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  • Writer's pictureBushwise

What makes an Excellent Field Guide

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Before I give my opinion on this, let us just have a brief look at what field guiding actually is all about.

You have probably seen those open game viewers that drive around in game reserves with a bunch of people in the back? Well, they have a driver on board that is acting as their guide for the duration of their stay at the Lodge, rest camp or Hotel.

These guides are then supposed to act as a link between what they experience out in the natural environment and their guests. This is done though facilitating and interpreting in a way that the guests would not have experienced without the presence of the guide. This is to be done in a way that is enjoyable for the guests and in a way that will also educate them about the holistic complexities of the natural environment and make them aware about their custodianship and to decrease or limit the impact humans have on the environment. This process should also include the culture,folklore and history of the area.

Photo by Sean Cawood

All of this should be done with SAFETY as the underlying controlling factor.

Well, I agree that that all is a mouthful and achieving that will only be  possible in a perfect world. It seems you need a special degree to do all of that but becoming a qualified and legal field guide can take as little as 2 months or as much as 2 years.

So what will make a good field guide in this scenario?

Firstly the question should actually be : “What makes an excellent, professional and ethical guide ?” Many people can become good guides but not many will become excellent.

I am sure you will get countless different answers on this so I will give only my opinion in view of my experience in the field guiding industry.

What is often overlooked by prospective field guides is the fact that they will actually spend most of their time dealing with PEOPLE and not so much time on the environment ,fauna and flora.

Photo supplied by Ryan Jack

To be the excellent, professional and ethical field guide you will therefore need to  :

  1. Have a love to be amongst people and to talk to people and share your knowledge and interpretation with them.

  2. Have a natural aptitude to facilitate things in public. This skill can be developed but those needing development will not be as excellent as someone who has it naturally.

  3. Have a caring and respectful attitude towards your guests.

  4. Have a caring, enthusiastic, passionate and respectful attitude towards all aspects of the natural environment.

  5. Choose guiding as a way of life and not occupation.

  6. Be a permanent resident or citizen of the country. People doing a gap or sabbatical year will rarely become the excellent guides I refer to here.

  7. Relevant knowledge and skill and keep adding new knowledge and skills to your guiding repertoire.

Here are some specific characteristics will also assist in becoming an excellent guide:

  1. Be tolerant

  2. Have patience

  3. Have a good sense of humour

  4. Be a team player

  5. Be open and honest

Other characteristics that can be developed over time is :

  1. Listening skills

  2. Observation skills

  3. Learn how to entertain people

  4. Improve your organisational skills

  5. Follow through what you say

In conclusion

Many of guests have probably had an “African dream” and have had to save allot of money to come and realise their dreams. Field guides hold in their hands the opportunity for their guests to realise these dreams and bring life to their fantasies about Africa.

Blog by Gerhard van Niekerk

Other great sources:

Guiding skills manual – Grant Hine

The guides guide to guiding- Garth Thompson

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