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The Extraordinary Experience of Becoming a Qualified Field Guide

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

This blog was written by Aedan Kuhl, Bushwise Professional Field Guide student.

4 min read

As much as I hate using clichés, coming to Bushwise has truly been a life-changing experience. When I originally found it through doing research, I was very unsure of what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I had a great passion for animals and wildlife. I thought this course may give me some idea and perspective of what my next step should be. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Born and raised in South Africa

A photo of Aedan (left) and another Bushwise student Ziphozonke during a field guide training session.

Although I was born and raised here, I never had many opportunities to really experience the bush in the way I wanted to. I had visited the Kruger National Park a total of five times throughout my life, each time with my family. So a lot of those times my parents had to focus more on keeping myself and my three brothers from squabbling in the back of the car, and as a result, we didn’t get to really immerse ourselves in the beauty of where we were. 

While I had seen elephants, giraffes and zebras before, it was only after coming to Bushwise that I was lucky enough to have close encounters with wild cheetahs, lions, hippos and even the endangered wild dogs.

Incredible wildlife sightings

At the beginning of this semester, I was on a drive with some of my peers and we had a breathtaking encounter with an elephant bull, who walked right up alongside our vehicle, and he was close enough that you could smell him. Even now I get goosebumps just thinking about it. The amazing sightings and situations I’ve been in, from trailing a herd of elephants on foot, to watching the rutting season of the impalas as they chase one another and clash their horns in a fight for dominance, to seeing a mother cheetah and her cubs bounding through the bush and playing together in the long grass. I really feel like I can’t put into words how extraordinary this whole experience has been.

Coming here, I had little to no background in being around wildlife, aside from volunteering at the Johannesburg Wildlife Hospital where I was fortunate enough to work up close and personally with beautiful pangolins. Being there really opened my eyes up to the terrible atrocities committed against our wonderful wildlife, and I knew then that I wanted to play my part in helping to conserve and prevent these tragedies from happening.

Learning from knowledgeable trainers

Aedan, the blog author, driving a game viewer during a practice assessment drive while on a Bushwise course.

Oftentimes I walk around our campus on the Southern African Wildlife College and I have to stop and take a moment to truly appreciate where I am, and how incredibly lucky and privileged I am to really be here. When I say this has been a life changing experience, I do genuinely mean it. 

From coming as a person who really didn’t know much about the bush and the wildlife that inhabit it, it’s been an amazing adventure learning and being trained by our incredibly knowledgeable instructors, one of who previously placed in Safari Guide of the Year, and another who is currently in the top 5 to win the current Field Guide of the Year. To say I am lucky, would be an honest understatement.

Proud of my fellow students becoming qualified guides

Just last week, I was camp manager with one of the women I room with. At the time, we were doing our assessment drives in order to become qualified apprentice field guides. To watch my peers and colleagues one by one earn their qualification was such a rewarding experience, and I cannot describe the immense sense of pride I felt celebrating their achievements. Although to say it wasn’t an incredibly nerve-wracking week, would be a lie! At the end of it all though, the relief and excitement we all felt far outweighed the anxiety and nerves that rippled through our group as the week progressed.

Some days I still can’t believe I’m here. I still can’t believe I am now a qualified Field Guide and a qualified Tracker. I’m currently working towards being qualified in Advanced Rifle Handling, which in itself has been an astounding experience. Having never touched a rifle before coming here, I’m unable to really explain the shock, adrenaline, fear and, most importantly, the exhilaration running through my body when I shot a .375 rifle for the first time.

Being here is often like being in a waking dream, and I have to pinch myself to prove that it’s actually real. If it is a dream, I hope I never wake up.

Want to live your wild dreams like Aedan? Apply today to join a Bushwise Professional Field Guide course – your dream is closer than you think!

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