Game Drive Philosophy

Jul 23 2015

I was fortunate enough to compete in the Safari Guide of the year competition of 2015 (an African Direct initiative). One of the categories was a game drive experience which I was also lucky enough to be category winner of. The judges were looking for a game drive where the guide provided his guests with an interactive experience of interpreting the natural world.
For me the most amazing privilege in life is the opportunity to watch animal behaviour; animal behaviour uninterrupted by human influence in their natural environment. These animals allow us a window into their existence, and by giving animals and nature space and respect we are given the gift of viewing thousands of interactions from the luxury of a game drive vehicle.
A game drive is the primary tool of a guide to showcase our natural heritage to our guests. It allows us to safely view animals in their natural habitat without disturbing their natural behaviour. Animals react very differently to humans on foot and it would be impossible to get up close and personal with some animals without a game drive.
A guide will meet his guests before game drive and very soon after, he should have a clear idea of what his guest’s expectations are. They could have a keen interest in birds or they might want to spend as much time out following a big mammal in its natural habitat. It gives the guide a good idea of what to look for and where to go looking. A guide should then use as much information as he can to deliver an interpretive guided experience. Just a quick example of what I mean. Imagine you go on a game drive with lions as an expectation. You want to see a lion in its natural habitat and learn more about the species. A guide should then use some of the sightings within that drive to link to your expectation. “Tracy, can you see that herd of wildebeest. That could be what this pride of lion might look to hunt later” or “Tracy can you see that beautiful big shady tree? Don’t you think this pride of lion that we are looking for would love using that tree for shade?” As a guide you want your guests to feel enriched with experiences regardless of whether you found that elusive leopard or that endemic bird. You want expectations to change and new interests to spark during the ebb and flow of a guided game drive.
Most guides start their careers because of a passion for nature. The opportunity to live and work in the bush is what draws people to become safari guides. The challenge though is to convey that passion to your guests. Guides should not only strive to be the best naturalists but more importantly to become the best teachers. To not only read animal behaviour but read their guests. Good communication is probably the most important skill for a guide to have. Good knowledge is worthless unless it is shared effectively with guests. Imagine being in the back row of a game drive vehicle and not being able to hear your guide? Or sitting in the front and not being able to understand him? An enthusiastic, passionate person that faces his guests when speaking brings the message across far better than a very knowledgeable guide mumbling away to himself.
A game drive vehicle is an amazing tool. It allows us to get up close and view animals without disturbing their behaviour. Most game drive vehicles have no sides and some not even a roof. It allows us incredible views and photographic opportunities of some of nature’s most impressive and sometimes dangerous animals. Safety should always be considered during a game drive. A game drive must be done with the deepest sense of respect for the animals we share that space with.
We can only view these animals because they have become habituated with game drive vehicles. When we leave the lodge or camp on drive the goal should be to view animals in their natural habitat without disturbing them. Uninterrupted natural behavior. What an amazing privilege to watch a herd of elephants running down to water during a dry winter. Or watching a mother cheetah nurse her five cubs, oblivious to our presence. What could be more thrilling than watching a pride of lions on the hunt just using instinct and experience to organize themselves?  Uninterrupted. Without us changing their path or strategy. We should be only spectators in the game of life and death out in the African bush. These animals have learnt to trust these game drive vehicles around them. It would be a great shame to betray that trust.
Most game drives take place during the cooler parts of the day when animals tend to be more active. On your afternoon game drive you might still find some animals going to find water to drink. Later on, as it cools down you might find a predator preparing for the hunt. As dusk approaches you could find shy nocturnal animals foraging for food. You might have the privilege sitting in complete darkness, listening in awe as a male lion proclaims his territory.
Dawn signals the start of a new day. New challenges and expectations on a game drive. Most animals would have moved by the time you have dragged yourself out of bed and had your morning cuppa. A blank page where an amazing game drive story could be written.
I think what I am trying to say is this, 'You never know what you might see. You could go out and see a few antelope and a few bird species. You could also go on game drive and see something that no other person has ever seen before.' The uncertainty of a game drive is what makes it so exciting. Whether you go out on a game drive or drive yourself out of camp as the gate opens. The promise of having a life changing experience is what draws us to go and explore on a game drive.

Photo by Dave and Niaomi Estment from Outdoor Video and Photographic


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Ian Lombard started his guiding career after realizing that reading books about history and the natural world, rather than financial publications, was not conducive to becoming a very good investment banker. He subsequently joined andBeyond as a guide a month after graduating in 2010. After working stints in Madikwe and Kwandwe reserves he now finds himself as an assistant head ranger at Phinda Private Game Reserve in Maputaland in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. The differences between the Kalahari bushveld, Karoo scrubland and immense diversity of Zululand have sparked a wide range of interests from nesting turtles to endemic birds.

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