By Intern Enrico Testi
We eventually got to the end of the 4th week of the FGASA endorsed Trails Guide Course, after completing all the tests and assessments that this incredible experience involved during the past month.
The final week was basically a summative assessment where we were evaluated on our competence thus far, before being put forth through the next steps of the mentorship journey, which would eventually lead us to become Lead Trails Guides and, later, Professional Trails Guides.
The final days again involved walking in the bush, but this time we were put under the spotlight while carrying rifles, taking the part of the 2nd rifle in the walking formation. The whole aim of this phase is in fact to see if we are actually able to operate as 2nd rifles, before proceeding forward. We also had the chance to experience the position of the 1st rifle at times, but always with the professional mentor close-by, just as it happens when a learner vehicle driver is allowed to drive with an experienced driver beside them, who is always there and ready to take over at all times. So, at this stage, all the experience gained in the bush until this time, from the first days of the FGASA endorsed Apprentice Field Guide training to the rifle handling skills gained during the Apprentice Trails Guide course, should finally translate into a safe and enjoyable walking experience in Big 5 territory.
Personally, I was delighted to see how we were able to trail and find a herd of buffalo by following their signs and getting a thrilling encounter during the first day of the walking assessment. In fact, after trailing the herd for a few hours, we first got to see a bull and from a safe position we noticed that it was looking at us at about 30 meters from where we were, and then we could spot the whole herd, which eventually moved off towards a nearby perennial river.
That is actually a success in itself, since we went from not knowing anything about the signs of buffalo when we started as Apprentice Field Guides (and in this regard, the CyberTracker Track and Sign training and evaluation we attended were extremely helpful) to being able to trail those animals and find them through a process of trial and error. A big part of this ability surely came from the practice we did during the first weeks of the Trails Guide course, where we had the opportunity to be put on a fresh trail and follow through, therefore gaining experience and exposure to this amazing part of being an African Safari Guide on foot.
We all noticed how the whole process was finally coming together, and it was undoubtedly a great feeling of fulfillment, especially when, at the end, you locate the animal you’ve been following so fervently. Other encounters during our final stages of the course included encounters with white rhino and lion, similarly being trailed and located on foot.
All the other skills needed for Trails Guiding were also a big part of these final days of assessment, such as knowing how to plan a route based on knowledge of the game reserve and also the animal behaviour, maintaining constant all-round awareness, rifle carry and safety, guest checks, considerations about secondary disturbances such as other animals and how to react to them, recognising and interpreting certain bird alarm calls (eg.oxpeckers), and more.
It was also good to see how the whole walking group was putting personal effort into the experience, since everybody was keeping focus and helping in any situation, from finding the trail again after losing it to scanning the ground ahead in search of tracks or a better route to take through the bushes.
The 50-odd hours spent with the mentors, walking during the initial stages of the course and the 12 Dangerous Game encounters that we managed to get, surely served us to gain the knowledge and confidence needed to go through those last days of assessment, along with the rifle handling skills. We could experience for ourselves how all the considerations needed before approaching an animal, such as wind direction, cover, escape routes, animal comfort, alert, warning and critical zones are of prime importance in this kind of activity, and we were really conscious of how this form of experience could be an unforgettable one for guests one day, if managed safely and professionally, as it should be.
Now we are ready for the next phase of the FGASA Trails Guide journey; I have no doubt that it will be as enriching and fulfilling as the great course we just attended!
Blog by Enrico Testi, Intern at Limpopo Field Guiding Academy
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