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A career with people and animals!

As the South African tourism industry booms and the re-establishment of game reserves and wildlife areas continues, the opportunities for ecotourism careers are on the increase. One such career is field or safari guiding. You may be wondering… what is a field guide or do you mean a game ranger?  Let’s take a brief moment to clarify the common mis-use of the two terms Game Ranger and Field Guide.

Garth Thompson, author of A Guides Guide to Guiding writes “Field Guiding is …about the genuine enjoyment of people and an honest appreciation of, and dedication to, all the many faces nature has to offer us. It is indeed a privileged occupation. Imagine being paid to take people out into the wilds of Africa! To sit around the warm flickering flames of a campfire each evening, savoring the smell of wood smoke, while friendships are formed and forged. The people (your guests) for whom you are interpreting Africa have worked long and hard for months, even years, to come and see what you can show them in a few days. They have great expectations of this brief interval in Africa’s wilderness. You hold in your hands the role to realize their dreams and fantasies of Africa” From: “A Guides guide to guiding” by.
A field guide walks or drives safari guests into the game reserve and interprets, in a meaningful and interesting manner, all elements of nature and wildlife surrounding them. They educate the guests about the large and microscopic elements of the ecosystems, all the while, instilling in them a deeper appreciation of nature and conservation ethics.   The term game ranger was historically used in the lodge safari industry to refer to a field guide. A game ranger manages and maintains national parks and game reserves by carrying out functions such as game counting, fence repairs, anti-poaching work, road and waterhole repairs, game management and more.

As a field guide, hosting your guests at a safari lodge involves being a guide, teacher, friend, game warden, doctor, storyteller and sometimes even a cook for your guests! Each day in the bush is filled with new surprises and experiences. You will learn from these experiences, meet interesting people from all over the world and experience things on a daily basis that others have to pay a lot of money for.

Subjects covered while learning to be a field guide include geology, astronomy, weather and climate, ecology, trees, botany and grasses, reptiles, animal behaviour, rifle handling; how to  track animals; approach dangerous game; bush skills and survival and more.  These topics are what you also will then impart to your safari guests.
A typical career path to field guiding as a profession will start with completing the EcoTraining Professional Field Guide Level 1 course.  This is a year course with five to six months spent learning at four of our unfenced tented camps in big game wilderness areas, one of which is in the northern Kruger Park, and another five to six months of an internship at a lodge.   The most comprehensive Field Guide course offered, course participants will be immersed into the wild and form a connection to it that will greatly enhance their understanding of the African bushveld and what it takes to be a field guide.


Upon completion of this course, one is qualified to take guests out on guided wilderness walks, encountering big game on foot.  The longer-term vision of a field guide career involves gaining field guide and lodge experience, to eventually work one’s way up to Head Guide of a safari lodge. From there, a managerial position, such as camp manager, guide co-coordinator or even marketing become options.
For those guides who prefer to stay out in the field, the options could include working as a specialist guide (birding, photography, plants) and as a freelance guide to safari operators that employ the use of highly specialized and experienced guides. This work can be lucrative and these top guides get to this point by making a name for themselves in the local and international safari tourism industry.

One of the major advantages of field guiding is you spend up to 8 hours each day in the natural environment, exposed to interesting observations daily, while being paid to do this. This continual daily exposure and experience can make you an expert in a number of fields, depending on how you approach your career. Many interesting sights and observations are made by guides that not even top researchers have been able to make. These observations can lead to other developments in one’s career that may not necessarily be related to guiding. Examples of this include filming, writing, photography, art and consulting.


The personality traits of a field guide require that you enjoy people and want to communicate with them.  One needs to be enthusiastic about your job and to put guests first at all times.  You are there to make their wildlife experience the very best they could possibly hope for, whether it be pointing out the intricate architecture of a termite mound or learning how to identify an aardvark track.  A field guide has truly succeeded in his/her work if the guest leaves with a new awareness of nature and the importance of conservation yet has had fun gaining this awareness.

With 21 years of experience in this industry, and the first of its kind in the safari industry, EcoTraining is recognised by leading safari game lodges and is endorsed by FGASA. FGASA is the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa and CASTHETA is the Tourism and Hospitality and Sport Education Training Authority of the South African government. These are the two bodies responsible for regulating standards within the guide training industry in southern Africa.

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