Safari Guide of the Year Awards 2015

Jun 29 2015

The Safari Guide of the Year Awards (an Africa Direct initiative) is what Nadav Ossendryver describes as, Africa’s reply to the ‘Oscars’! Nadav, CEO of Latest Sightings & presenter of the 2015 Awards says, “The testing throughout this competition is extensive, and the knowledge that these guides need to retain to be eligible for a nomination is far-reaching. In the end there is much more to winning this prestigious award than just the number of sightings spotted!”

Mike Karantonis, CEO of Africa Direct agrees and says, “The Safari Guide of the Year Awards was conceived with the intention of creating awareness around the true role of professional field guides. In addition to this we wanted to eliminate the stereotypical perception of what field guides do, thereby increasing the longevity of these guides within the industry.”

In order to be nominated an invitation to compete in the event is sent to all the lodges affiliated with the FGASA (Field Guides Association of South Africa) accredited guides. The guide must however  have 5 years or more of working bush experience, a full trails guide qualification and a minimum of a level 2 field guiding qualification. If the candidate meets the criteria, the manager and head ranger may forward their nomination to Africa Direct. Thereafter all applications are screened, and a shortlist of 20 candidates is selected. The 20 are notified and have to attend an interview in Johannesburg. From the interviews, 6 finalists are chosen to attend the 5 day practical in the Kruger National Park.

Mike says, “This year’s ceremony had an exciting atmosphere looming in the air and Ian Lombard who took the title was a deserving winner. He will make a great ambassador to both the industry and the competition”. Ian Lombard, started his guiding career with andBeyond in 2010, and is currently assistant head ranger at their Phinda Private Game Reserve, Mountain Lodge.

In 2010 Ian was fortunate enough to be chosen as a trainee guide and sent to Madikwe Game Reserve. After a year of guiding he moved to the beautiful Eastern Cape where he guided at Kwandwe Private Game Reserve. Another year passed and he had the opportunity to move to Phinda Private Game Reserve in Maputaland in KZN. He says, “I feel that the diversity that this area offers truly humbles one as a guide, and I have fallen in love with this amazing part of our country. The three reserves that I have been permanently based at could not be more different in terms of their natural beauty, but this has enabled me to pursue varying interests.” 

Ian does not shy away from saying, “It was an overwhelming experience for me. The competition and the 5 ambassadors that I was lucky enough to spend time with made me realize that every guide has such an important responsibility - to give our guests an incredible experience that they may take back home to their friends and family.”

The Awards was staged at Nkambeni Safari Camp from the 12th to the 17th of June. Over this time guides were tested in 7 different categories. The categories included: photography, game drives, walking, birding, shooting, tracking and storytelling. These are all skills that professional guides benefit from to give their guests an exceptional interpretive experience. Ultimately this competition gives guides that necessary platform to showcase these required skills.

Intrigued by the storytelling and hearing from several different sources regarding the depth of Ian’s story telling skills I have to ask him, what was your story about? He answers, “I told a few stories but my favourite is about how much I love baboons and why. I find them so entertaining to watch and I retold a story of baboons’ fear of snakes. I could retell it, but without the camp fire and the beautiful stars overhead to add to the ambience, I fear it would just not be the same.” (Perhaps we can twist Ian’s arm into narrating his story on video for us, set of course in the right ambience).

Nadav can personally not pin point just one highlight to such an incredible week of his life. He says, “I had such varying and different highlights, and all exciting in their own way.” But, a few that stand out, he says, “Was hearing a leopard call in the early hours of the morning and then actually tracking it down. Plus sitting around the camp fire each night listening to incredible stories being narrated (When I think back on it, it gives me goose bumps). Spending time with these legends in their field and watching them find tracks amidst hidden places. But most importantly for me was learning a wealth of information from their discussions about wildlife. Although we have one that remains unanswered - why does a buffalo have a small white spot near its eye?”

Ian does emphasize that at no point did the event feel like a competition to him, and that lasting friendships were formed. “I learnt more during and in preparation for this event than ever before,” says Ian.

Ian’s message to other safari guides is, “No-one could ever possibly know the answer to every question that nature poses. We work in a diverse industry where there is something new to learn each and every day. It is vital to make the most of these learning opportunities which Mother Nature throws our way. This I believe will keep you eternally entertained and forever curious.”  

From this recapture I think it is certain that Africa Direct has achieved a way to create a viable and secure benchmark for aspiring guides to work towards. And of course a way to thank and honour our safari guides for their selfless dedication towards tourism and wildlife.




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