What does a field guide do?
A field guide walks or drives safari lodge guests in the game reserve and interprets all elements of nature and wildlife surrounding them. They educate the guests about the large and microscopic elements of the ecosystems, all the while, instilling in them a deeper appreciation of nature and conservation ethics. The role of a field guide is unique and very diverse. It involves them being a guide, teacher, friend, game warden, doctor, storyteller and sometimes even a cook for guests. Each day in the wilderness is filled with new surprises and experiences.
The work of a field guide includes:
- living in remote areas for extended periods of time
- learning social and leadership skills in order to deal with clients appropriately
- working as a team including assisting game rangers
- practical skills such as driving a 4x4 vehicle and photography
- ensuring the safety of the guests while on game drives.
Kate Ochsman | SAFARI GUIDE – PHOTOGRAPHER – CONSERVATIONIST
Why did you choose to be a field guide?
I chose this profession because I love animals. I’m passionate about the conservation of species and I love using art (photography) to educate people about animals and on the challenges they face because of us. I also love living in the bush and I’ve always wanted my life to be an adventure.
What training did you undergo?
For six years, prior to my guide training, I volunteered in the USA at an exotic and wild animal sanctuary. My training there gave me a basic grasp of animal behaviour. And I got to work primarily with my favourites: big cats – LIONS! Then, when I decided to leave the USA and fully commit to a conservation life, I did the year-long PFG (Prof. Field Guide) course with EcoTraining. The training was so thorough that when I’m with guides from other training facilities, I’ve noticed my knowledge surpasses theirs. EcoTraining trained me well!
Is there a type of personality best suited to this work?
Yes. A personality that loves teaching, loves people and sharing with people, is organised, and most importantly, one that is enthusiastic and passionate about wildlife and the bush.
Is experience as important as formal training?
It’s more important, but they go hand in hand. Formal training gives you the knowledge and the tools to understand the world, and experience gives you the practice and the personal experience. Formal training is the foundation from which you build upon, leap from and draw your own conclusions.
Describe a typical day as a field guide
Wake up while it’s dark. Get changed, meet for coffee or tea in the main food hall. Go on an activity as the sun comes up and enjoy the bush waking up – birds calling, hyena and cats ending their active nights on the hunt. Come back for a huge breakfast. Have time off or teach guests about photography. Have lunch. Maybe an afternoon nap or edit some photos. Afternoon activity with animals, ending with sundowners and then back to the lodge for a delicious dinner. We then hang out by the fire, enjoying the stars, tales from the day, the occasional nighttime curious elephant visitor. Then we head back to our tents, prepare for bed, sleep. Best day ever!
What do you like most about your job?
The animals. Being in the bush. I like the quiet, the stillness, the darkness at night. It’s real and it’s so beautiful.
Which aspects are you least enthusiastic about?
Hot days and trying to nap in my tent in the 40°C midday heat, waking up dehydrated and wet with sweat. Other than that, everything is so much fun.
WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED?
To become a field guide you have to qualify with a Nature Site Guide (NQF2) and/or Field Guides Association of South Africa (FGASA) Apprentice Field Guide qualification. You can, however, further your career through self-study and logging practical hours while working as a field guide in the industry. You have to adhere to certain requirements before being able to get a higher qualification through FGASA.