On a recent trip to the bush, while bumping along in the back on a game drive cruiser, I was thinking about the qualities that make guides stand out.  In Zimbabwe we are very lucky to have a very intensive guides training and qualification process, ensuring that our guides become fully licensed with the best skills possible.  But as in all professions, there are a lot of great guides out there, but only a few would be exceptional ones.  That got me to thinking as to whether I could list the qualities that tip the great guide into the exceptional category?  Around the dinner table back at camp that night we had a discussion about this and came up with a few things that we thought were exceptional qualities.

We considered passion the MOST important quality of a guide, it is something that cannot be taught or learnt and can take your safari experience to the next level .   Some guides make it very evident that this is just a job for them, they lack that love for sharing and showing guests how exciting the bush experience can be.  The passionate guide oozes excitement and expectation and is looking forward to seeing what they can find to fascinate their guests.  They are happy to share whatever bits of information, stories and tips that the guests are happy to hear.  They want their guests to feel excited about being on safari in their beautiful country, they want them to learn as much as they can so they can spread the passion and love of the bush to their friends and families when they get home.  They want them to have the memories of the excitement, adventure, relaxing experience to stay with their guests for the rest of their lives.

Knowledge is also a key item in making a game drive or walk into an interesting experience, and not the information that guests can read on the internet.  You can tell the exceptional guides from the average when they are faced with a game drive devoid of the ‘big game’ but are able to leap out of the vehicle when he spots a Leopard Tortoise or a Termite, and tell his guests about the ‘Small Five’, interesting facts about the little creature and its relationship to the bush.  Or explain the importance of the vegetation of the area, or the tiny bugs that inhabit the sandy ground beneath our feet but which we hardly ever notice from the vehicle.  The reading of animal behaviour is a large part of a guides job.  He needs to be able to tell if the elephant that keeps shaking its head at the stationary vehicle, is giving a warning that it is having a bad day and that if this irritating thing doesn’t move off soon, it will be forced to make its annoyance known more physically with a charge and trumpet, or if it will lose interest soon and calm down and start feeding again.

A guide must be able to read his guests as well and listen to them when they tell him their expectations of their dream holiday to Africa that they have been saving up for their entire lives.  It is possible that the vehicle is full of guests that have different interests, some having been on safari before, other their first time, some wanting to stop for every little thing, another is only interested in the big game.  A skilled guide will be able to juggle his activity so that hopefully all will have enjoyed their drive or walk, having imparted new information and experience to the seasoned safari goers and given the newbie’s a chance to photograph an impala.  Communication is an ever important thing, both what and how it is imparted.  Explanations to guests on an animal’s behaviour goes a long way to making everyone feel comfortable and safe when faced with a trumpeting elephant or calling lion.

Showing respect for the wildlife and nature is a very important part of a guides role.  It is easy to drive right up to a sleeping lion or right under the trunk of a browsing elephant to please his guests, but not only are they not giving the animal their personal space, they are putting the guests in harms way.  An exceptional guide would position the guests at a safe distance, allowing them to take in the full scene and will probably have longer to sit with the animal as it feels relaxed and its natural habits can be enjoyed and discussed by all in the vehicle.  The guide is the ambassador of our country and it is important that he shows respect for its wild places, explaining why it is so important to do so.

These are the items I consider to make my safari experience into an exceptional memory that I will cherish and retell for years to come.  Tell me of your experiences and what you have found to create a trip of a lifetime for you.

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