How to be a Safari Guide and The Art of Safari

Sunset on a Bongwe Safari

How to be a safari guide requires years of study. You need to know about all the fauna and flora that surrounds you, and you must be able to impart that knowledge to your guests. But there is something more.

The Art of Safari

I was thinking about the art of safari the other day. Wondering what it is that makes a good guide. I think it’s the passion that makes all the difference. It certainly has to be one of the main ingredients. I know that I really do enjoy safari, and more so when I have guests on my car. I often venture into the bush on my own, or with friends and I still love it, but it’s definitely different to showing first-timers what is out there. I always try to see everything through my guests’ eyes, whether it’s an impala or an elephant or an ant. So when they see something for the first time, I too feel like I am experiencing it for the first time.

It’s a really great feeling being able to take nervous, but excited clients close to these amazing creatures. Especially the big ones!  My heart still races when there is a great big elephant walking past the car, and it’s even more intense for those in the back because they are raised up to almost eye level as he passes by.

Look, Learn and Look Some More

If you want to know about how to be a safari guide, then one thing you should always remember is observation. You need to spend a lot of time just watching.

I have spent thousands of hours watching elephants. I have worked with different herds in different parks with different attitudes. I have met happy ones, playful ones, short tempered ones, wary ones, scared ones, protective ones, angry ones, calm ones, injured ones, passive ones, content ones, horny ones and just plain belligerent ones. Elephants come in a multitude of packages and personalities each one influenced by the tragedies of his or her lifetime, and the shared memory of decades of persecution in their genes.

It sounds dangerous but it shouldn’t be. If your guide has the experience, then there is something he or she can read into the situation. All elephants have one thing in common, whatever their past, whatever their mood – body language. It is easy (when you know how) to see and determine an elephant’s mood. It could be the set of the shoulders, the angle of the head or the gait of his walk. Whatever he is going to do next, he telegraphs through his body language.

Recognising things that are not obvious is part of learning how to be a safari guide.

Recognising this body language and being able to anticipate his next move means many comfortable and pleasant hours spent with these gentle giants. It means no confrontation or negative memories for the elephant (or us) it means nice happy cohabitation and no bullying from either party. It’s definitely a good art for your guide to be in tune with animal body language and attitudes.

So, we have established that observation, passion and experience are important. Obviously, knowledge is important too, including understanding statistics and facts and interpreting that information so that it is interesting and digestible to anyone unfamiliar with them. But what about personality? Guiding needs a bit pf a personality too. Maybe even a few jokes! How to become a safari guide doesn’t mean becoming a comedian, but a few jokes relevant to the safari helps to break the ice and create a rapport between you and your guests.

Keep a Journal

I never really kept a record of my safari career; I have never really been one for taking notes or writing a diary, I tried once or twice but just was never really organised enough. Most of the great Africa men, the famous generation of guides like Norman Carr and Phil Berry always kept journals and records. I often wished I could do but for whatever reason it just not my forte. I committed many things to memory and have probably forgotten many things. I guess I get prompted into memories by sightings or questions.

Be prepared to put in the hours

I tried to work out how many hours I have spent on safari. It slowed down a bit in the last 8 years as once I left the Luangwa valley, I started my own safari company and then did not always live full time in the bush, but the first 10 years of my career, I worked full time as a safari guide. A full season means about 180 days of 10 hours a day safari. Early start and 4 hour game drive, back for breakfast. Hour and half mid-day activity then lunch. Three o’clock tea and then afternoon/night drive. Dinner at eight! It’s a 10-hour assault on the senses!

So, how to be a safari guide? Be a part of your surroundings, not an outside observer.

Every moment is vivid and instant and full of promise. The wildlife and the bush has no schedule or plan, it’s instantly changing and frighteningly addictive and ultimately consuming. Any tree, any bush any termite mound can hold or hide a leopard, or a python, or an elephant. There are a thousand other things moving and hunting, surviving, sleeping or relaxing, hiding or displaying. It’s a non-stop theatre of real life drama, with an impromptu cast and motley crew. There are the regular players, the lion pride, the Hippo pod, the cranky old buffalo to name but a few and cameo appearances from giraffe and elephant too! Are they just passing through? or staying a few days? who knows? Probably they don’t either!

Still wondering how to be a safari guide? Put in the hours, learn to be entertaining, observe and probably most importantly, treat guiding like an art. If you don’t love it with a passion, your guests are being short-changed.

If you would like to go on a Bongwe Safari then why not take a look at what we have on offer.

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