My first day taking a game drive

12th September 2013   •  By James Bailey

Guiding from the Landy

Wednesday 11th September 2013

During the pro-field guide course with EcoTraining they try and simulate what it would be like working in a lodge. This means long hours and seven days work for five weeks in a row (although we’re doing nine weeks). We are paired up as a duty team and that involves a lot of work for the full twenty four hours and from now on it includes actually taking the game drives.

I was up at 0415 and the first job was to set up the coffee station before waking the the guests (fellow students) at 0500. Once it was light I checked the essentials on the Landy – break fluid, oil, tyres etc.

Taking the actual game drive was really tough, there was so much to think about and remember – using the radio correctly, not hitting the guests with low hanging branches, not driving over dung, knowing what branches you could and couldn’t drive over, looking for tracks, scanning for birds and mammals, id’ing trees, negotiating the terrain, driving round fallen trees and listening out for alarm calls.

All of that was before you even stopped, then it was about making sure you stopped in the right place – in the sun first thing or in the shade when it got hot. Actually stopping was hard enough and doing it quietly was even harder but by the end of the drive I was beginning to freewheel into sightings.

The impala took a longtime to come, the first sighting was poor and I couldn’t say much about them as there was no context, but the second herd was much better and I grew in confidence as people asked me questions.

I’d prepared about five mammals, five birds and five trees, of which I was able to use impala, warthog, guinea fowl, elephant (the dung) and lots of trees.

The rest of the group gave me some really good feedback at the coffee stop and that made me relax. I made a bad call on trying to find leopard from an alarm call that Margaux had heard rather than following the lions tracks which she had spotted – I had missed both.

The whole experience was amazing, it was tough, really tough and I’ve now got an even greater respect for every safari guide that I’ve ever been on safari with.

I was so pleased with how things have been sinking in, really surprised actually. There’s a very long way to go, I’ve been in camp for exactly seven days now and I need to carry on working super hard.

I got a few animal tracks in the dust trap I set last night. But we were all very confused trying to work out a couple of really obscure ones. It turned out that JP and the other group had sabotaged it with some fake prints.

Only four hours in the bush today, but during that we had a great outdoor lesson. We were sat at a watering hole with a white board learning about leaf structure, if only outdoor lessons at school had been like this.

Two lectures in the afternoon, one on preparing a guided experience and the other on reptiles, then it was time for self study broken up with a game of ultimate frisbee followed by some running.

Final activity of the day before more study was rifle drills with JP. The rifle was so heavy and we’ve all been advised to do press ups and lift rocks ahead of our ‘trails’ section of the course.

I’m still on duty and Cliff and I need to introduce dinner and make sure that it runs smoothly. It’s a braai tonight and I’m now off for a couple of beers to toast my first day taking a game drive.