Why would you recommend a prospective student to obtain their guiding qualification through Ulovane? I would recommend Ulovane (and I have already) to anyone I knew who wished to obtain their guiding qualifications because I feel that Ulovane has a high standard that they wish to see achieved from each and every student that participates in their program. The knowledge passed from Ulovane’s experienced instructors to each group of students is well communicated and exceeds the requirements of what is expected for a qualifying exam. The instructors emphasize the importance of understanding the subject matter, as well as our responsibilities as caretakers and interpreters of wild places and their inhabitants. As a student, one will enter with a thirst for knowledge and experience, and leave the course with a greater appreciation for each component of the natural world and our role in the equation.
Why did you choose Ulovane as your preferred field guide training provider? Ulovane Environmental Training was recommended to me from another guide who knew of their outstanding quality of mentorship and training. In the year prior to my admission to the Ulovane program, I had my first ‘african experience’ while volunteering at a Wildlife rehabilitation center in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and then as a research assistant in Botswana, in the Tuli wilderness area. It was in Tuli that I had the opportunity to work with guides who helped us obtain our data, taught us the art of birding and interpreting our immediate environment. When I decided to come back to the continent, it was those guides who gave me the advice that led me to choose Ulovane over all other training providers.
When did you graduate at Ulovane and briefly tell us what you have been doing since then? I completed my two-year course with Ulovane in July of 2016, having acquired all the available qualifications they had to offer me. Needless to say, it left me wanting more! During my 6 month placement, I was offered a guiding position with Kareiga Private Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape. There, I was able to apply all of the skills which Ulovane had helped me polish—including my Albany Thicket Birding Specialist, Skippers license and Marine guiding qualification. Early this year, I decided that I wanted experience in another area, and made the big move up to the Timbavati/Greater Kruger NP area. Currently, I am adjusting to my new surroundings and loving the change.
What are your aspirations and future plans? I hope to stay in the guiding industry for a few more years at least, with hopes to travel to different areas where I can further expand my knowledge and skills. In the semi-distant future, I hope to return to school for a Masters degree, preferably in Conservation Science or Ecology. Also, I hope to lead my own tours through southern Africa as a freelance guide… but that is much further down the line! No matter where I go, I am sure that I will remain within or as close to natural and/or recovering wilderness areas as possible, hopefully on the African continent, or perhaps EVENTUALLY returning to my native country, the United States of America.
How did the Ulovane experience prepare / influence you for your current career? One of the most important aspects of guiding which Ulovane helped me with was providing a guided experience for a group of strangers who may have exceedingly high expectations. “Under-promise, over-deliver” was something I learned in my level 1 course. You can’t always predict what the bush will bring you. Your job as a guide is to provide an experience, no matter what it includes. One of my favorite quotes from Schalk is, “You must also let nature do the talking”. These two phrases really sum it up. The small things can be just as exciting as a large herd of elephants, but your clients won’t know until you explore it with them. Also, one of the nicest things you can do is pull to a stop, switch off the engine, and just sit quietly. Listen to the birds singing, gaze up at the bright milky way in all its glory. It is one of my favorite things to do, having grown up in a bustling suburb just outside of a big city. It is likely that is where most of your clients will come from, and they will certainly appreciate a slower pace.
I learned through my own experiences that rushing around to complete the Big 5 check list can be monotonous and often, unproductive. Help the visitors to this country see WHY they are here, WHY these beautiful parks exist and WHY we appreciate every and all parts of them.
What stands out as your favourite memory at Ulovane? This question is hard to answer… but as soon as I read it, my first white rhino sighting came to mind. It was our second day on the course, and we were heading up a big grass-covered hill towards a nice lunch spot. Being the amazing guide that he is, Kyle might have known what was waiting for us, but kept it quiet. Their big grey bums emerged from in between the thick bushes, and with us all realizing what we were seeing, our crowd let out a synchronised sigh of surprise. A handful of the students in my level 1 group were from other countries, but even the South African students were in awe. Rhinos were the one animal that I had wanted to see on my previous trip, and it was only through my education with Ulovane that I understood how special it was to spend time with them. Having such a small population count and with the unwaining threat of poaching, here they were! We all sat quietly, and I closed my eyes. Listening to their breath escape from those big wet nostrils in one long puff, and the persistent munch-munch-munch of their powerful lips pulling at the lush grass… made the wait was so worth it. I remember having the biggest smile on my face that day that stayed there for the weeks afterwards.
