Sophie Niemann

Our co-founder tells her story

Sophie Niemann

Our co-founder tells her story

Our Story

When first coming to Africa, many moons ago, I struggled to get a foot in the door to live my dream of working with large African mammals. After a long, slow road, I decided to train by myself to become a field guide and gain the experience and skills that would get me where I wanted to be.

Back in the early 1990s, there were no FGASA training providers and it was all just self study and self-motivated learning. So, slowly but surely I gained my qualifications, experience and skills, which spring-boarded me into guiding and wildlife research positions across Africa, and into the journey of a lifetime.

In 2001, I joined GVI in its infancy, where I set up and ran the GVI Karongwe wildlife expedition. Back then, GVI consisted of only myself in the field and the founder of GVI, Richard Walton, who manned the office in the UK.

As GVI grew, I went on to set up and run wildlife and community conservation programs across Africa. These included predator projects in Venetia, South Africa, community and marine conservation programs in Kenya, and SANParks internship programs, to name a few.

During the eight years I worked for GVI as a regional director, I found it a constant battle to find staff with the qualifications, skills and ethical professionalism GVI required. There was clearly a great need to assist young passionate conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts in getting these skills and qualifications to start their career. So, Richard Walton and I embarked on setting up Bushwise Field Guides. The vision was to develop a high quality, all-inclusive training course, which offered a platform for students to gain all the relevant qualifications, practical experience and importantly, to develop the professional ethics and soft skills they needed for the industry.

In 2006, we ran the first Bushwise course at Mahlahla campus. Looking back to the early days, the Bushwise ethos and vision has remained the same. But the program has evolved tremendously. Over the years, we have focused all our attention on the long-term courses, which provides the best platform to gain the quantity and quality of knowledge and skills needed. We work closely with the lodges to develop and tweak the program according to industry needs. This ensures our students get the necessary experience, not just for their employment prospects but also to adhere to the lodges’ standards. We have added numerous qualifications, fine-tuned the training, refined our soft skills development, and built an exceptional Bushwise team – which I am so proud to be a part of.

Over the years Bushwise has trained and placed over 500 graduates in lodges and wildlife research around the world. Bushwise has also sponsored more than ten local students who excelled during and after the course. Bushwise has built an exceptional reputation in the industry and is known as one of the best training providers for producing well rounded, high-quality guides. We are so thrilled that most of our graduates walk straight into high-level jobs as guides or into roles in other wildlife-related fields, both in southern Africa and internationally.

We don’t only want to maintain our 100% pass rate, but also, a 100% employment rate for all our students, supporting them well into their careers with Bushwise Recruitement and our alumni program. We will continue to work proactively with the lodges in this ever-changing industry, to ensure our Bushwise courses are the most relevant and of the highest standard. We also guarantee that our graduates are of the highest standard possible. Not only do we have a lasting relationship with our alumni, but Bushwise plans to develop additional courses and programs to build on their skills, and further their careers.

I always sit in on the introductory braai and listen to the stories and dreams of the fresh-faced students starting their year-long professional field guide course. They remind me so much of myself when I started my journey, back when there was no formal training courses or support. It really brings home to me all the hundreds of students whose dreams the Bushwise team has helped in achieving. I feel privileged to be empowered to be able to do this. As with all groups, I am proud to be present at the start of their journey and I know I will be astounded by the personal and professional growth of each and every one of them while on the course. I am honoured to assist them in reaching those dreams during and well after they have left the course. This is a truly rewarding job, to be able to witness the growth of these young passionate individuals, and to have a chance to really give back for all the amazing opportunities I have been afforded in Africa.