Field guide jobs and career paths: where do I go from here?
If there’s one thing we know about field guides, it’s that there’s no “one size fits all” field guide job. You might think, but a field guide is a field guide, right? Not quite!
When a student joins a Bushwise Professional Field Guide course, a 35-day Practical FGASA course, or even one of our online courses, they bring with them a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and goals for the future. Not everyone will go straight into a traditional field guide role after graduation. Some will, of course, but for the others – there are endless options available.
In this article, we outline some of the career paths previous field guide students have taken. Take a look – you might find that someone else’s experience is similar to yours. Stay with us until the end to see a list of conservation and wildlife careers!
The mid-career breaker
Perhaps you’ve followed a more traditional career path. You graduated from school, got a job or entered into an apprenticeship and slowly worked your way up. Lots of hard work and hours of skills development got you to the position you’re in now, but you aren’t satisfied. Or, you’re feeling a bit burnt out and you need a change of scenery.
It’s not unusual for a Bushwise student to be a bit older – we’ve had students in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s join a course. While sometimes it’s for a sabbatical or a career break, occasionally people really do decide to completely change their careers. We’ve met students from all over the world who have a burning passion for African wildlife and they just can’t stay away!
Ildiko is from the Netherlands. She was in her 30s when she first visited South Africa in 2002, on safari with her family at Addo Elephant Park and Singita. She fell in love with the bush right away. Now 51, Ildiko is tired of spending time in an office working as an events and operations manager – she wants to spend her life in the Lowveld, surrounded by beautiful nature and like-minded people with similar interests. Ildiko recently joined Bushwise and Colin Patrick Training for track and sign assessment. Part of her heart belongs in Southern Africa and she’s determined to be in the bush as much as possible!
The forever nature enthusiast
If there’s one thing that truly unites all field guide students, it’s their love of nature. Sometimes that’s all it takes for a person to sign up for a course. Growing up they watched David Attenborough, Steve Irwin, and other wildlife documentaries, and developed a deep love for nature. Their shelves are filled with colourful books about wildlife, travel memoirs, bird identification guides, and novels featuring animals. Wherever they live, they get outside as often as possible and tend to find insects and reptiles just as exciting as big mammals.
Forever nature enthusiasts are creative about incorporating nature into their careers. Even if they don’t become field guides, they’ll work outside somehow, or they’ll find breaks in work to attend field guide courses or multi-day trails in national parks.
Georgia is originally from Devon, England. She was working in entertainment TV production and wanted to gain more practical wildlife experience, as she made her move toward science and nature film making. She came to South Africa in 2019 for a field guide course. She absorbed information like a sponge and absolutely loved the African bush. After she qualified as an apprentice field guide, Georgia went back to the UK to continue working in film production. She’s currently working on an environmental impact film and gets back to Africa every chance she can get.
The gap year student
Around the world, the term “gap year” means different things. People go backpacking in Europe, join research projects (like sea turtle conservation in Thailand), spend time volunteering, or learn a new language. For some new graduates, the opportunity to train and become a safari guide is an excellent way to spend six months or a year after they’re fresh out of school.
If you’ve just graduated from college (or even high school), a Bushwise field guide course can also be a way to gain valuable skills and knowledge that transfer to a job back home. In the USA, for example, there are world-class national parks that are always looking for top-brass talent to join their teams. Positions might include park rangers, tour guides, naturalists, wildlife guides and more.
In 2016, Mark finished his university degree in communications and was working a seasonal job at a summer camp in New Hampshire. He’d never been to Africa before, but loved African wildlife. Through internet searches he came across a field guiding course and, on a whim, signed up. He figured there was no better time to try something completely new. Over a few months, he gained multiple certifications, made lifelong friends, and developed some impressive tracking skills. Through his experience he made work connections and secured himself a job with a conservation organisation back home in the USA.
The career field guide or trails guide
Perhaps the most likely scenario on this list is the individual who’s looking to turn field guiding into their career. Whether it’s for the long term or short term, they want a field guide job. They want to drive that game viewer, work at a lodge, or take guests on bush walks in Big Five territory. They’ve arrived on campus ready to start their life-long learning in this unique industry.
The most traditional path for a field guide is to work your way up from apprentice field guide to field guide to professional field guide. Additional specialisations, known as SKS (special knowledge and skills) can also be earned, such as wildflower or regional bird SKS. Trails guides follow a similar path, moving from apprentice trails guide (previously back-up trails guide), to trails guide, to SKS dangerous game. We speak a little more about this career journey in our recent blog post.
At Bushwise we’ve had hundreds of students join our courses who went on to find jobs across the conservation landscape. We often share their experiences, and you can find some wonderful success stories on our alumni page on our website.
Other career possibilities
Where else might a field guide course take you? Here are some more examples of real jobs in conservation and wildlife you could get after becoming a field guide.
**This is just a snapshot of the possibilities, and some of these careers require additional training or education**
- Nature/wildlife photographer or videographer
- Conservation researcher
- Field guide trainer or assessor
- Forest service/parks service ranger
- Policy or advocacy officer
- Environmental impact assessor
- Wildlife biologist
- School outreach or volunteer program coordinator
- Researcher (field work or lab based)
- Lodge management/front of house
- Anti-poaching unit member or K9 dog handler
- Wildlife veterinarian/vet assistant
- Freelance field/trails guide
- Wildlife educator
- Marine guide
- Environmental lawyer
- Wildlife field technician
- Communications officer
- Science officer
- GIS technician
- Social media or digital marketing manager
- Reserve warden
- Helicopter pilot
- Hiking/cycling/kayaking guide
- Wildlife trade officer
- Reserve security manager
- Endangered species monitor
- Working with animals
Do any of these careers resonate with you? You could be on your way to a field guide job or other career in wildlife or conservation. Apply today and join the next Bushwise Professional Field Guide course.