Updated: Apr 27
The quality of guide you choose to work, hugely influences the quality of your experience. For the first-time safari client, it is difficult to determine the quality of guiding standards without a previous benchmark, however as with all professions, all guides and guided experiences are not equal.
The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa SKS DG [Specialist Knowledge & Skills: Dangerous Game] shooting phase assessment, which has just occurred, marks the second final stage of meeting the list of criteria that needs to be met to achieve the SKS DG qualification. Upon completing this testing two day assessment, candidates enter the final bush phase assessment. Getting here alone is a seriously big deal – It takes most interested candidates anywhere between 6 and 10 years of commitment to merely enter this stage.
It was an incredible privilege to spend time with the group of passionate candidates, trails guides and assessors. It is rare to get the opportunity to spend time with so many high caliber like-minded people.
For an outsider, or someone who has not been through this process, I would imagine it is difficult to understand. Besides having to meet the requirements [more about those shortly] to be assessed, the pressure is very real as each candidate works through a total of 10 carefully thought through time based exercises of increasing difficulty. All the exercises are done with a big bore, in this instance nothing smaller than a 400 caliber, and on average between 60 - 80 of these high recoil rounds are fired. Skill sets, experience, knowledge and resilience whilst under pressure are truly verified. Equipment is solidly tested under the intensity. Besides needing to pass the assessment the learnings are an incredible gift that can only be gained when one goes through a process such as this.
The assessors, Colin Patrick and James Steyn, both FGASA Scouts*, where no-other than legendary in setting up, and guiding us through the 10 exercises that each need to be passed. These two gentlemen, incredible custodians of our profession, remained firm, fair and consistent whilst never dropping standards. This they did whilst been hugely supportive and also keeping us laughing as we worked through the process. The laughter is so important to diffuse some of the pressure felt. James shot a number of the more difficult exercises and Colin provided guidance that can only be given after decades of time on the sharp end. Juan Pinto [FGASA Board member and Scout] participated and joined in the process - Actions always speak louder than words.
The comradery amongst the group was nothing short of humbling. I was blown away by how we all looked after one another. Pressure does interesting things and although each person was well prepared, every participant in the process had some type of challenge that they had to overcome through the assessment. Whether this related to equipment, performance within the time available or managing our minds, and the associated emotions, there was a sensitively and understanding to each person’s unique situation that was amazing to experience. For many reasons I had to frequently calm a full troop of chattering vervet monkeys in my head and had to work hard to calm my mind - I am deeply grateful for the support I received. Although some of the group made it and some will make it next time, everyone was a Winner.
As a special note, it was wonderful to see how each member of the group in some way acknowledged their families in what can be a demanding profession especially in terms of the time away and commitment required to achieve these levels of qualification.
Over many years we have heard many debates about the high standards which FGASA sets. Much has been said about the requirements set to achieve the new SKS DG qualification. In the context of treating guiding as a profession, and this been the highest qualification unattainable in the specialism of walking trails, these arguments are mostly raised by those not willing to do the necessary. Every qualification process worth its salt, has a qualification hierarchy. A charted accountant cannot become such with a base B.Comm nor without passing the board exam, nor we would consider going to a nurse when we require the service of a surgeon.
Is the SKS process easy? NO, it requires serious commitment, discipline and effort.
Are assessments stressful? For me YES, but for some people not. In the context of achievement, any major achievement has a level of stress attached to it.
Is the qualification attainable? YES, if you are willing to put in the hard miles over many years. The more I know, the more I realize how little I know.
Back in 1981, I received a copy of Clive Walkers “Signs Of The Wild” for Christmas. Books like these fuelled my passion and I remember spending hours dreaming what it would be like to be working in the bush. The fact that every so often I still pinch myself to check that this is not a dream says a lot.
I am proud to be part of the association and part of this journey of commitment. Although not easy, if you love this space, the process cannot be recommended enough.
The SKS DG qualification is the highest qualification attainable for walking guides prior been able to embark on the journey of becoming a Scout. Walking, or trails guides, have a separate, additional qualification path as leading trails requires different experience, different skills and a different mindset to vehicle-based guiding.
This qualification is a quantum step up from what was known as the SKS DA qualification. To give an idea of the focus, discipline and hard work required to allow process entry, candidates are required to have:
Full advanced trails guide
Full level three [specialist] qualification
Full level 3 tracker [trailing + track and sign]
+600 Dangerous game encounters with a minimum of 30 encounters per animal category
+1200 Hours on trail
Minimum of 100 mentored and logged hours with at least 5 SKS DG mentors of which 3 must be SKS DG assessors
* FGASA Scout = This is the highest award possible within the association and a HUGE achievement. It combines the SKS DG qualification with the Senior tracker qualification. The attainment of the qualification can take decades of committed time on the ground. Their are only 9 Scouts in the world.
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