The Juggle of a Safari Guide

Have you ever wondered just how many balls your safari guide must juggle on a safari? Victoria shares her experience of what it's like to be a new guide.

As a science teacher, an EcoTraining graduate, and a zealous nature enthusiast I never imagined how complex and challenging the job of a safari guide could be. I began my journey to becoming a guide about a year ago, after having been wooed by the expertise of the guides who present on WildEarth. I entered the industry with an idealistic perspective of what I would be like as a guide; smooth, competent, and knowledgeable. What I have learned since then is that the common phrase ‘blood, sweat, and tears must have originated from training safari guides. Let me paint you a picture.

Photograph © Christoff Els

Radio procedure

Watching two hyenas chase a leopard while it is trying to subdue its dinner, is a once in a lifetime sighting for guests. The guide has to inform the other stations in the field, to do this, they must be intimately acquainted with the property on which they operate, they must be confident and well versed in the radio procedures and they must be able to bring these two factors together in a brief and accurate radio update.

It sounds simple and over time it becomes second nature, but as a new guide, calling in a high-profile sighting on a property where you don’t know the road names, landmarks and directional references is enough to raise your blood pressure.…

Off-roading

It would be convenient if a scenario such as the one I have just described unfolded in a tree right next to the road, but that’s unlikely. So in addition to navigational awareness and radio procedure, the guide must engage low range and bundu bash towards the sighting. But be careful, there are many tree species that it would be sacrilege to trample, and also it’s best not to snap a steering rod or get a flat while in the midst of two apex carnivores. The guide must off-road as fast as is necessary to keep up with the sighting, manage the now booming radio, and make sure the guests perceive you to be cool, calm, collected, and in control.

Photograph © Scott Ramsay

Vehicle positioning

Once you have made it into the sighting, vehicle positioning becomes the most important element. Balancing a respectful approach, with an unobstructed view for every guest is the new task. If you are in the sighting with another vehicle, only one vehicle should move at a time, thus the sighting becomes the dance of Land Rovers. The position of the sun is also a key factor to consider in this process, particularly for photographic guests.

Interpreting the sighting

Finally, it’s time to cut the engine and unpack the chaos that has just unfolded. The caution here is not to overpower, or dilute, the event with too much talking. The guide must straddle a fine line of engaging with their guests while letting nature tell the story. When it’s time to make room for other vehicles in the sighting, the guide must manage the expectations and tie a pretty bow around the experience so that no one feels short-changed, or rushed.

Photograph © Scott Ramsay

The silver lining

If those before us become masters of their trade, so can we. You’re only a junior guide for a short and beautiful season. I comfort myself knowing one day I will teach someone how to use the radio, I’ll offroad and instinctively dodge sensitive vegetation, I’ll know when to speak and when to let nature do the talking, and I’ll giggle at what used to seem daunting. Until then, I’ll learn from my mistakes and celebrate my victories, as I hope you will celebrate yours.

Safari Guide Course l EcoTraining Courses

EcoTraining’s 28-day Safari Guide course is a great fit for anyone who wants to have a bush breakaway while also learning about the environment they find themselves in. If you have always wondered what it feels like to be a Safari Guide in Africa, now is your chance to fully immerse yourself in an environmentally conscious learning environment.

About the Author: 

Victoria Craddock is a past Apprentice Field Guide student of EcoTraining and a freelance Blogger.