Although they may initially seem similar, a game ranger and a field guide are two diverse occupations. Often referred to as guardians of nature, game rangers and field guides spend their days in the African bushveld working in close proximity with wildlife. Read on to learn more.

The Difference Between a Game Ranger and Field Guide

A game ranger is primarily responsible for the management of wildlife reserves or national parks, as well as ensuring the safety of protected areas under their management. Their duties include ensuring the continued well-being of wildlife, population management, game capture and introductions, controlled burning, alien vegetation management, high profile animal monitoring, fence and infrastructure management, environmental education, as well as important administrative duties. Essentially, protection of the animals and land.

In various national parks, game rangers also form part of anti-poaching units, protect animals and act as boots on the ground, ensuring the success of conservation efforts. At various private game reserves, such as Shamwari, there is an anti-poaching team dedicated to protecting the land and animals within the area.

A field guide primarily works with tourists in a protected area, wildlife reserve or national park. Guides share their knowledge with guests regarding regional fauna and flora in their natural habitats. Essentially, they act as environmental interpreters, helping to breed an appreciation for nature. They promote conservation and environmental protection, taking guests on guided experiences either in a vehicle or on foot.

How Times Have Changed in the Tourism Industry

Many years ago, when the national parks in South Africa were created, they were run and managed by game rangers. The parks mainly focused on self-drives, so game rangers didn’t need to accompany guests. When the parks started offering game drives and bush walks, game rangers got involved too. There was no official qualification for guiding and most rangers had become knowledgeable about fauna and flora in their region on their own.

The need for specialised guides started when the tourism industry began to gain traction and game rangers were needed to maintain their primary responsibility of managing the parks. This was when the role of the field guide was introduced, to specifically cater to the needs of guests. Private game reserves and lodges started opening their doors to cater to the demands of both local and international tourists wishing to explore Africa.

As a result of the influx of tourists in the hospitality industry, a need started to exist for an accredited field guiding industry board or standards and ethics committee. Thus the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) was formed. A national guiding qualification was developed soon thereafter.

Today, game rangers form part of the management of a reserve and field guides are managed by a head guide.

How to Become a Game Ranger

Game rangers are also referred to as conservation officers. First and foremost, a passion for wildlife and nature is required. To become a game ranger, you need to attain qualification at a tertiary education institution in South Africa. Recommended qualifications to help get your foot in the door for a career in game management would be:

  • A national diploma in nature conservation
  • A national diploma in game ranch management
  • A degree with natural sciences as a major

These qualifications are generally three years long and consist of two years of theory and one year of practical work. There are also other short course options out there, so be sure to do some research before choosing the best option for you!

Tertiary Institutions that Offer Game Ranger Qualifications

There are several accredited tertiary institutions that offer courses for those looking to pursue a game ranger career:

How to Become a Field Ranger, Anti-Poacher and Protector of Wildlife

Rangers or protectors of wildlife are the foot soldiers, protecting all species within a game reserve or national park. These unsung heroes work tirelessly on the front line to protect wildlife in designated areas. It takes a physically fit and strong individual to handle the nature of this job. Rangers are often exposed to the elements and work in harsh conditions to enforce the law. In most cases, they are trained to carry firearms.

It is recommended that you choose a course or qualification that equips you with the skills and knowledge to protect yourself, as well as the wildlife. For this line of work, it is imperative that you keep abreast of the latest tactics and technologies being used in the field.

An anti poaching ranger poses with his firearm at Shamwari Private Game Reserve

Reputable Training Facilities That Offer Qualifications

Reputable training facilities that offer courses include:

  • Southern African Wildlife College
  • African Field Ranger Training Services (AFRTS)

The length of the course depends entirely on the qualification you choose to pursue from the training providers listed above. Competency in advanced rifle handling and tactical training is also required in this field of work.

Field rangers can also consider getting into field guiding on a part-time basis, as it provides them with the opportunity to work narrowly with nature and wildlife.

How to Become a Field Guide or Nature Guide

Field guides or nature guides take guests on guided experiences through nature, either by vehicle, on foot, or horseback. They showcase fauna and flora in their natural habitats.

Guides play their part in conservation by creating awareness about wildlife, poaching epidemics and endangered species. They can inspire an appreciation for nature by sharing their passions for wildlife and conservation of species. Your office is the African bushveld and every day will be unique in terms of animal encounters.

A Shamwari field guide looking through his binoculars

There are various qualifications available to you, should you wish to pursue a career as a field guide:

  • Apprentice Field Guide (NQF 2)
  • Nature Guide (NQF 2)

There Various Requirements to Become a Field Guide:

There are various requirements you need to be aware of, should you wish to become a qualified field guide:

#1 Find A CATHSSETA Accredited Qualification or Skills Program

CATHSSETA stands for Cultural Activities, Tourism, Hospitality and Sports, and is the appointed body that regulates and administers qualifications for the field guide industry. Make sure you find a reputable training provider such as FGASA or training programs that are endorsed by FGASA. This will allow you to attain the required National Skills Program Certificates and Qualifications.

