Updated: Dec 5, 2018
More Than I Thought: Achieving The SKS Dangerous Game Qualification
Kaizen is a philosophy that focuses on striving to continuously improve – Not only for self, but within our businesses, as an industry and so forth. The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa [FGASA] adopts this philosophy in terms of setting the standards for the nature guiding industry.
At a meeting held in June 2016, at Senalala in the Klaserie, the SKS DG committee proposed new criteria to be met for the achievement of the SKS DG [Specialist Knowledge & Skills: Dangerous Game] qualification [see full description at end]. The original step-up from what was known as the SKS DA to SKS DG had already happened some years prior and that shift had ruffled feathers. The new criteria set by the committee raised the bar to the next level. At that time, I already had my eye on achieving the qualification and felt a little uneasy with how to get to these new goals posts. Many people in the industry said that it was made to be unattainable.
We Achieved It
A couple of days have passed since Nik Vounnou and I completed the final bush phase of our SKS DG assessment. Firstly, a BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Nik – Well done Meneer! I have needed a little time 😊 to make sure that this is not a dream but reality. This morning, after returning from my run it had properly settled.
It has been a long journey – In some ways it has been a process that has been building since I started leading backpacking trails in the mountains in the late 1980’s. What follows is a reflection of the 3-day “Bush Phase” assessment but also the process as a whole.
After an early start, and a quick breakfast in Hoedspruit, Nik, Andre and I drove together to Senalala in the Klaserie region of Greater Kruger National Park. We met the rest of the group, who had traveled from far and wide, at the lodge.
Following an introduction to that which was planned we shouldered our backpacks, decided on who would go first and headed into the bush. We were each given a specific overnight destination and the freedom to then get on with it. One of our prime objectives over the three days was to create an experience centered around Africa’s Big 5.
With a mixture of existing guides, as well as experienced adventurers, we could not have asked for a better group of participants. Industry stalwarts, James Steyn and Juan Pinto, assessed us but also graciously shared their experience and knowledge.
With any good process there are always two things going on; That which is visible and that which is internal.
● On an external level; We loved tracking elephant, lion and buffalo. Almost immediately after leaving the lodge we climbed onto the trail of a herd of buffalo – Although we never caught up to them, we found a different herd later that evening. We spoke about the wilderness trail process, and in the context of that which unfolded we discussed equipment and ideal set-ups. We joked, we shared stories, opinions were offered and advice shared.
● At any given time there were a minimum of three thinking processes going on; That of the participants, that of the assessors and that of the lads been assessed. This was/ is the internal level. Having graduated from my initial tertiary studies in the early 90’s and having since worked through a few assessments, across different spaces, I would have thought that by now I would be well over the still present assessment nerves. As is human, we in our own unique ways went through a broad range of thoughts and feelings; We were nervous, relaxed, uncomfortable, comfortable, learning, frustrated, happy and thankful. We came out having grown as a team and as individuals.
Thoughts On The Process
Yesterday I was asked by a fellow guide what my thoughts are about the qualification, and secondly its attainability.
My response was that if walking safaris was his thing, I cannot recommend the journey enough. Accept though that process requires commitment, focus, discipline, hard work and minimum of a decade plus of exposure facilitated to experience. There is no secret to fast tracking this, nor a silver bullet - And there should not be.
Related to this last point, interestingly three strong thoughts sat with me throughout the three final assessment days:
Years ago I remember thinking that if I ever achieved this I would be some kind of “guru”.
Very contrasting to that thought, I more than ever accept that “the more I know, the more I realize how much there is to know”. I remain in complete admiration of the many people who have experience and knowledge at a level that is realistically going to be hard to attain in my lifetime.
Working towards this qualification resulted in so much more than gaining the knowledge and experience of guiding walking trails at a high level in big game or potentially dangerous game areas. Beyond the obvious curriculum and criteria, the process has been revealing with regards inner-self-work, both in terms of strengths and areas of ongoing development.
We never reach any point of significance in our journeys without the influence, support and help of others. Although we achieve this qualification as an individual, we in truth STAND ON THE SHOULDERS OF MANY GIANTS. My many thank you’s follow further down.
Where To Now?
The same guide I mentioned earlier asked me, so now what?
The achievement of the qualification allows me to serve my clients better, to create better and safer experiences. Equally so it provides a platform to offer a different level of guide mentorship.
It has given me the incredible gift of learning, professional growth and a deeper insight into myself. Without a doubt, life goes on. The attainment of this qualification is no end, but rather the start for the next stage of learning.
Onwards and upwards.
Special Thank You
Specific, to the FGASA journey, I am deeply thankful to [alphabetically]:
● Adriaan Louw, Alan Yeowart, Andreas Liebenberg, Colin Patrick, James Steyn and Juan Pinto for being my mentors in the process. Your kindness in sharing has been HUGELY instrumental and influential - I have wondered how I have been so fortunate to have shared this time with you. Six custodians of the industry, all uniquely different, who have achieved the highest recognition possible.
● Brian Serrao for pulling me into the association [long overdue, late joiner 😊] and then putting me on the straight and narrow. Grant Hine for constantly edging me on.
Equally a MASSIVE THANK YOU must be said to:
● Leanne [my wife] and my family. Your support and understanding is HUGE. Thank you for putting up with my hyper focus and all the time away.
● My bush, wilderness and mountain friends for sharing this journey. Some have been around for a very long time, some have come into my life in more recent times and some are now elsewhere.
● Those who have entrusted me with access on their concessions, properties or reserves. In recent years, in particular Hennie van der Collf, the Liebenberg’s, Paul Smit and Rhulani Mabasa. I am forever grateful.
● The many good people who have shared their time with me, and/ or entrusted me, on walking safaris, backpacking trails and mountaineering escapades.
● The many trackers, game rangers, conservationists, landowners and guides, in the central lowveld and Northern Limpopo Valley for sharing your wisdom and insights with me.
● Indirectly, and without knowing it: Ria Milburn for the trail we walked back in 1995 in what is today Marakele National Park. Clive Walker for your copy of “Signs of the Wild” in 1982.
Working up the guiding qualifications hierarchy, requires classic study [working through a set curriculum including assignments and examination], practical assessment and the logging of hours.
To enter the process SKS DG candidates are required to have:
● Full professional [advanced] trails guide qualification
● Full specialist [level 3] guiding qualification
● Full level 3 tracker certification [combines trailing + track and sign]
● Completion of the associated theory and workbook requirements
● +600 Dangerous game encounters achieved over a minimum of 1200 Hours walking DG trails
● Minimum of 100 mentored hours with at least 5 SKS DG mentors of which 3 must be SKS DG assessors
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