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The Guide's Guide to Guiding

The Guide's Guide to Guiding

by Garth Thompson

Paperback(Third Edition, Third edition)

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Aimed at informing and educating on wildlife guiding in Africa’s many diverse parks and safari areas, this resource provides aspiring navigators with complete information on the necessary qualifications and requirements to gain access to this growing field. A wide range of subjects are expertly explored, including guiding principles and camp etiquette, medical supplies and safety tips, and details on the use of common field tools such as rifles, handguns, cameras, and binoculars. Real-life stories blend with artful cartoons—that add humor while emphasizing pertinent points—to round out this must-have reference for those looking for a career in guiding.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781770092471
Publisher: Jacana Media
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Edition description: Third Edition, Third edition
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.55(d)

About the Author

Garth Thompson is a veteran wildlife safari guide with 26 years of guiding experience in countries throughout Africa.

Read an Excerpt

The Guide's Guide to Guiding

By Garth Thompson, Dov Fedler

Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd

Copyright © 2006 Garth Thompson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77009-247-1


What is Guiding all About?

Driving good-looking people around in an open safari vehicle, in your sleeveless khaki shirt, showing off your muscular sun drenched arms and impressing your guests on how close you can get to lions on a kill? Telling hunting stories around the campfire each night after your sixth Scotch? If that is your idea of guiding, not only have you purchased the wrong book, you are also in the wrong profession!

Guiding is essentially about a genuine enjoyment of people and an honest appreciation of, and dedication to, the many faces nature has to offer. It is indeed a privileged occupation. Imagine being paid to take people out into the wilds of Africa, every morning, afternoon and evening. To sit around the warm, flickering flames of a campfire each evening, savouring the rich smell of wood smoke, while friendships are formed and forged. The people for whom you are interpreting Africa have worked long and hard for months, even years, to come and see what you have to show them in a couple of weeks. They have great expectations of this brief interval of time.

You hold in your hands the opportunity to realise their dreams and fantasies of Africa -or to destroy them. It all depends on one little thing that in fact should play the biggest part in life: Your attitude. It's not their attitude that is relevant - they are paying you for a service and they are on a well-earned holiday.

'Attitude is a little thing which gives you big results'

What is Each Client's History?

Do you know or care? I was very fortunate to learn my greatest lesson in guiding in my third year as a guide. In 1983 a group of sixteen enthusiastic Texans from the Fort Worth Zoo spent four days on safari with us in Hwange National Park before moving on to a number of other parks around Zimbabwe. The group was as mixed and varied as you would expect any group of that size to be. Old and young, fat and thin, loud and quiet - you can imagine how many diverse personalities were present.

A few months later I went on my first visit to that amazing country, the United States of America. My young eyes were out on stalks for the entire duration of the visit. I went to Fort Worth to give a slide show at the zoo. The following night the group of sixteen safari 'alumni' got together at someone's home, each person bringing along their ten best slides from their recent African safari. As all relived their various experiences, I marvelled at the delight and joy they showed as each slide came up. It was enthralling to see, some months after I had been with them on safari, how much it had meant to them. I asked myself, had I really pulled out all the stops? I thought I had given of my best, but, what if I hadn't? Could I have done more to give these appreciative people a better wildlife experience?

After the slide show we stood around chatting and eating. I began talking to a girl called Becky, a quiet and unobtrusive soul, plump and in her mid-thirties, the type of person who doesn't expect the level of attention that an extrovert, blonde bombshell would. I asked her the standard run-of-the-mill question; 'So, when are you coming back to Africa?' I was expecting the standard reply of 'Oh, I just can't wait!' But Becky replied sadly, 'Never.' I was quite shocked at this unusual reply, and asked her why. She went on to tell me that both she and her husband had saved up for five years to send her to Africa! It had been her childhood dream to visit the great game reserves of Africa. I asked, with a little trepidation, how she had enjoyed her once-in -a-lifetime experience. She said it was better than she had ever imagined ...