What has been your most memorable moment working since studying to become a field guide at Ulovane? I had just started guiding in the Timbavati and was given a couple who had visited the same reserve multiple times. They had traveled all over southern Africa in the past years, and had seen so much. One thing that they had not seen, though, was wild dogs. Now, I made them no promises, especially since in our area they came and went–and usually at an impressive pace! On their last morning drive, we had just set out and were in the pursuit of anything, no pressure. I had stopped early in the drive on an open plain to watch the pink sun rise above the clouds, just for a quiet moment. There were a few antelope around, who were passively grazing. Then all the sudden, the vibe changed completely. The animals were on high alert, still standing silently but their full attention seemed to be directed towards the rising sun. Then, out of the bush, came 18 wild dogs at a trot. An equal number of spotted hyenas were flanking the pack. Both groups of predators glanced at the antelope as they bounced away, thus were too far gone to make for a worthwhile chase. Instead, the wild dogs continued moving towards and around my vehicle. At this point, I am speechless. Once they had all passed, we followed at a respectful distance. What happened afterwards was like something off of Discovery channel! We watched as the wild dogs and hyenas took turns testing eachother. A nip here, a nip there… and finally a small group of the dogs had enough of one big female hyena. Six members of the pack pushed her backwards into a thorn bush, then surrounded her from all sides and took turns biting at her legs! The NOISES that accompanied this show are impossible to describe. They broke up, another guide joined us in the sighting and after having the best show we decided to call it, and we turned to go. I remember the look on everyones faces–simply amazement! None of us could believe what we had seen.
The most memorable part of the sighting was knowing that I enjoyed it as much as my clients did. Everything happened exactly as it would have if we hadn’t been there, and we were just the lucky ones to witness the event. Right place, right time. And all I really did was stop to appreciate the pretty pink sunrise. That’s the bush for you.
What advice would you give to someone entering the guiding industry today? Persevere!!! Don’t quit. It can be tough to find where you fit, and its normal to doubt yourself at the beginning. Ask for help! Remember, everyone had to start somewhere. Some of us started even farther from the startling line than your average guide (take me for example, I didn’t even know how to drive a manual transmission, nor did I realize there was a difference between high-and-low range). There is SO much to learn, but take it one day at a time. Knowledge will come with experience, and experience is gained every day! Also most importantly, don’t be afraid to BE YOURSELF! Let your personality show through in everything you do. You don’t have to be like this guide or that one just because they are great at what they do—do your own thing your own way! And others love you for it and be inspired by your individuality.
How do you ensure that you stay positive, even thru difficult times? When I have a hard day, when I’m frustrated, lonely, or tired… I remember how fortunate I am to be here. This kind of experience was little-Victoria’s dream! That I get to be an observer and interpreter of the natural world is something that I never thought possible. Every day is new, unpredictable and exciting. The mystery of what each day will bring is the best reason to get up in the morning.
Do you have a conservation message for the guides of the future?
As a guide, you become empowered by the experiences that excite you, and sharing your interpretation and enthusiasm with others becomes second nature. You are the messenger; through your experiences you learn to translate what is being communicated to you through direct or indirect signals from your surrounding environment. The healthy or unhealthy state of a grassland, predicting an oncoming storm by reading the clouds, identifying the warning calls of a ground bird or the annoyed head-shake of an big bull elephant. Without you, the message may be lost in translation. The visitors to this country who may join you for a game drive are already hungry for a piece of this unspoilt wilderness, and you can provide them with a level of appreciation and understanding that they may not have expected. They will take it with them. And the influence you’ve had could continue to grow as they continue on their own paths through life. In this way, guides play an important role in protecting the areas where we work through broadening the spectrum of appreciation, and communicating the importance of our continual preservation of wilderness areas worldwide.