#2 Find A CATHSSETA Accredited Assessment Training Provider

To graduate and qualify as a field guide, you will need to ensure that your training provider has a CATHESSETA Accredited Assessment as part of their program and issues a CATHSSETA Accredited Qualification or Skills Programme Certificate upon completion.

#3 You Have to be 21 Years of Age

You can only register and work as a field guide at the age of 21. However, you are able to attain your FGASA qualification before the age of 21.

#4 You Will Need a PDP

You will need to obtain a public driver’s permit (PDP) to be able to become a field guide. You can go to any police station to obtain the necessary paperwork and thereafter a traffic department. To receive this permit, you first need to have a valid driver’s license.

#5 You Will Need a First Aid Certification

This is imperative in the field guide industry. You are responsible for guests’ safety and must have basic first aid training. Ensure that the first aid training provider and qualification you choose is approved by The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT).

#6 You Will Need to Register as a Field Guide

Register with The National Department of Tourism (NDT) to become a legal field guide in South Africa. All guides will have to have a minimum qualification of Level 1 (NQF 2) nature or field guide qualification in order to work as a field guide in South Africa.

Reputable Training Facilities That Offer Qualifications

Becoming a field guide is one of the most rewarding career paths. Being out in nature every day, spending time observing animals and teaching your guests about the wonders of nature is hard to beat!

Here are our recommended training facilities:

  • FGASA – Field Guides Association of Southern Africa
  • FGASA endorsed training providers:
    • VWI FieldGuide Training Program at Shamwari Private Game Reserve
    • Ulovane Environmental Training
    • Southern African Wildlife College NPC
    • NJ More Field Guide College
    • Eco Training
    • Bushwise Field Guides
    • Bhejane Nature Training

Specialist Field Guide Qualifications

There are various specialist qualifications that you could obtain, should you have the passion and want to specialise in a certain field. At Shamwari, we have several specialist guides that offer guests a unique experience. FGASA offers the following unique qualifications:

  • Advanced Field Guide – Can provide a guided nature experience at an elementary scientific level, combining knowledge and experience while interpreting the features of the natural environment within the broader ecological context.
  • Professional Field Guide –Can provide an advanced guided nature experience at a scientific level, combining knowledge and experience while interpreting the features of the natural environment within the broader ecological context.
  • Professional SKS Dangerous Game – Can conduct an advanced guided nature experience on foot to view potentially dangerous animals, having accumulated the FGASA required guiding experience on foot in areas with the Big 5 dangerous animal species.
    A Shamwari field guide observing an elephant at a distance
  • Marine Guide – Can identify the major living and non-living features of the coastal-marine environment in which they operate and interpret them at a level based mainly on observation and from an elementary scientific and cultural perspective.
  • SKS Birding Guide – Can operate as a Specialist nature guide specialising in birding.
  • National Biome Guide – Can conduct a specialist guided biome experience of any of the biomes of South Africa, based upon which biomes you chose to specialise in.
  • Wildflowers – Can operate as a nature site guide, specialising in guided wildflower experiences in a specific game reserve, nature reserve or botanical garden.

A Shamwari field guide showing off some wildflowers to the camera

Shamwari’s Ranger Manager on Working in Nature and Conservation

We interviewed Andrew Kearney, Shamwari Private Game Reserve’s Ranger Manager, who manages 30+field guides. He provided us with some insights into working in nature and what his thoughts on careers as a field guide and ranger are.

#1 What Inspired You to Become a Field Guide and Now Ranger Manager?

I’ve always grown up in and around nature and from a young age I have always wanted to be part of it. I’ve always been drawn to it.

Shamwari GameRanger FieldGuide

#2 What’s Your Favourite Part of the Job?

Being able to put back into conservation and tourism by managing, developing, mentoring and teaching guides the ethical way of doing things. It benefits tourism and conservation as a whole. I enjoy spending most of my time on foot by looking at the tracks and signs of animals. I am most passionate about using my skills to identify all that the bush has to offer.

#3 What’s the Worst Part of Your Job?

Firstly, when we lose good people from this industry, and secondly when you see animals and nature being harmed through people’s behaviour, attitude and actions. Poaching, plastics and animal abuse are an ever-increasing concern and one of the most difficult aspects of a field guide’s job is that we’ve only got a few days to influence our guests to have a better view of nature and the environment.

We as field guides can only hope that we’ve made a small difference by influencing change in human behaviour and attitude toward the environment.

#4 What’s Your Advice to Youngsters Who Would Like to Become Rangers or Field Guides?

Never stop learning, never stop studying and always follow your dreams. In this industry, rangers and field guides must deal with people, to fight for a cause and change a viewpoint. It requires a lot of passion, hard work and people skills, but in the same breath, it is very rewarding.

The satisfaction that you get from making people’s dreams come true by giving them a once in a lifetime experience, when they develop an emotional connection to mother nature and Shamwari – it’s a wonderfully powerful thing.

#5 How Does Becoming a Ranger or Field Guide Help Protect Wildlife? 

There’s active protection where the rangers go out and do anti-poaching and assist with fence checks. Then there’s protection through awareness and education by making people aware of the plight of wildlife species under threat, which ultimately could contribute to the successful rebound of these populations.