Safari Guide or Game Ranger

Professional Trails Guide Devon Myers breaks down the differences between a Safari Guide and a Game Ranger.

What is the difference between a Safari Guide and a Game Ranger These terms are very loosely applied between two vitally important, yet relatively different professions.

Safari Guide or Game Ranger

At some stage in the mid to late the late 1960s’, the South African luxury safari industry started to develop into what we know today. It was the beginning of the open vehicle game drives, offering phenomenal wildlife viewing opportunities to tourists as they were bounced around the bush in a 4 x 4 safari car by a rugged, khaki-clad Game Ranger in search of Big Game.

At this time, both the roles of the Game Ranger and Safari Guide were one and the same thing. The industry looked to the bush savvy rangers, with their knowledge of wildlife and ability to navigate; driving off-road in search of the animal’s tourists had come to see.

As the industry developed, so did each of these professions and over time became very different, each role, evolving for its unique purpose. One role developed for the protection and care of wildlife and the natural areas in which it exists, and the other role for the purpose of connecting people with these beautiful places, educating them about wildlife and conservation.

A fair portion of the luxury safari industry in South Africa today, still refers to their Safari/Field Guides as “Game Rangers”.  A number of lodges and camps even have a “Rangers office”, where the “Head Ranger” conducts “rangers meetings” with their teams, in which many important issues are discussed, such as, how to view animals sensitively, whilst conducting game drives in a low impact way, off-road driving, wet season vs dry season roads and making sure to broadcast interesting sightings, correctly on the radio in order to observe strict Game Drive Protocols.  These topics and the efficient implementation of such, go a long way to helping these teams run like a well-oiled safari machine, in turn generating massive funds for the conservation of these wild spaces.

However, unless these same people which the modern safari industry term “Rangers” spend the majority of their working time, fixing fences, boreholes and roads, or are trained in, and performing actual anti-poaching operations such as patrols, man-tracking, snare removal, stakeouts and sting operations which lead to the protection of wildlife through the fight against poaching, they should not be referred to as a “Game Ranger”.

A “Game Ranger” performs a very different role, using a unique set of skills, compared with those of a Safari Guide. Game Rangers are the last line of protection for wildlife in Africa. They are a vital force in the preservation of wilderness areas, as they work day and night, not only to care for natural places and the animals within them but possibly also risking their own lives to curb the effects of illegal hunting or poaching as it is commonly referred to.

Like a Game ranger, a Safari Guide also performs a vital role in conservation. The role of a Safari Guide is to connect tourists with nature, in a way that will encourage those people to return again and again in search of natural, meaningful experiences. The revenue generated by ecotourism is one of the main sources of funding for research, management, anti-poaching and the protection of these wild spaces that we and our guests are able to experience.

Both Game Rangers and Safari Guides perform vital roles within the conservation of wilderness areas, and both of these professions go hand in hand, working together for the greater good of conservation, however as we have mentioned, perform very different duties. There are a handful of Safari Guides that might be trained in or qualified to perform certain anti-poaching roles and visa, versa. These people can easily and regularly do, make the shift from Game Ranger to Safari Guide; however will most likely, for obvious reasons not be performing these different duties at the same time.

Whether a Safari Guide is conducting game drives in search of the BIG 5 or guiding on foot as a Trails Guide, exploring these wilderness regions and all they have to offer, they are required to have a wide and deep knowledge of the natural region within which they operate. This knowledge ranges from the smaller things such as insects, birds, reptiles, tracks, signs, trees and plants right up to the large mammals such as Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Buffalo and the myriad of antelope species, as well as having an in-depth understanding of their behaviour of these animals that the tourists have come to see.

Apart from the knowledge aspect, there is an even more important set of guiding skills that need to be mastered. These skills are used to deliver that knowledge in an interpretive way to our guests and in doing so, connecting people with the wilderness, all whilst keeping our unsuspecting safari-goers safe and happy.

Like Game Rangers, Safari Guides also risk their lives, performing an honest and noble duty for conservation, far too often, for meagre earnings. They have studied and worked extremely hard to develop the vital knowledge, skills and experience needed to provide tourists with an everlasting appreciation for nature and all of the interesting and equally important creatures that exist within it. We are privileged to be able to facilitate the fantastic connection between people and the natural world.

We should be proud to call this our profession. We should be proud to be called a Safari Guide.