Here's what it's like to be a South African safari guide
Doctor, lawyer, teacher, fireman: there are jobs we grow up hearing about, and then there are jobs that maybe we didn’t even know existed. We’d like to take a minute and focus on the latter. To do so, we’re talking to some amazing women, with incredible careers, who are explaining what their lives are like working in jobs that we honestly didn’t even know were jobs. (Jobs that now we know are real, we totally, totally want.)
Name: Chané Blignaut, it’s a very Afrikaans surname.
Age: I’m turning 24, I’ll be 24 in April.
Hometown: Johannesburg, South Africa.
Job: I’m what we call a “field guide,” and I work at a resort in South Africa called Kapama Karula. There’s a difference between a game ranger and a field guide. A game ranger is a person who is in the bush itself; they do nature conservation, clear the bush, take care of animals. I’m a field guide, meaning that I guide in the field. I take resort guests out into the bush, and show them the “big five” and what the safari experience is all about.
A quick explainer on the “big five”: The “big five” term actually comes from hunters, and they’re classified as the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot. Obviously I’m not hunting, but we still call them the big five. You have three big animals: which are your elephant, your water buffalo, and your rhino. And then you have your two cats; your lion and your leopard.
Favorite animal: I have two: the cheetah and wild dogs. I absolutely love wild dogs.
How I became a field guide: I loved the bush from the start. I grew up on my aunt’s farm and I loved every bit of it. From there I decided that after school I would go to college. I studied for two years and got a diploma in game ranging and lodge management. I got a lot of qualifications: I did a thing called the Field Guide Association of Southern Africa, I did first aid, I did wine training, I did rifle training. I really did a lot to build myself up to where I am right now.
A typical workday looks like: We normally have wake up calls for the guests at 5 o’clock. I live at my work (we work three weeks and then have a week off) so we normally wake up, and then arrive at the main lodge at 5 o’clock, where we call to wake up the guests. At 5:30 we have morning coffee, and then at 6 o’clock, when the guests are ready, we leave for safari. Then we come back and the guests have breakfast. And from there we make sure we have activities — maybe taking guests to interact with elephants, or to our endangered species center. Then I go back to my house and rest for a while. At 4:30 when the guests are ready we leave for another safari.
Going on safari means: Safari is us driving around and looking for animals, I drive. We’re not necessarily concentrating on the big five only, we concentrate on other things as well. The guests are here to experience everything, so whether we see lions or not, or elephants or not, that’s okay because we’ve got a lot of other general game. We’ve got a lot of impala, we’ve got a lot of kudo, we’ve got a lot of giraffes, a lot of different types of animals. Safari is really just going out and having fun.
I couldn’t do my job without: My tracker. I’ve got a tracker named Roy. He’s there to help me and he’s really my left hand. The tracker normally sits in front of the car, and he concentrates on the road and looks for nice fresh animal tracks. If there are fresh tracks I normally drop him off in the bush and he goes and tracks it on foot. He’s got a radio with him so he communicates with me if he does bump into anything. He also helps me at night with the spotlight, making sure it’s not just me spotting the animals but him as well — it’s quite difficult to drive at night concentrating on the road, and the dark, and spotting the animals.
Supplies I never go to work without: I never go out without water. If you get stuck in the bush and your guest starts getting thirsty, you’re going to have to start thinking about water. Second: my first aid kit, I have to make sure my first aid kit is with me at all times. Then, a tow rope — that can actually save you. Definitely a high lift jack, it’s a big jack that you use to pick up the cruisers. Also, definitely a spare wheel, and wheel spinner, and sunscreen. Oh, and my glasses.
The best part of my job is: The best part is meeting guests. I love it. I love meeting different types of people. Also animals! I absolutely love them.
The worst part of my job is: Difficult guests.
Coolest work experience I’ve ever had: We don’t really get a lot of albino animals, but in Kapama we actually have two albino elephants. Albino elephants have white eye lashes and white eyes, everything is white, white tail hair etc. With the white eyes, the sun hurts them a lot. So like humans wear sunglasses, the albino elephants actually walk with their eyes closed. One time we actually had them walk up to the car and actually touch the car with their trunk. I only had that happen once and I just couldn’t get over it. It was probably the coolest experience I’ve ever had.
Scariest work experience I’ve ever had: Elephants are really big animals and I’ve had them charge me many, many times. In the bush you get what’s called a mock charge, which is like a warning charge, as opposed to a full charge. I’ve been mock charged before where either a bull, a male elephant, got irritated; or a female, a cow, had little babies with her and we didn’t realize it. Another scary moment: a leopard charged me. A really, really crazy one. I’ve never actually had that with lions. I love viewing lions.
What I do for fun: I love spending time with my family. When I go to Johannesburg I’m with my family the whole time. I’ve got a little dog, a miniature Doberman and I love taking her to the park. I have a little bird as well, her name is Gina, she’s a ringneck and she’s actually here with me at all times!
What it’s like being a woman in this job: When I was just starting it was very, very difficult. There are not many women doing this job and in my working experience I’ve probably only met 10 female rangers at the most. The guys just think it’s a macho job, too macho for women. They think only guys can change a tire or go into the bush. I’ve had some tough experiences where guys have told me that I don’t belong in this industry, or that I’m too much of a girl. But I’ve proven to everyone that it’s my passion and that I want to be in the bush, I’ve actually worked myself up to Senior Ranger! So yes, when I started off it was very difficult dealing with the guys, but I just proved to them that I can do it. We had a lot of practical assessments and I kind of just blew their minds
My advice for women who want to be field guides: You’re more than welcome to contact me, but my main advice is: just go for it, just go. Follow your heart, that’s what I did. I absolutely went for it. Don’t let anything stand in your way. If you feel you have a passion for the bush, for animals, for people, go for it!