EcoTraining, Training the Future Guardians of Nature
The most popular form of the modern Safari is a vehicle-based game drive. These are an amazing way to experience nature as they provide a way for tourists to get up-close to the Big 5 from the safety of a large 4 x 4. There is however a smaller portion of us, as Guides or Guests that tend to feel that as fantastic as vehicle bound excursions are; they cannot fully satisfy the hunger for a more authentic, visceral experience with our natural world.
As trails guides we prefer to facilitate a reconnection to the wilderness by allowing our guests to participate in nature, rather than just ob-serving it. We do our best to avoid putting on a big show for our guests by speaking for nature. We try rather to allow these wild spaces to speak for themselves, creating opportunities for our guests and ourselves to connect with nature in our own individual and personal ways.
Trails are not solely focused on getting an award-winning, up-close pho-tograph of a leopard with its kill in a tree, but rather the tracking of that leopard and getting a deep insight into the life of the animal within its nat-ural environment. Trails are about being at one with our natural world and having basic, instinctive experiences with the same creatures with which we have co-existed for thousands of years in a way that is natural for both species, “ animals” to do so.
There are many new skills to be mastered in order to make the transition to Trails Guiding, in order to provide an enjoyable, interpretative, interesting and above all safe on foot experience for our guests. Walking in the bush is about focusing on the smaller things in our natural world, birds, tracks and signs, plants, trees and much more, however as a Trails Guide, we should not feel the need to lecture our enthusiastic, unsuspecting guests on every grass species that we happen to pass by. Instead, it is important for a Trails Guide to have empathy and the ability to gauge their guest’s special interests in order to facilitate a participative learning experience, by allowing people to connect with and digest their surroundings at their own pace. In essence, we say more by speaking less. Africa has an array of wild creatures including the BIG 5, hairy and scary.
The most vital skill for a Trails Guide is to make real-time decisions in ev-er-changing circumstances, often surrounded by animals that are much faster, stronger and far more adept to physical confrontation than we are. Even though our goal is to provide guests with an amazing experience in the bush, it is even more so, our duty to keep them safe. Using all of our training, experience and knowledge, with our best ethics and safe thinking at heart, these ever-changing circumstances can be out of our control.
One of the most common questions we are asked by our guests is; “Have you ever needed to shoot an animal whilst on a walk?” I have had the privilege of guiding trails for the last 15 years and have fortunately not needed to. Having said this, it is not a guarantee that it won’t happen one day. As much as we don’t like to talk about or think about doing it, being professional means being prepared. As humans, in our current Bi-pedal form, we have always existed with these same animals for hundreds of thousands of years. We have always been physically weaker, however mental-ly, far more advanced. It is our intelligence that gave us the ability not only to survive in such a hostile gladiator’s arena but also to become one of the top predators. This is a fact, no matter how we might feel about it in modern society, having become recently detached from our nat-ural world. For example; let’s say we were to encounter a herd of buffalo whilst on foot. Hoping for a longer, more relaxed sighting, we might prefer to be in a downwind position so that they do not smell us and in cover so that the buffalo do not see us, however, if the wind were to change and the buffalo were to pick up our scent and catch sight of us, this might cause them to move off rapidly for a short distance, only to turn around and face us, their age-old contender, watching us, pondering our next move.This is not a case of us been an unnatural entity disturbing a wild animal in its own, natural environment, but rather a wonderful, natural encounter between two formidable creatures, each in their combined natural environment as it has been for hundreds of millennia. As Trails Guides, we are privileged to be able to take part in the lowest impact and most environmentally sensitive form of Safari. Our only impact is that of our own two feet on the ground, moving around the same animals with which we have shared this wilderness, since the beginning of our existence on this planet. During your path to become a trails guide, you will gain the muchneeded skills and knowledge through interesting and excit-ing experiences in the wilderness with highly trained Trails Men-tors, who will not only help you discover the wonders of walking in the bush, but also how to do it safely!
– Words by Professional Trails Guide Devon Myers
EcoTraining offers a 28-day Trails Guide (FGASA accredited) course which covers all the aspects that you will need to become a FGASA Apprentice Trails Guide. You will spend your days walking in the wilderness with EcoTrainings’ expert Trails Guide Mentors, logging the vital hours and encounters with potentially dan-gerous animals. This coupled with the other very important aspects such as rifle handling, tracking, animal behaviour, group control, safety and guiding skills makes this the ultimate all-round learning experience.