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What is a Game Ranger?

A Game Ranger is a person that acts as a custodian of wildlife and is responsible for the management and upkeep of the natural environment. They deal largely with the land and the animals on that land, ensuring the wellbeing of both. They technically have nothing to do with ‘guests’.

How do I become a Game Ranger?

We suggest that you undertake formal studies in the Natural Sciences (BSc. Biology/Zoology) or a National Diploma in Nature Conservation. Please note that many employers require that you also possess a FGASA qualification in addition to this, as it means that you will be able to manage the game farm, its animals, as well as the guests who visit the property.

What is a Field Guide?

A Field Guide is a ‘people person’ who should have vast knowledge about the natural environment and act as an interpreter between that environment and the paying client, usually a foreign tourist. They are sometimes referred to as ‘nature guides’ (as opposed to ‘culture guides’ or ‘adventure guides’) and are also often erroneously referred to as ‘game rangers’, especially by foreign tourists.

How do I become a Field Guide?

The first step is to register with the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) as a member.

Secondly you need to complete a training course which will award the successful applicant with a Field Guide qualification. This is the entry level qualification required for entry into the workplace.

Assuming that you have successfully completed your Field Guide qualification, you will be required to obtain a Professional Driving Permit (PDP) in order to transport clients legally on South African national roads. You first have to get a doctor to sign a medical certificate (form MC). Then you go to the nearest Vechicle Licensing Department and hand in your documents (form PD1), pay and have an eye test and fingerprints taken.

The last step of the process is to register as a Nature Guide with your provincial Tourist Authority (the National Department of Tourism (NDT – formerly DEAT).

How do I register with FGASA?

Note: Field Guide Course and Correspondence Course Practical students are expected to ‘register as a member’ with FGASA well in advance of the start of these courses. The membership registration process entails completing a membership application form, signing a code of conduct, paying a non-refundable registration fee, an annual membership fee (the cost of which depends on whether you are South African, African or International) and a materials fee – all payable directly to FGASA, as per details on the membership application form. (The materials are a Field Guide Training Manual, Guiding Skills Manual and Field Guide Workbook).

  • Step 1: Download the applicable membership application form from the FGASA website (South African or International – make sure it is the latest version). You will find all the relevant instructions, costs and contact details displayed on those forms.
  • Step 2: Complete the membership application form, pay the relevant fees to FGASA and send the completed application form, signed code of conduct and proof of payment directly to FGASA.
  • Step 3: Wait for the FGASA membership material to be posted or couriered (if mutually arranged) to you.
  • Step 4: Read through the Field Guide Training Manual before you start our course and use it to complete the theory section of the workbook. This will assist you in preparing for the exam.
What does a Field Guide qualification permit me to do?

It qualifies a person to take a group of (paying) guests on a drive or walk in non-dangerous game areas or on a drive in dangerous game areas.

Does the Field Guide qualification expire?

No. However your FGASA membership needs to be kept valid and part of that means you should always have a current First Aid level 1 qualification (usually expires after three years).

How soon after doing a Field Guide course can I work as a field guide?

Your exam needs to be marked and the practical evaluation paperwork has to be submitted to FGASA for moderation and the certificate needs to be issued and posted, which can take a up to month. In the meantime you could be getting a PDP (Professional Driving Permit) and doing the PFTC rifle competency required by law if you intend to work in a Big Five area.

Can I work in a Big Five (dangerous game) area with only a Field Guide qualification?

The answer is technically no. Most prospective employers will not permit you to work in a Big Five area with only a Field Guide qualification. In order to work in a Big Five area you will need to also complete a Trails Guide Course. A Trails Guide is a specialist Field Guide that is qualified to conduct walking safaris in big game areas – s/he is qualified to carry and use a rifle.

How do I become a Trails Guide?

Once you have completed your Field Guide qualification you can then participate in a Trails Guide Course. In order to become a Trails Guide, you are required to do the following (preferably, but not necessarily, in this order):

  • Obtain the Trails Guide Training Manual and Workbook from FGASA, study the manual and complete the workbook.
  • Complete the FGASA Trials Guide Theory exam (click here to download the exam application document)
  • Complete the Professional Firearms Training Council Rifle Competency unit standards with a bolt action rifle or manually operated carbine: 117705, 119651 and 123519.
  • Complete a FGASA Advanced Rifle Handling Course. For further details about doing a tailor-made FGASA Advanced Rifle Handing Course, kindly refer to the FGASA website for a list of accredited (ARH) training providers and select/contact the one nearest you.
  • You then need to log encounters with dangerous game under the mentorship of a qualified FGASA Trails Guide.
  • The last step, once you have the required number of encounters and hours, is to complete a ‘View Potentially Dangerous Animals’ (VPDA) practical assessment (See below about VPDA assessments for Trails Guides qualifications).
What is a Back-up Trails Guide qualification?

This is a Trails Guide that has completed all of the above but has not yet accumulated sufficient experience or encounters with dangerous game on foot (only has ten encounters and fifty hours). This individual is not permitted to lead a walk without the supervision of a fully qualified Trails Guide, but may be used as a back-up.

What is a Trails Guide?

This is a Trails Guide who has completed all of the necessary short certificate courses (as above) and has accumulated a further fifty encounters with dangerous game on foot – including at least two of the Big Five animals – as well as another one hundred hours under the supervision of a suitably qualified mentor (i.e. a FGASA qualified Trails Guide). This individual is permitted to lead a walk in a big game area.

