Text: Ranger Pieter van Wyk
What does it take to become a ranger? Do we study something ranger-related at university? Do we have to take special off-road driving courses? These are questions often asked by guests. We’ll try give you the ‘nutshell’ version but first it’s important to highlight the one, non-negotiable criterion… passion, for both wildlife and the natural environment. If you can tick that box then the rest is relatively easy. Something else worth mentioning is that back in the day there was no criteria… rangers could even smoke and drink in front of guests. It was the ‘wild west’. Then came a drive to professionalize the industry.
The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) was formed in 1990, by a group of guides wanting to set a standard for the industry. One of their aims: to promote a culture of professional guiding based on a strong ethical, well informed, safety conscious approach that provides the visitor to Southern Africa with a pleasant and memorable experience. FGASA is an accredited provider with the Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sport, Sector Education Training Authority (CATHSSETA). Together, the two bodies promote the standard of guiding within the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). FGASA Level 1 is the entry level qualification and is equivalent to an NQF Level 2. FGASA Level 3 is basically equivalent to a university degree. So, to become a guide you need to pass FGASA Level 1 first. The exam touches on an array of topics from creating a guided nature experience, animal behavior, geology and astronomy to conservation management, human history, birds, mammals, trees, fish etc. A Trails Guide qualification is required as well for guided walks in the bush. Both involve written and practical exams. Once you’ve done that then you’ll need to complete a First Aid course. Advanced Rifle Handling is next but before you go through the drills on the shooting range the South African Police have to deem you competent to handle a firearm and this involves a series of tests. Then, to legally drive passengers in a commercial context you need to obtain a Professional Driving Permit. It’s not over yet; now you have to apply for a job and each camp has their own training period. We’ll discuss ours later.