News update: 8th September
Sabi Sabi Game Reserve is a highly desirable choice for those wanting a career in the bushveld, and a large number of applications are received whenever a position becomes available. By virtue of the ranger training courses developed here over the past 30 years, Sabi Sabi has long been dubbed the “university of the bushveld”, and is renowned for the quality of its rangers (field guides) and trackers. The well-deserved reputation of these guides is a direct result of the stringent initial selective process and intensive training the successful applicants undergo. Sabi Sabi’s visitors are drawn from all corners of the globe, and besides being well versed in the ways of the wild, the field guides need to be skilled communicators, able to interact with a wide range of people and be empathic to their needs.
It takes many months of study, hands-on experience and “apprenticeship” before a trainee is finally allowed to host his or her first guest.
The first stage of the process incorporates lodge training and orientation. The trainees spend a few days in each department, learning lodge procedures under the watchful eye of the existing staff. Before this part of instruction is completed, they will each have had a stint working in reception welcoming new arrivals, in the kitchen learning about the food and beverage workings of a 5 star lodge, and in the housekeeping department, being schooled on Sabi Sabi’s strict standards and attention to detail.
They are then handed over to the workshop mechanics, who spend many days teaching the new recruits how to handle and maintain a Land Rover, an essential skill when driving a vehicle over the uneven terrain of the bushveld.
As part of their pre-safari training, the aspirant rangers need to be perfectly versed in and adhere to all of Sabi Sabi’s guest relations and lodge policies, and the guiding code of conduct. And, of course, as hosts to international guests, they must be knowledgeable about South Africa, its history and its peoples.
Finally, if they succeed in the “in-house” course segment, the future guides make it out into the bush for the first part of the practical bush skills module. This is what they have been waiting for!
Here, in a remote area of the reserve, they start their practical training on animals and animal behaviour, tracking and how to identify spoor, safety in the bush and rifle handling. They are taught about snakes and spiders and which bites and stings are harmful. Even astronomy and the stars of the southern skies are covered. First aid and how to handle an emergency is also an important part of this first initiation into field guiding.
Once these very important fields have been well-absorbed, the specific natural environment of the Lowveld region, with its unique geology, climate, and ecology has to be studied and understood. This is an extraordinary part of the African continent, and the biodiversity of insect, plant, bird, reptile and animal species is quite astonishing. During this time, those interested in photography are given guidance on getting the most out of their cameras, and are taught how to assist their guests in doing the same while on safari.
When all the core modules have been completed, the trainees begin “shadowing” experienced rangers. Every qualified Sabi Sabi field guide has his or her own unique safari personality, and the interns will spend time on drive with each ranger in turn, watching and learning how they conduct their game drives and how they convey their wealth of knowledge to their guests. Shadowing another ranger also provides the opportunity of seeing how each section of their months of training fit into the puzzle. At this point, the excitement mounts as earning ranger epaulettes is not far off!
Of course, it is all very well knowing how to best conduct a game drive, but there is one more really important lesson to be learnt. How to find your way in a wilderness area! Although every gravel road is named, there are no road signs! By the end of their training the interns need to know every road by name, and must be able to find their way back to their lodge no matter where they are.
At the end of this training comes the big test – a final assessment drive. This is a big challenge and quite daunting, as, alongside the safari manager, the managers of the different lodges and heads of department are all invited along to assess the trainees and their ability to conduct an informative, interesting, holistic safari, and to handle a barrage of tough questions and scenarios.
Only the best of the best qualify, and the months of training finally pay off. The Sabi Sabi epaulettes are handed out and the trainees are trainees no more. Watch the next newsletter for an update of how the most recent trainees fared.