What type of guide do you want to be?

FGASA (Field Guide Association of Southern Africa) and EcoTraining will help you plan your guiding career by sharing an overview of the various types of guiding and options available to you.

So, you have decided that a career with nature and/or with culture is for you but you just don’t know what type of guide you want to become, where to start or what the next step should be? With so many options available you just want to figure out where you fit in. Let us show you a road map of common options available to you and how to get started.

The guiding industry as a whole comprises of three main categories namely:

  • Field guiding: A field guide is a person who guides visitors on a safari game drive and interprets nature for them in a particular biodiverse wilderness area.
  • Marine guiding: A marine guide is a person who guides visitors and interprets the coastal marine and terrestrial environment of an area. Marine guides usually require a FGASA level 1 qualification before pursuing marine guiding.
  • Tour guiding: A tourist guide is a person who guides visitors and interprets the cultural and natural heritage of an area. Tour guides do have a very basic understanding of nature and can guide guests in a specific wilderness area.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the various categories of guiding let us expand on each of them. Before we do, let us tell you about the accredited bodies that govern the standard of guiding in South Africa. It is very important when looking for a course to ensure that the course is endorsed by FGASA and accredited by CATHSSETA.

FIELD GUIDING LEVELS

The succession of professional field guiding progresses on three main levels; Field Guide NQF 2, FGASA Advanced Field Guide (NQF4) and then the FGASA Specialist Field Guide.

FGASA Field Guide (NQF2)

This is the entry level qualification into field guiding which comprises of vehicle-based guiding in dangerous games areas.

According to FGASA, with the Field Guide NQF 2 (formerly known as the FGASA Level 1) the person is able to identify the major living and non-living features of the natural environment in which s/he operates and interpret them at a level based mainly on observation and from an elementary scientific and cultural perspective. The field guide will be able to conduct game drives for customers in a limited geographical area. Features of this course done with EcoTraining include planning of game drives and walks, navigation and orientation, radio procedures, ecology, reptiles, geology and soil, amphibians, fish, mammals, weather and climate, anticipating animal behaviour, plant communities, plant identification and uses, identification and ecology of invertebrates.

For more information about the FGASA NQF2 course click here.

Advanced Field Guide (NQF4)

The FGASA Advanced Field Guide (NQF4) (Previously known as FGASA Level 2) is the next level after completing the FGASA NQF2 course.

Over and above being able to provide a guided nature experience at an elementary scientific level, the field guide can now combine knowledge and experience while interpreting the features of the natural environment within the broader ecological context. At this level, the field guide is required to have a deeper knowledge of topics with the added active guiding experience.

According to FGASA compulsory components at this level include: conduct a guided nature experience, care for customers, conduct a tourist guiding activity, minimise and manage safety and emergency incidents and South African general knowledge. Field guides also may elect one of the following components: conduct a guided biome experience, conduct a guided birding experience and / or research and design a guided experience at a prominent tourism site.

Endorsed service providers of the Advanced Field Guide (NQF4) programme can be found on the FGASA website here.

FGASA Specialist Field Guide

The FGASA Specialist Field Guide (Previously known as FGASA Level 3) is currently the most advanced level of general field guiding before specialising in a specific field.

According to FGASA, at this level, the professional field guide is able to provide an advanced guided nature experience at a scientific level combining knowledge and experience while interpreting the features of the natural environment within the broader ecological context. The level of scientific understanding is distinguished from the FGASA Advanced Field Guide (NQF4) category predominantly on the depth of knowledge required on similar topics with further added active guiding experience.

FGASA further explains that compulsory components at this level include: conduct an advanced guided nature experience, conduct a guided biome experience, specialist Field Guide birding experience, research and design a guided experience at a prominent tourism site, FGASA South African General Knowledge Certificate, FGASA Guiding Tourism Management Certificate and the FGASA Guiding Conservation Management Certificate.

Endorsed service providers of the Advanced Field Guide (NQF4) programme can be found on the FGASA website here.

DANGEROUS GAME QUALIFICATIONS AND SPECIALISATIONS

Once the field guide has achieved their FGASA NQF2 (level 1) certification, they are able to work towards attaining their FGASA Lead Trails Guide qualification. Before this can be done the field guide needs to acquire their Back-up Trails Guide certificate. Let us explain what these roles are first.

  • Lead Trails Guide: A Lead Trails Guide is a person who guides visitors on a nature experience to view potentially dangerous animals on foot in biodiverse wilderness areas.
  • Back-up Trails Guide: A Back-up Trails Guide is a person who provides support to the Lead Trails Guide while conducting a nature experience on foot to view potentially dangerous animals.

The cooperation between the Lead Trails Guide and the Back-up Trails Guide is to ensure a safe guided and ethical on-foot nature experience.

Back-up Trails Guide Certificate

 The Back-up Trails Guide certificate is the stepping stone in the process for guides to acquire their Lead Trails Guide qualification.

According to FGASA requirement,s the Back-up Guide will need to react in the required manner to an unforeseen charge by a potentially dangerous animal, or similar event, with efficiency and safety for guests, themselves and the animal in question. Whilst being a Back-up Trails Guide, they will log the required amount of experience in order to be eligible to become assessed by FGASA for the Lead Trails Guide qualification.

