or becoming a professional trails guide. “Becoming a Trails guide” it was. Soon I respectfully left the shooting field that I was confidently familiar to and all the people within it to pursue my adventure in the bush and becoming a professional trails guide.

At that time, my father was a Manager at one of the camps of a well-known Sri Lankan Safari Company known as ‘Leopard Safaris’ or now known as ‘Noel Rodrigos Leopard Safaris’, which operates from a few main National parks in Sri Lanka including Yala National Park and Wilpattu National Park. I took my first step into the industry knowing very little about it and carried on doing operational camp work and slowly moved into guiding with the help of my loving family and a few of my father’s friends. After a few months of learning the ropes of the bush, Leopard Safaris decided to occupy me permanently as a guide. I loved every minute I spent out there, guiding people and educating them on the variety of rich flora and fauna my Sri Lankan paradise island had to offer. After about six months I understood the standards that our guiding community had and also identified areas that could improve to be parallel to international standards. I asked myself, “where can I learn more about guiding and professional nature guiding?”.

A fellow colleague of mine, working for a similar company had done a Professional Field Guide (PFG) course with EcoTraining. The discussions we had about the opened my eyes to a whole new area that I had no idea of. I started to research the organisation EcoTraining and enrolled in the 55-day Field Guide Level 1 / NQF2 course.

In 2015 April, I did the course at both Selati and Karongwe camps. It was the first time for me being in Africa. The course was overwhelming and the knowledge that was shared with us students was awe-inspiring. All instructors conducted themselves with professional standards and there were no flaws what so ever. And so, my love for Africa began. I complete the course with flying colours and I was so proud of what I’ve achieved considering the toughness of the course.

From the left Haritha Pilapitiya, Bruce Lawson and Alberto Binelli after receiving the well-known Makuleke Backups patch, which is given when the Lead Trails Guide qualification is awarded

No doubt, EcoTraining is the place to be if you are hungry, willing to learn and want to educate yourself on becoming a quality Nature guide. Once I finished my course, I left Africa with the intention of returning sooner than ever, to learn more from the very best instructors and to build myself up to worthy standards, so I could go back and share with my people the correct way of managing and conducting activities with the wildlife we had. I went back home a new man, filled with knowledge and the will to change and help improve the standards of guiding back in Sri Lanka.

The knowledge I gained helped me a lot when it came to conducting game drives. I helped guides and guests to realise that it’s not just the big animals that matter but also the small things like the soil that make the foundation for all that you see to stand on.  As a result of my new-found appreciation for the small things, I soon grew the urge to walk. I could focus more on little things that go unnoticed mostly on game drive and feel more closely the energy of the bush when on-foot.

The following year in 2016 I returned to Africa to enroll in the 28-day Trails Guide Course at the Selati and Makuleke camps. I knew from my experience that EcoTraining had the best instructors and locations to conduct this course. I enjoyed every moment and I realised that all I wanted was to walk. “I had to become a lead trails guide!”. After the course, I was fortunate enough to be accepted by EcoTraining to be a back-up guide in order to gain hours experience and to put my knowledge into practice in the field.

I started backing-up on the 1st of January 2017. During these six months, I learned a lot, gained more practical experience and got to spend more time learning under the mentorship of the instructors. “I am proud to say that I am a lead trails guide!”.

I am forever thankful for EcoTraining, Bruce Lawson and all the others in the team for helping me accomplish my dreams. I now want to pursue the level 3 nature guide programme and obtain all other special skill standards this career has to offer.

I highly recommend EcoTraining to all those who are eager to make a change in this industry and to conserve this beauty of nature that was entrusted to us.