Life of an African Safari Guide

posted 20th December 2018 by Aymar Heyns in Our Stories

Life of an African Safari Guide

A topic that has been discussed numerous times and one which does not lack record of literature – a day in the life of an African safari guide. Fireside stories seem to improve as they concentrate through the broken telephone accompanied by cold beers and eternal starry skies.

Having worked on several reserves around South Africa it became clear to me that there is no simple rendition of a mere “Day in the life of a Guide”. I do not recall ever having two identical days and each safari was truly unique. I will elaborate on some of my extraordinary wildlife sightings later, for now, I leave you with this.

One of the biggest discoveries I made, as a guide, was the realisation that my days were different not because of the wildlife interactions I saw but because of the people I was privileged to share it with. I was offered the opportunity to travel, virtually, and embrace the cultures through the guests I was fortunate enough to host. By providing them insight into my world, in Africa, I was given a glimpse into theirs. I formed lifelong friendships, found new understanding of how the world sees Africa and in turn formed my own perception of the world.

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African Safari Guide: My thoughts

I became completely addicted to the lifestyle, waking up early, breathing in the fresh morning air and squinting as the sun breaks through the horizon over the rim of my steaming coffee mug

It’s a thrill not knowing what the new day had to offer. I was excited to read the fresh signs of the bush and to guide my exceedingly enthusiastic guests through the interpretation of a comical, dramatic and awe-inspiring African Safari.

One of the most exciting aspects about pursuing a career in guiding is that one will never reach a point where you know “absolutely everything”. Everyday simply adds colour to an eternal canvas of one’s time in the bush.

African Safari Guide: Powerful Moments

The most powerful moments I had on safari were not dictated by what we saw but by how we interpreted it. It really is a ‘give and take” experience and positive energy is the determining factor between a good safari and an extraordinary, mind boggling experience. I found that on the days I had guests who were not concerned by finding a specific animal, and encompassed by the whole experience of the bigger picture, we managed to track more.

The more we opened ourselves to anything the luckier we got and, on the odd occasion that the bush was “quiet” intrigue came from appreciating the smaller creatures. Seasoned safari goers will tell you that it is tenfold more exciting to watch a group of Dung Beetles fighting over a ball of poo than it is to watch the ears of a sleeping lion twitch in the midday heat. Don’t get me wrong, lions are phenomenal and my favourite animal to watch “interact” with potential prey. I would often stay out later or get out earlier to find lions when they are most likely to put on a “show”.  Active lions are entertaining to observe, whether it be incompetent young males ruining hunts or the chorus of a pride roaring their lungs out.

As an African safari guide, I have had many sightings that I will remember for a lifetime. This example gave me real life insight into the “circle of life”, I was grateful for it  and so were my guests.

African Safari Guide: Wildlife Journal

I was the African safari guide at Mala Mala hosting a friendly family from the United States of America. They were buzzing at the idea of being on safari and embraced each moment throughout.  Our morning game drive had begun and we found and followed a mother leopard as she moved through the reeds on the banks of the Sand River.  We noticed her respond to a new scent that wafted in with the wind and immediately she began to stalk. For an hour we watched this apex predator as she stalked a young Nyala, barely moving and simply waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.

My guests were excited and unsure of what was to come. The anticipation and adrenalin was building for us and in a split second she suddenly raced in and snatched the young antelope by the throat as its’ own mother attempted to rescue her, in vain. The noise was ear piercing, a wailing sound as the young Nyala took its last breath. A different wailing sound came from one of my guests who was overwhelmed by what had transpired.  I did my best to calm her and  explained that the story will further unfold  should we continue to follow. They agreed to follow and watch as the puzzle pieces came together to complete the bigger picture.

The leopard mother dragged her kill a full 600 metres along the sand bank and down across the potentially crocodile infested waters. This behaviour was not something I had observed before and her determination was incredible.

As she approached the opposite bank of the Sand River she became calm and  gentle as she let out a faint “yelp”. Seconds later, we heard a response to her call and a mere few metres away came two four month old leopard cubs. They rushed down to their mother bounding with excitement at what mom had scored for “breakfast”

African Safari Guide: Learning Perspective

Our drive back to camp for our own breakfast was quiet. Neither the guests or I chose to talk. We simply reflected on what had happened this morning.  This sighting was an enormous privilege for me to see – I felt a part of the moment and blessed to share it with my guests.

Over breakfast we discussed the extraordinary sequence of events and my guests understood that for one animal to survive, another has to perish. It is the circle of life and allows a balance in the natural world.

The less we attach human emotion to wild animals the clearer our minds are to simply observe them, in their raw, untouched and intended beauty.

African Safari Guide: Final note

My addiction of the African Bush and desire to read the story it tells has not been contained. Africa has left a fire in me that will not ever be doused. I look forward to spending another “Day in the Life as a Guide” and to once more share it with those keen to travel with me.

We are currently looking into the feasibility of a Signature Safari for November 2019 that I would host. In discussions at this stage, we have my old stomping grounds, Mala Mala and Mashatu in our sights. Wildlife galore, great photographic hides and plenty of diversity in the experience.  If you are interested in joining me should the trip get up and running, please do ping me an email and I will put you on the list to send the invitation to once the safari is finalised.

Aymar Heyns