EcoTraining offers a 28-day Trails Guide programme, for more information about this course click here.

FGASA Lead Trails Guide

After logging the required amount of experience required by FGASA, the back-up Trails Guide will be eligible to be assessed to become a Lead Trails Guide.

According to FGASA, the Lead Trails Guide is able to design and conduct safe guided nature experiences on foot to view potentially dangerous animals based on local natural resources. The Lead Trails Guide is able to react in the required manner to an unforeseen charge by a potentially dangerous animal, or similar event, with efficiency and safety for guests, themselves and the animal in question.

EcoTraining offers a 28-day Trails Guide programme, for more information about this course click here.

WHATS NEXT?

Once the field guide has attained the Lead Trails Guide qualification, s/he is eligible to acquire a FGASA Professional Trails Guide certificate and the FGASA Professional Special Knowledge and Skills (Dangerous Game) Guide certificate. As a build onto the Lead Trails Guide qualification these levels are distinguished by the depth of experience accumulated on foot over time having viewed all the Big 5 dangerous animal species.

For more information about these courses and certificates, visit the FGASA website here.

OTHER FIELD GUIDING SPECIALISATIONS

A field guide may choose to specialise in a variety of avenues such as tracking, birding, biomes and wilderness photography. See what each role entails and where to go below.

Tracks and Trailing Guiding

A Tracker Field Guide is a person who interprets animal tracks and signs found in nature, a sign that an animal (invertebrates, amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals) has been there. A Tracker Field Guide is also a person who does trailing, a component that involves following tracks to find the animal. Mastering trailing takes years, and this aspect of the course requires a relatively high level of fitness and an ability to focus mentally.

EcoTraining offers a 7 or 14-day basic EcoTracker course, for more information about this course click here. A Field Guide wanting to specialise in Tracking can attain the following levels of qualifications through FGASA: Tracker Level 1, Tracker Level 2, Tracker Level 3, Tracker Level 4, Senior Tracker and Head Tracker.

For more advanced tracking courses offered by the Tracking Academy, click here.

Bird Guiding

A Bird Field Guide is a person who guides visitors and identifies bird species by sight and sound, interprets bird behaviour and habitat within an area. According to FGASA, those Field Guides wanting to specialise in bird guiding can attain the following certifications namely: Local Bird Guide Certificate, Regional Bird Guide Certificate, National Bird Guide Certificate, The SKS(Birding) Qualification.

For more information about tthese birding qualifications contact FGASA here.

For those who want to spend time in nature and sharpen up on their birding knowledge can do a Birding in the Bush course with EcoTraining, click here.

Biome Guiding

A Biomes expert is a person who has a deep and specialised understanding of biomes which is defined as very large ecological areas on the earth’s surface consisting of fauna, flora adapting to their environment, influenced by abiotic variables such as climate, geology, soils and vegetation. According to FGASA, a field guide specialising in biomes is able to apply meaningful interpretations based on sound ecological and conservationist approach by taking the biome as an integrated entity.  The field guide is able to conduct a specialist guided biome experience of any of the biomes of South Africa based upon which Biomes they chose to specialise in.

For more information about Biomes Guiding or service providers thereof, contact FGASA here.

Nature Photographic Guiding:

A Wilderness Photographer is a person who has an understanding of the technical aspects of photography combined with the knowledge and understanding of the subject matter (nature). Nature or wilderness photography is very complimentary to a field guides portfolio and enhances the visitors’ experience. By understanding components such as vehicle positioning or natural lighting,can help the guide to offer guests best photographic opportunities.

For more information about EcoTraining’s 7-day Wilderness Photography course click here.

MARINE GUIDING

Marine guides usually require a FGASA (NQF2) level 1 qualification before pursuing marine guiding. The FGASA Marine Guide(NQF2) (Previously known as FGASA Level 1 Marine Guide) according to FGASA, is able to identify the major living and non-living features of the coastal-marine environment in which s/he operates (limited geographical area) and interpret them at a level based mainly on observation and from an elementary scientific and cultural perspective. A Marine Guide is able to create costal-marine experiences for visitors.

Endorsed service providers of Marine Guiding can be found on the FGASA website here.

CULTURE GUIDING

A Culture Guide designs and conducts guided culture experience based on local resources of that geographic area. A Culture Guide presents a well-informed interpretation of general aspects of the cultural environment with a specific focus on the culture of the site(s) in question in such a manner that is entertaining and informative to visitors. To become a Culture Guide, one needs to acquire the FGASA (NQF4) Culture Guide qualification. Other advanced culture guiding certifications include Commercial Cave Guiding Knowledge Certificate, South Africa General Knowledge Certificate and the FGASA/ Sappi Tree Knowledge Certificate.

For more information about Culture Guiding or service providers thereof, contact FGASA here.

So, there you have it… an overview of many aspects and branches of guiding. We hope this helps and if you want an overview of this article in an infographic, click here to download ‘Your Guiding Career Map’.