What is a Professional Trails Guide?

This is a fully qualified Trails Guide who is permitted to lead a walk in a Big Five area and has qualified by logging experience with all of the dangerous animals (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Hippo) and has done an additional assessment exercise during the FGASA Advanced Rifle Handling Course (Haley’s Hop).

Does the Trails Guide qualification expire?

Yes, because it is intricately linked to the FGASA Advanced Rifle Handling Certificate, which expires after two years.

How do I keep my Trails Guide qualification valid?

When your FGASA Advanced Rifle Handling Certificate expires, contact a FGASA assessor and ask to be re-assesed for ARH.

Should I be concerned about my Trails Guide qualification not being valid?

Yes! In the event that an incident occurs on one of your trails, the legal implications are not even worth thinking about, let alone going through.

What is the minimum calibre of rifle used by Trails Guides in a Big Five area?

A .375 Holland and Holland is considered to be the minimum, a rifle with an excess of 4000ft/lbs/square inch stopping power may be used.

Do I require a South African Police Services (SAPS) white competency card (plastic credit card type) to be employed as a Trails Guide?

SAPS says yes you do. FGASA says that you need to at least show proof that you have applied for this before you can work as a guide using the lodge’s rifle. As a matter of interest they don’t issue those white cards any more – all you have to do now is go to a Firearms Control Point police station (the ones authorised to handle firearm matters and have a Firearms Control Officer), show your ID and the SAPS will print out a sheet of paper while you wait.

As a foreigner, will I be able to do rifle competency?

You can do the unit standards but, because you do not have a South African ID (identity document), you cannot obtain a competency card/letter from SAPS.

When am I eligible to write my Advanced Field Guide theory exam?

Once you have a full Field Guide qualification and have logged 260 days of working experience, you may be practically assessed and then you may apply to write the theory exam (or vice-versa).

When am I eligible to be practically assessed as an Advanced Field Guide?

You may be practically assessed once you have accumulated 260 days of work experience and your logbook has been signed off at the FGASA office.

Do I have to do a course to qualify as an Advanced Field Guide?

Not necessarily – you can obtain the qualification on your own. Refer to the FGASA Information Guide for the details of how to do this. As always, it is advisable to seek proper training in specialist areas of expertise (such as birding).

What is the career progression that ANT suggests?

First obtain a Field Guide qualification, which permits you to take walks and drives in non-dangerous game areas or drives in dangerous game areas. Then do the Trails Guide qualification, which qualifies you to take walks in dangerous game areas (as it incorporates Advanced Rifle Handling). Then, as you gain experience working as a field guide, you will build your knowledge naturally. If you wish to increase your chances of earning higher pay, or to specialise in a subject area, you can qualify as an Advanced Field Guide. You will only need to progress to a Professional Field Guide if you are interested in training guides (i.e. you are employed as a head ranger or set up your own training company). If you want to become a specialist bird guide, you need to do the Savanna Bird qualification.

When am I eligible to write the Professional Field Guide theory exam?

It is best to refer to the FGASA Information Guide for precise details, but you need a minimum of 520 days of experience to begin the process.

Am I permitted to re-write the FGASA theory exam if I failed the exam whilst on a course with a registered FGASA Training Provider?

Yes you can re-write the exam.

Please note that you can only re-write the exam at a National Sitting and these are normally scheduled in February, April, July and October each year.

Refer to the FGASA website for a list of exam dates and venues.

If I am not South African, what are my chances of being able to register as a nature guide with the National Department of Tourism?

The provincial Tourist Authority will only register people who have work permits and the work permit must be tourist-industry related. Furthermore, FGASA is only allowed to issue the CATHSSETA letter to people who have a local postal address (i.e. are South African residents).

If I am not South African, what are my chances of being able to work in South Africa as a field guide?

We are not in a position to give advice to foreign students with regards to the regulations applied by the South African Department of Home Affairs. Our understanding is that preference is given to South Africans with regards to employment. Some lodges may wish to employ a field guide that speaks a foreign language and, in that case, it would be up to the lodge to apply for a work permit on your behalf. Please note that Africa Nature Training is not a recruitment agency.

Must I have a valid First Aid level 1 certificate before being practically assessed?

Yes, this is best practice.

How often must I renew my First Aid certificate?

Most First Aid certificates are valid for three years, provided you did the course through a well recognised training company.

Is my FGASA certificate/qualification accredited by the Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sports Sector Education and Training Authority (CATHSSETA)?

Yes, FGASA is accredited by CATHSSETA and your FGASA certificate is well recognised in the industry.

What happened to the well-known FGASA 'levels' of qualifications?

FGASA has (in 2016) changed the names of some of its courses in order to avoid confusion with NQF levels (by removing any mention of ‘levels’) and to align with its company name, which refers to Field Guides rather than Nature Guides (essentially the same thing). The old/new names of these qualifications are as follows:

Old Name: New Name:
FGASA Level 1Field Guide (NQF2)
Marine GuideMarine Guide (NQF2)
FGASA Level 2Advanced Field Guide (NQF4)
FGASA Level 3Professional Field Guide
Backup/2nd RifleBack-up Trails Guide
Lead Trails Guide/1st RifleTrails Guide
Advanced Trails GuideProfessional Trails Guide