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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Student

Embracing Change: My Journey to Become a Field Guide

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

This camp manager blog was written by Ryan Sakinofsky, Bushwise Professional Field Guide student.


3 min read


Leaving the City Behind for a Big Adventure

Driving down the long, dusty, corrugated road to Mahlahla campus, I felt my life was being shaken up literally and figuratively. I left Johannesburg’s bustling, noisy, dirty streets for a new adventure. As I stopped on the bridge crossing the Makhutswi River, my thoughts meandered back six months to when I decided to change my whole life in the musty basement parking at work. 


I thought back to when I was a student at the University of the Witwatersrand and how different my life was compared to the life I had imagined for myself. As a student, I studied animal, plant and environmental sciences, and I wanted to work in the last few wild spaces we have left and to never ever work in an office. Then life happened and even though I had been working in the corporate world, I managed to find my way back to the bush and it was like everything in my life was new again.


Settling in: Welcome to Mahlahla campus

Bushwise trainers Nico and Wayne setting up a dining area for students and visitors at the Bushwise Mahlahla campus,

I arrived at the gates to campus and waited for the dust to settle and for my eyes to stop shaking from the corrugations before opening the gate and driving in. I was welcomed by the trainers: Darryn, Wayne and Pioneer and our camp mom, Claudia. The passion they have is contagious and it was not long before we were all settled and feeling content. 


The next day brought a whirlwind of admin. I was given the honour of being the first camp manager for the Professional Field Guiding Course, and we were split into groups for our camp duties. It was quite nerve-wracking as I was expecting many teething issues from my colleagues, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that any issues were easily sorted. 


Our subjects for the week were Introduction for Field Guiding, Radio Procedures, Geology and Weather and Climate. It took us a few days to figure out that these subjects weren’t so scary and, given enough time, we began to appreciate the time spent in the classroom  – especially on the unusually cold winter days.


First game drives and wildlife encounters

A giraffe stands amongst trees and bushes near the Southern African Wildlife College campus, where Bushwise students train to become field guides. 

We were all eagerly up before the sun on Wednesday for our first game drive. The air was electric, and we were so full of energy we could have pushed the vehicle the 5km to Makalali Main Gate. This week we learnt about the red bush willow (Combretum apiculatum), the russet bush willow (Combretum hereroense) and the knobthorn (Senegalia nigrescens). My personal favourite tree this week was the knobthorn as it is easily identifiable by the knobs on the trunk that look like spines. Unfortunately for me, the spines are lost when the tree reaches maturity. 


One of my personal highlights was stopping at a dam on the first morning and watching a baby hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) ride on its mother’s back to go underwater. We learnt how young hippos are very vulnerable out of the water and will stick close to their moms for protection. 


We also witnessed how territorial grey herons (Ardea cinerea) are when we watched one chase a great egret (Ardea alba) repeatedly around the dam. The pied kingfishers (Ceryle rudis) were giving us a show by doing spectacular dives into the dam to catch a fresh breakfast. The pinnacle of the game drives was finding a pride of lions (Panthera leo) on our way out of the reserve on our first night drive. This was the start of the three-day lion streak we all enjoyed. The next morning, two young males gave a spectacular display of a contact call, which is how members of a pride locate each other once they have been separated.


Learning the responsibilities of a field guide

A group of Bushwise students enjoying a coffee stop next to a river in the Makalali Game Reserve.

As crazy as this week has been, it reminded me that as as a field guide there will always be the need to step up and manage a situation. From giving people tasks to making sure a job is done or just being there for someone who needs to vent or needs a reassuring word or two. I know that the next six months of my life are going to be a rollercoaster and I am here for the ride.


Loved this blog? Follow more field guide student experiences in our weekly Bushwise blogs.


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