Magazine article Geographical

Guide and Seek

Magazine article Geographical

Guide and Seek

Article excerpt

A good guide will always point out something of interest. Finding the right one is as important as choosing the right safari

THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT element of any safari is the guide. The best safari guides do far more than simply spot and identify game. They lead you on a fascinating journey of discovery, using their skills and experience to help you see all that is around you and assist you to understand the complex web of inter-relationships that exist within the natural world. A true guide will always point out something to see. There may well not be any big game in view but there will always be birds, insects, flora and animal tracks to look at, discuss and interpret. This knowledge is put over in simple but graphic layman's terms, as they share their passion for the bush.

Guides don't come better than Abercrombie & Kent's Director of Operations in Botswana, Gavin Ford. With 18 years' experience as a qualified guide and an honours degree in biological science, he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the bush and all that can be found in it. Walking with Gavin you may find yourself quietly observing a pride of lions on their kill, peering down a lion spider's burrow or listening as he describes the symbiotic relationship between wasps and the fruit of the sycamore fig.

At the other end of the spectrum, driver guides catering for the mass tourism market may be able to drive you around areas that they are familiar with and identify the major species of game but in many instances they can do little more. Language is often a problem and many still sadly rely on their radio or spying other vehicles who have stopped to find game. The worst instances of jeep jockeying, where animals are surrounded by over-zealous vehicles who move in far too close and disturb or even frighten the animal, are what has earned safaris a bad name in certain areas.

There are very different standards and criteria from country to country for the licensing of guides, if indeed they have a formal licensing procedure at all. Zimbabwe is credited with the highest standards. Only fully licenced guides may lead parties walking in the bush. Aspirant guides must sit a written learner's exam which has papers on natural history, ballistics, law covering the safari industry, and general knowledge. If they pass this exam they must then undergo an apprenticeship to a licensed hunter or guide for a minimum of two years during which time they are expected to shoot big game including elephant and buffalo and conduct many walks and game drives under supervision. Only then can they apply to take the written and practical examination for their full licence. This rigorous test includes a week spent in the field during which their fieldcraft, camp-craft, catering, personal turnout, tracking, hunting, defensive shooting and range skills will all be tested. There is a similar but less rigorous test for canoe guides on the Zambezi who must have a minimum of 250 river hours in their log book before they can apply.

Elsewhere the standards are regrettably and evidently less exacting. South Africa has formal guiding courses and sets a high priority on guiding ability. Many lodges run their own training programmes for their guides. Botswana's current licensing system allows some extremely mediocre guides to operate at the lower echelons. Kenya has responded to the poor reputation of its driver guides and is introducing a licensing system but this is currently based on written exams and leaves room for considerable improvement. …

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