400 at the door…
This is normally what awaits us the day of the interviews for new guides! Four hundred people with one dream in common, becoming an Asilia East Africa safari guide. Every year we need new guides, every year we try to find new people with enough passion for embarking on the long journey to becoming a real guide. We talk to each one, we check attitude and presentation, English language and team working capacity and then we end up with just 16 individuals.
Sixteen young men and women that do not know much about guiding, they have no previous experience, no certificates or recommendations, just fire, passion and the will to succeed. We travel to the northern Serengeti and we start a month-long training programme at Sayari Camp to give them the base of knowledge necessary to start their career. This is not just a simple training, it is a selection as well, only 10 out of the 16 candidates will get a contract, however, all of them will live an incredible experience.
The Foundation Course is the starting point of everything, in one month they will have to learn about geology and ecology, birds and mammals, botany and astronomy and much, much more. In one month there will be a lot of laughter, a few tears as well as time spent in a classroom and time spent out in the bush. We will spend time telling stories around the fireplace and lots of time spent studying.
Friendships will be forged and a team will be born.
Every day there are many hours spent living the bush, every week there is an exam and every day there are surprises, funny answers, incredible names given to birds, and fantastic sightings that leave all of us speechless. Some of the answers are really creative and you really have to admire them, the best bird identified this year was probably the red necked spoonful, we just could not stop laughing!
We see rhinos and servals and cheetahs and elephants, birds and tortoises and many more things but this was the year of the cubs. One day we got a call from another guide, there is a leopard with two cubs just in the drainage line below camp. We get there and here they are, quite hidden in the ravine, we can see the mother and one cub whilst the other cub is in the open toying with a freshly killed reedbuck calf. After some minutes the mother walks up and approaches the cub. The little furry thing did not even consider to leave his prized reedbuck, he puts up a fight with some funny snarls and pawing his mother to leave him alone.
Another day in the Lamai wedge we saw a lioness from afar, she was carrying something, when we got closer we could see what it was. It was a cub, a small one, carefully held in those powerful jaws. We watched for a few more moments as she slipped into some thick bushes, she came back with another little one in her mouth and walked in front of us, looking a bit worried as two jackal were watching from a distance…
It is an incredible experience watching wildlife with the trainees, some of them have never seen a lion or a leopard or a cheetah before the training and when they do their eyes grow so wide and the joy is so pure. For us as trainers and safari professionals it really makes us think how the fight for conservation would be easier if every child could see what is at stake, if every child had access to these animals and could learn to love them as would naturally happen.
It is tough to choose the one that will stay, both professionally and from a personal point of view but everybody gains something important whether they get a contract or not. Eventually some trainees go home and the last few days are spent with the final ones, the ones that will start a mentored year with Asilia, a year when they will sit by the side of an experienced guide and continue their training and learning to reach the level that at the end of the long season ahead will give them the chance to become fully fledged guides.