By Tony Reumerman, Trainer and Guide – Asilia Africa
Now that’s how it starts!
Most had not shot a rifle before, let alone touched one. And most, even though they may be highly experienced vehicle guides, had not set foot in the African savannah before. To train a safari guide in the intricacies of being able to conduct a safe walking safari is grey hair producing stuff and everyone in our group of three guide trainers has many of those ugly little things.
The Venue – Ruaha National Park – Southern Tanzania; regarded by many to be one of the wildest places left in Africa.
The Terrain – Sheer rugged Baobab beauty – low slung hills and winding valleys carved out by the epic Ruaha and Mwagusi rivers – home to thick populations of lion and elephant.
The Camp – Kwihala Camp; Asilia’s gem in Ruaha!
The Students – A small group of eleven guides from our Asilia camps in Tanzania and Kenya.
The Trainers – Three highly experienced walking guides (Tony, Pietro & Blessed) & two park rangers (Chris & Erasto) with over 60 yrs of cumulative walking experience in Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The Mission – To train these chaps in a multitude of various disciplines ranging from weapon safety, rapid large caliber shooting, situational awareness, communication, and dangerous animal behaviour.
The Outcome – To qualify as a Walking Safari Guide – respected by many as ‘The Holy Grail’ of safari guide qualifications.
The training program starts off with a one month course of ‘soft skills’ such as understanding guest needs, cultural awareness, and then rapidly moves into the basics of ‘safe rifle handling’, advanced ‘free standing target shooting’ and managing animal encounters on foot.
Shooting challenges that the students face during their initial one month training and assessments are always the same – learning to shoot with a constantly open leading eye, to squeeze the trigger as opposed to pulling it whilst shooting under extreme time pressure, all of this while using a ‘Mammoth’ .458 Winchester Magnum.
On the flip side, the walking challenges mainly revolve around tactful management of the walking group when large potentially dangerous animals are encountered. Situational analysis and rapid well calculated decision making are the key lessons to be learnt – all based on factors like wind direction, animal behviour, anticipated direction of movement and available cover for the walking group.
At the end of this initial one month stage of the program the successful students are allocated to a mentor walking safari guide for a one year period as a ‘backup guide’ to log walking hours/experience and dangerous game encounters. For those who are successful, the one year training program concludes with an advanced session of shooting training and assessments, and a final ‘Lead walking guide’ assessment in the guide’s area of work whether it be The Serengeti, The Mara Conservancies, Tarangire or Ruaha.
The award for this dedication, learning and diligence – The Asilia Walking Guide qualification.
All these many weeks later of intense training, looking back to where our students have come from and now looking at where they are,
‘Our hearts are smiling’
Yet the safari has only just begun!