June 12, 2015

The final hurdle

What does it mean to be a qualified field guide?  People come from all walks of like to attend this course and to enrich their understanding and personal experience of the bush.  I personally have trained people from probably 20 different nations and from age 18 right through to 70!  This is perhaps the greatest gift the bush has to offer: it doesn’t matter what your knowledge levels is, where you are from or how old you are, the bush has something for you.  Whether that be a holistic connection to your ancestors or something as simple as escapism shouldn’t matter.  The bush is the bush and how we interpret it is our own private experience.

The students on the latest FGASA level 1 course came from far and wild.  South Africans, Germans, Belgians, Portugese and even Sri Lankans came together to share their thirst for knowledge and passion for the bush.  The programme was as intense as ever and come the last 2 weeks of tests and the final assessment, stress levels were rising!  I’m not going to lie to any prospective student on such a course, it’s not easy.  It would be impossible for me to explain the sheer amount of knowledge that is expected of you in a relatively short space of time, but the bush gives back what you put in, and the more you learn, the more you begin to appreciate the myriad of subtle intricacies that often go overlooked on a day by day basis.
 The latest group of students worked and played hard.  There is no better classroom than the bush itself and twice daily activities certainly gave them great exposure to their new world.  The bush was being extremely kind this month and lions were seen regularly, 4 leopards, hyaena pups and even 2 aardvark sightings were just some of the highlights laid on for us by Mother Nature!  The students rewarded her generosity but knuckling down when the time came and we are delighted to report that they achieved a 100% pass mark in the FGASA theory exam!  All that remained was one final practical assessment:  a chance to show their assessor that they were able to take all of this new-found knowledge and package into a 3 hour drive designed to entertain and inform guests from all walks of life.
This exercise strikes fear into most but the hard work has been done.  The assessment is about sharing a genuine love of nature with like-minded people and putting your own personal stamp on the proceedings.  Anyone can read a guide book on safari but the true skill of a nature guide is to be able to involve and entertain and host guests, interpret behaviour and signs and most importantly, link every aspect of the natural world with another.  The bush is not made up of hundreds of individual organisms, it is an intricate network of symbiotic relationships honed by millennia of evolution!

Students excelled themselves and enjoyed a host of sightings during assessment week including daily giraffe encounters and a few white rhino along the way.  Markers were set with regard to interactivity on drives such as the tea made fresh from russet bushwillow (Combretum hereroense) seed pods, spinach from the leaves of the buffalo thorn (Ziziphus mucronata) and even a necklace made from impala dung!  Suffice to say that the students performed brilliantly across the board I am delighted to report that their high standards set in the theory aspects were upheld, with all passing their assessments with flying colours!  I can honestly say that the standard was hugely high and as an instructor, it is so satisfying to see a group of strangers coming so far in such a short period of time.  I joined EcoTraining to try and do my part to uphold the standards of the guiding industry and on the evidence of this group, the future of guiding in SA looks bright!  

Article and photos by Ben Coley
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