How many people like Becky go through our hands without us knowing the background to their visit? Imagine a sulky, arrogant, bored Romeo, rally driver of a guide, showering his attention on the good-looking blonde in the seat next to him, while ignoring his duty to show and share the countless wonders that Africa has to offer to the Beckys in the back of the vehicle?

More Food for Thought

Some years ago I was having lunch with friends who had been on a number of canoeing and walking safaris with our company. We were discussing how expensive safaris had become. Charles said they had planned to buy and install a satellite dish and decoder that year, but had decided instead to use the money to come on yet another canoe trip, from which they believed their two daughters would receive a richer experience.

On the way home I thought to myself, 'Here is a family that would rather spend their savings on canoeing with us for five days, than buy a satellite system that would give them more than a hundred different TV channels, and would last them for many years!' It made me realize what value, importance and priority a wildlife experience holds for people. Imagine giving them a mediocre safari!

In the mid-1980s a radiologist sold her deep freeze to pay for staying at our safari camp in the Zambezi Valley. I only found this out some time later and once again felt so privileged to be able to share all that a safari can offer with someone who had made such a personal sacrifice. Little did we know at the time that she would eventually give up her career as a radiologist and come to work in tourism as a travel consultant. Thanks to her enthusiasm and dedication to wildlife, combined with an understanding of a client's desires and aspirations, she eventually ended up as the managing director of a highly successful tour operator. Today, she is a prominent personality in the tourist industry of southern and central Africa. How much the travel industry owes to that deep freeze!

Wildlife Junkies

Over the years we have come to know a number of interesting characters who can ill afford a safari to Africa, yet they save up for two to three years to come out for their wildlife 'fix'. For some it is the most important event in their lives. Back in the large cities from which they hail, whenever the opportunity arises, they talk, dream, read and watch Africa on video and TV.

Do we as guides realize the importance and responsibility of our work? Do we take what we do for granted? Are we as enthusiastic as we were when we struggled to land our first job in the tourist industry?

Create the Magic

As guides, we hold in our hands the opportunity to make or break the dreams and fantasies that people have of Africa.

For many, some of the first words they uttered in life were 'jumbo', 'hippo' and 'zebra'. As children, they grew up on books depicting the animals of Africa. During the 50s and 60s they were exposed to Tarzan films and the Daktari series. In recent times, the public has enjoyed well-produced wildlife documentaries that have taken years to film by patient and dedicated photographers and naturalists. They have read famous and romantic novels set in Africa and listened to the colourful and enthusiastic stories of friends and colleagues who have just returned from an African safari. Visitors to Africa certainly have high expectations; but don't we all have high expectations of our hard-earned holidays? Look at all the promises in the glossy brochures, which lure visitors to our exciting continent. As a guide, the onus is now on you to create the magic.

What is Guiding all About?

Guiding is far more about people than animals. You may spend ten hours a day looking at four-legged animals, but you will spend between fifteen and eighteen hours daily with the two-legged ones. There are very few professions where you spend so much time with the same people. On a canoeing, walking or mobile camping safari, you are with your clients every waking hour, which is normally from dawn till around ten at night. Most of these safaris are five days or longer. During this time you are their guide, teacher, protector, friend, doctor, storyteller, cook and dish-washer.

I am often asked, 'You must hate taking out all those foreigners and being with people for so much of the time?' But look at it another way. As a guide you see the best side of humanity. Firstly, you work in the biggest and most beautiful office in the world. Secondly, your clients are on holiday. They are out for a good time. They want fun, laughter and safe adventure. They are also on foreign turf. That aggressive chief executive from Manhattan is out of his depth - he hasn't a clue how to track a rhino, or where to try and find your resident leopard. People who have high-ranking positions in society are often feared or idolised by the minions around them. In a wilderness situation, however, their platinum credit card can't protect them from a charging lion. That's why they hired you.

