‘Game Ranger’ vs. ‘Field Guide’

‘Game Ranger’ vs. ‘Field Guide’

What is a Game Ranger? What is a Field Guide? What is the difference between a Game Ranger and a Field Guide? These are some of the most often asked questions we encounter here at Bushwise Field Guides and for good reason. Field Guiding in many ways was born out of the game ranging industry and as the roles have changed over the years, so have the definitions, leaving behind some confusion.

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The real question then should be, what kind of work would I like to do before deciding what qualification I should pursue?


  • When game reserves, nature reserves and national parks first started appearing in South Africa, they were mostly focused on ‘self-drive’ safaris as the only way to see wildlife in their natural environment.
  • The term “Field Guide” or “Nature Guide” was not used. At the time, Field Guides or Nature Guides as we know them today did not exist. The parks where manned by Game Rangers who were responsible for the running and maintenance of the reserves but did not take on much responsibility for guiding or creating an experience for visitors to the parks.
  • Initially when the National Parks started offering overnight trails in the parks, such as the Kruger National Park and Hluhuwe-iMfolozi, these where managed and run by the game rangers. From these early days, those game rangers started pioneering what would later become Field Guiding.
  • At the time there was no official qualification for guiding and most of the people who worked as Game Rangers had grown up in the African bush, where they had become very knowledgeable about animals, signs in the wild and utilizing what was available to you.
  • Some Game Rangers, at the time, who had a passion for educating people around conservation and wildlife started to specialize in trails guiding, essentially becoming the first ‘Field Guides’ – although, at the time, they were mostly known as Trails Rangers.
  • These rangers had great knowledge of the African bush and the skills that paved the way for the appearance of what we today call Field Guides. They were more involved with hosting and educating guests during game drives and walks in the bush.


How did this change?

The need for specialized “field guides” began to evolve to allow for Game Rangers to continue with their core function and to ensure there where highly trained people to cater to the needs of guests.

Game Rangers duties include things such as:

  • Maintenance of park fences
  • Maintenance of roads and water drainage
  • Water reticulation
  • Bush clearing
  • Making and maintaining of fire breaks
  • Animal management, and much more….

Today Game Rangers are managed by a Warden or Reserve/Conservation Manager whereas Field Guides are managed either by a Head Guide or Lodge Manager.


The role of Private Game Lodges in paving the way for Field Guides

Soon, private lodges started to operate and cater to the demand of local and international tourists coming to experience ‘Africa’. The Game Drive Ranger became a common feature at the lodges, however, they were really field guides. They did not need to be trained in conservation work but still needed to have knowledge of the bush and great people skills. In the early days when the guides were not busy guiding they were expected to assist with reserve work but as the demand for guided experience grew and the amount of free time available to guides changed, so did this.

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FGASA is born……..

Soon the need was identified to develop some kind of standards & ethics for the Field Guiding industry and thus FGASA, the “Field Guides’ Association of Southern Africa” was born.

  • FGASA became a recognized association, and the term “Field Guide” became the title that distinguished between the Game Rangers and the “Game Drive Guides”.
  • Just after the year 2000, a national guiding qualification was developed, in conjunction with a number of parties, including FGASA.
  • THETA (precursor to CATHSSETA), the National Sectoral Education and Training Authority, did not feel the term “Field Guide”, was specific enough. It was quite vague, and did not necessarily refer to the natural environment.
  • To distinguish each type of guide, various terms were put in place such as Adventure Guides, Tour Guides, Cultural Guides etc., the term “Nature Guide’’ was used for Field Guides. So, in short, a Nature Guide and Field Guide is exactly the same.
  • The well-established brand of FGASA were reluctant to change their name, so Field Guide remains as an acceptable title, although Nature Guide is really the correct term.

Now I know……….so what do I need to do to become a Game Ranger?

There is now a National qualification one can do to become a Game Ranger. You would need to do a National Diploma in Nature Conservation or Game Ranch Management. Most are 3 years long, 2 years theory and 1 year practical.

There are also other short course options out there …….one just needs to do some research and choose the best option!

And if I want to become a Field Guide?

Then get in touch with us at Bushwise Field Guides for more information on our in-depth Field Guiding courses, giving you the knowledge and opportunity to gain valuable work experience in this exciting and rewarding field.