The Guide Training Season.
‘At its best, interpretation is a whisper in the visitor’s ear. It suggests ways of looking, plants seeds that may take root in the field of a visitor’s own thoughts, while leaving them free to explore for themselves.’ James Carter
As the guide training season draws to a close, I thought I would share a few highlights and thoughts on my guide training philosophy and what I actually do during guide training.
From the 2nd of April until the 1st of May, my home became a tent, as it often does. My tools include: a duffel of clothes, a flashlight, my binoculars, a trunk of books and various toys, from UV lights, to laser pointers, and i-phone apps. This month my training was exclusively for Asilia Lodges & Camps, a company that invests a small fortune in its guides.
Together with Lewis Mangaba, a distinguished guide from Zimbabwe with phenomenal knowledge, and 16 “trainees”, we set off to try to gain an understanding of how the world works. The month’s focus was to spend as much time in situ, learning ecological concepts and attempting to apply them to what we could find and what we could physically see. The abundance and diversity of what we call “charismatic wildlife” are incredible in this country, but all too often become the sole focus of a safari. You don’t have to watch too many David Attenborough documentaries to learn that nature is full of wonderful, weird, and crazy things going on - let alone on the savannahs of East Africa. It is our goal to influence guides to reveal and unravel some of these intricacies for their guests.
During the past years I’ve been fortunate to co-train with various guides and as we draw near to the end of the training we realize how much we’ve learned from each other. Sometimes, it is just a different perspective or way of seeing something, but often it’s also an inspiration to learn more and discover more.
A dung beetle, forming a brood ball... do you have any idea how much dung we'd be wading through if it weren't for these little guys?
But, all of this focuses on natural history and that’s not what guiding is all about, which is one of my major criticisms of the guide training/certification industry. Of course, it is necessary to have a baseline knowledge of ecology and to be able to identify most of the species of animals that you come across, but there’s so much more to guiding. At the very foundation, there’s plain and simple safety, and you’d be surprised at how many guides do not have adequate and up to date first aid knowledge, let alone certification.
A track- 3 lobed pad, claw marks... this is a special cat.
This year’s training did not just involve the 16 “trainees,” who Lewis and I spent the whole time with, but an additional 43 guides from Asilia’s portfolio of camps in Kenya and Tanzania joined to get a valuable Wilderness Advanced First Aid certification and to take another course- Adaptive Human Behavior and Client Care. This interesting course was developed by Robin Peterson after an the initial 3 day course Myers Briggs course into what is now a 5-day level 1 and 5-day level 2 course. Not only does this course improve the guide’s ability to interact communicate effectively with the guests, but a guide’s life is improved being armed with a toolkit to deal with the many human relationships that they have at work and home. In addition to this course, they spent a day each with a hosting coach, behavioral ecologist, 2 bird guides and a photographer who coached them on how to use a camera.