In modern society, people are worried about image, their looks, brand of clothes, jewelry, how they present themselves, what car they drive, where they live, what schools their children go to, which ski resort they frequent, which cocktail party is the right one to be seen at, with whom not to be associated. Yet, when these same people are out on safari, they drop all the social barriers and pretences they need to survive in their jungle. They meet other guests in the various safari camps who come from totally different social, financial, political and cultural backgrounds. Life-long friendships are often formed.

What draws these social opposites together? The answer lies in the beauty and simplicity of untouched nature. If you had a little hand in it, too, imagine how rewarding it would feel.

When about to take some high-ranking businessmen out on safari in the past, I had been forewarned by their staff that I would be in for a hard time, because of their reputation for being fussy, aggressive, sullen, impatient, restless and difficult to please. But once the 'ogres' arrived, they turned out to be quite the opposite. When invited to visit them back in their ivory towers, eyebrows were raised by the staff, as the top executive gave an ecstatic welcome to a khaki-clad, rankless imposter!

Guiding is such a privileged profession: your 'office' is a massive park, teeming with so many colourful and interesting forms of wildlife. In turn, your park is a theatre, an amazing open air amphitheatre, where the props are real living trees, clouds, rivers and mountains. The orchestra comprises the combined melody made up from the sounds of the wind, bird song, gurgling rivers, a lion's roar, a hippo's snort, the eerie yodel of a black backed jackal. The animals are the actors, their beauty and actions speaking their parts. You are the presenter, with endless opportunities to share an ever-changing and unwritten show with your fellow man. Your guests from all corners of the globe and from all walks of life, are the mobile audience.

What Have They Come To See?

My family and I had never skied until the year of writing this book. What did we want out of a skiing holiday? Simple: lots of snow to ski on! We weren't too worried about the accommodation or standard of food. They would be added bonuses if the skiing was good.

Most people on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Africa want to be able to go back and say they saw a lot of game, mostly big! Birds, plants, insects, exclusivity, etc. are an added bonus. This raw fact may not fit into your perception of what you have to offer the clients with your immense bush knowledge. Sadly, it is a fact that applies to most first-time visitors.

Many visitors who have the money and desire to come back to Africa a second time will then be interested and specialise in the smaller animals, birds and plants, but they will still enjoy watching a big bull elephant stand on its hind legs to reach up into the browse line of an acacia tree, or a herd of five hundred buffalo in an extended line, their beady, bloodshot eyes peering over wet black noses at the intrusion to their daily grazing. No matter how many times one has been to Africa, who doesn't still enjoy the thrill of a lion kill, the squabbling growls erupting from around the carcass, the smell of an opened gut, the bloodstained faces of scruffy cubs?

If we had gone skiing and there was not enough snow to ski on, but had a brilliant ski instructor who explained to us how the Alps were formed, what their geological make up was, educated us on all the different pines and firs, took us to the best restaurants in the village, related the long and interesting history of the village, we would have made a friend and may have been impressed at his wide knowledge and enthusiasm for his job, but we would not have fulfilled our yearning desire to ski. When we returned home and all our friends enquired how our skiing holiday went, we would have said, 'Well, we met a very knowledgeable ski instructor who taught us so much; he was such a nice guy'. 'But did you ski?', would be the constant question. 'No, not really, there was hardly any snow to ski on,' would be the deflated reply! Remember that visitors come to Africa for maximum wildlife experiences. If they didn't, they would visit the safari parks in their own countries.

The 'Walking Encyclopedia'

Try not to impress your clients with how 'extremely knowledgeable' you are without showing them the 'snow,' about which they have fantasised and dreamed during the months prior to leaving for this game-rich continent. Leak out your knowledge at the appropriate times in the right quantities. The guests want to 'ski' on maximum 'snow' for as long as physically possible. They hunger to see more and more game. While you may have become bored with seeing your millionth impala, they may have never laid eyes on such a graceful creature, whose lithe body with its acrobatic leaps represents the ballerina of the bush.

So try to and look at everything through the eyes of a keen and enthusiastic first-timer.

'Everything is a once-in-a-lifetime experience'

Stop and spend at least ten minutes with their first impala herd. After your eager passengers have fired off half a roll of film on these perfectly formed animals, their index fingers will have stopped twitching and they will have calmed down and become receptive as you point out the difference in the sexes and the scent glands on the hind legs. You can then explain in simple English about their breeding, rutting, extended gestation and foetus retention in times of drought, feeding habits, rumination, great leaping abilities, etc. Only half of what you say will be retained, but it is relaxing for your guests to sit and watch and appreciate the animal while you unobtrusively educate them on what will later become a 'common' animal.

Never tire of spending time with any animal, no matter how common it may be or how many times your guests have visited Africa. These Africa 'junkies' come back time and again for their African 'fix' because the first time you took them on safari you 'spent time' slowly introducing them to all the members and secrets of the animal community in your park or country. Through this slow and gentle introduction using the correct blend of information, sightings and excitement, you will have them hooked on the earth's most incredible addiction.

In the fast moving society of the First World, people have very little time to relax and enjoy their environment. Time is extremely precious to people, so don't waste it trying to impress someone with how knowledgeable you are! Imagine your first days skiing, how keen you would be to get out there and give it a go. How would you feel if your ski instructor spent the whole day giving you lectures on the geological formation of the Alps? Your guests have come for the 'snow'. Let them ski!

How Much Does a Day Cost?

Have you ever thought about what goes into the cost of a day on safari?

Before we get into the 'all-inclusive' daily rate of the safari operation that you represent, or the airfare and air charters to get to your park, let's look at the personal sacrifice that most guests make before going on a safari holiday.

Most First World countries offer between two and five weeks' leave per annum to their hard-working citizens. Americans are rarely given more than two weeks' leave per year, and in a number of executive positions it is frowned upon to take both weeks consecutively.

To be as unbiased as possible, the following equation is formulated for a client earning four weeks' leave a year:

• Lets say that the average safari client earns the equivalent of US$5 000 a month.

• Of the 12 months during each year, he or she works for 11 months to earn one month's leave.

• Let us presume that person works a 5-day week.

• He or she therefore works for 220 days of the 11 months. This represents 20 working days each month. Earning $5 000 per month divided by 20 working days equates to a daily income of $250.

• Our visitors have worked long and stressful days to earn their leave. From the above example it is easy to ascertain that they have worked 11 days to earn 1 day's leave.

• If they earn $250 per day and have worked for 11 days to receive one well-earned day's leave, this precious day is equal to $2 750!

The point I am trying to make is that if you waste a day's safari or part thereof because you were disinterested, burnt out, or disorganized; if you didn't take your radio when you left camp on your game drive; if you forgot to check your vehicle and all its equipment, and you had a flat tyre and no wheel spanner with which to change it, or you ran out of fuel, took a risk and got horribly stuck, (the list is endless), you would have cost your guests part of a day of a holiday they worked long and hard to earn.


Excerpted from The Guide's Guide to Guiding by Garth Thompson, Dov Fedler. Copyright © 2006 Garth Thompson. Excerpted by permission of Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
Chapter 1 - What is Guiding all About?,
Chapter 2 - Tourism,
Chapter 3 - Where to Begin,
Chapter 4 - The Learning Curve,
Chapter 5 - Preparation,
Chapter 6 - Gamedrive,
Chapter 7 - Walking Safaris,
Chapter 8 - Guiding Principles and Camp Etiquette,
Chapter 9 - Medical Matters,
Chapter 10 - Photography and Equipment,
Chapter 11 - Odds and Ends,
Chapter 12 - From the Horse's Mouth,
Appendix A - List of Guide Training Schools,
Appendix B - Recommended Reading for Guides,
About the Author,
Other titles by Jacana Media:,

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