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  • Writer's pictureJulian Brookstein

Becoming a Zimbabwean Professional Guide

Updated: Sep 23, 2019

In this post, I go into detail on the extensive training every Zimbabwean Professional Guide has to undergo before passing qualifying. This is what makes us the best and most sought after guides in Africa, offering you an incomparable safari experience.

FIRST STAGE - Passing the written exam for a learner hunter's/guide's license.

The same exams are written by both those who want to be hunters and guides. These exams are written twice a year in February and September. The topics covered and exams written are -

  1. Habits & Habitat

  2. Firearms

  3. The law pertaining to the Zimbabwean hunting/guiding industry

  4. General

The papers are each two hours long and you have to pass all of them to be issued your learner’s license. If you do not pass all of them, but pass three or more you may keep those results passed and at the next sitting rewrite the ones you have failed. If you do not pass three or more, then you must re-write them all. You also need to have passed your basic first aid course before you are allowed to start guiding.

SECOND STAGE - Learner guide training

With your basic first aid and learner's license you are now allowed to guide,. but only in a vehicle. You will now join a company and have to start an apprenticeship under a fully qualified Professional Guide. Generally the apprenticeship should take between three and four years. However some people have been known to take up to ten years to get their full license.

 During your apprenticeship you will be expected to do anything and everything that comes up in the industry. This ranges from fixing tyre punctures to gaining knowledge of the fauna and flora of the country and surrounding countries, hosting guests in an entertaining and knowledgeable way and everything in between that life in the bush can throw at you. The slang term in the Zim industry is you are now a 'gopher'…because you can be sent to go for this…. and go for that…. At any time of day or night! These years can and should, in my opinion, be very tough at times but enjoyable for the apprentice, as it is this that will make he/she a guide to the standard that Zimbabwe is famous for. During these years you will have to personally hunt/skin/butcher at LEAST four dangerous game animals (Elephant and Buffalo) to be considered for the next level. It is in your interest to shoot the Elephant in particular with frontal brain shots, as this is the only shot you will ever take as a guide. If you have not taken the animal’s frontal brain there is a good chance that you will be told that you need to gain more experience whilst in the interview stage which you will read about later.

 You have to keep a record of everything mentioned above in a log book. It is in your interest to log every activity you do from the maintenance work in camp, on vehicles and in the concession, drives undertaken, walks that you have accompanied fully licensed guides on, approaches to animals done and of course all of your hunts - of which you will need to have photos of you with the animals shot, you skinning and butchering etc. On everything that you log, you will need to have your mentor guide sign and comment on your abilities during the activity undertaken. Basically, if the activity is relevant in the industry and to you becoming a Pro Guide, then log it. Wherever possible, if Zimbabwean National Parks team members were involved, you should get them to stamp your log book. This is especially important for your hunts.

THIRD STAGE - Advanced First Aid Course and Shooting Exam

If you have at least four dangerous game animals in your log book and you and your mentor think that you are ready for the next stage, then you must now do your advanced first aid course. This is a week long course with an exam at the end. You must pass this exam to get your certificate.

Then you will have to register for the shooting exam which happens twice a year in February and September at a shooting range. The minimum caliber allowed in Zimbabwe to guide is .375. Saying this, it must be noted that you will be marked down if you do not hit the bulls eye with a .375 as appose to using a .458 or bigger. This condition is due to relative velocities and bullet weight etc and the ability for a bigger caliber to perform better if the shot is not 100% accurate. This exam entails various exercises that are aimed to mimic an animal charging in and away, chasing up a wounded elephant etc. All of these shoots are timed and you are scored on accuracy. After you have done all the shoots, your scores will be added up. You have to achieve a certain grade to get your shooting certificate, by shooting both accurately and fast to pass this exam.

To recap, if you have passed your shooting exam, you will now have -

  1. Learner guides license

  2. Advanced first aid certificate

  3. Shooting certificate

  4. At least four dangerous game that you have personally shot

  5. A log book with a all your previous years noted

FOURTH STAGE - Interview to be allowed to test for final proficiency

You need your mentor to write you a letter of recommendation stating that he/she feels that you are ready to be interviewed for final proficiency. You take this letter to Zimbabwean National Parks, showing them all of the above and you register for the interviews, which happen twice a year in February and September.

The interview is a tough process - you will be standing in front of 8-10 qualified hunters/guides with at least ten years experience each with a full license. As a guide, you will be expected to identify a range of mammal skulls ranging from dwarf mongoose up to lion and anything in between. You will need to tell the examiners what and why each skull is, going into dentition, eye placement, skull morphology etc. After doing this you will be shown a big range of skins and asked to indentify these, again explaining your answers in detail. After you have been through these tests, you will have questions fired at you by all the interviewers on anything and everything that the industry entails, for anywhere up to an hour or more in some cases. You will then be asked to leave the interview room while the examiners deliberate. Finally, you will be called back in and told if you have passed or failed. If you fail, you will not be told why and you will have to register for the interview again in a few months time. The words you want to hear are “We would like to invite you to proficiency”.

FIFTH STAGE - Final proficiency test

Proficiency happens once a year in the first week of October. What will normally happen is that you will team up with another apprentice or two and you will be expected to set up a full fly camp in an area which you will be informed of about a month or two prior to the exam. You may only go and set up two days before the exam officially starts. You will have to set up a fully functional fly camp with space for at least two guests (who will be examiners). Your camp must cover everything from ablutions to dining area, just a normal guest mobile camp. Your camp will be expected to run for a week, so you must have all food, drink etc on site for the week long exam. You may take in some camp hands to assist in the running of your camp e.g. a cook and a waiter.

On the day the exam officially starts, the examiners will come in to inspect your camp and you will have to show them around. Normally the apprentices are then divided into groups of about 5-6. This will be your group for the whole exam process. For the next week, you will be out in the bush with your group and examiners everyday, all day with them. They will be testing you on whatever they wish during this time. You will be doing approaches, being asked any question they can come up with, covering all fauna and flora, tracks, birds etc. Each group will normally be allocated an elephant, buffalo and some plains game for shooting.

To digress slightly here, all apprentice hunters and guides have to go through all the above stages. Hunters obviously follow their chosen profession more and concentrate more on the hunting side of things. They have to have at least five dangerous game animals in their log book and they must have experience with cats also. You will all be together on the final proficiency.

Normally the guides on the proficiency will be asked to shoot, as the hunters by now will have had a lot of experience in the hunting of dangerous game. The examiner will decide who shoots by looking at your logbook and talking to you all. It is standard practice for an apprentice hunter to be teamed with an apprentice guide.The apprentice hunter will have to get the apprentice guide into position for a frontal brain shot if it is a elephant, with technique varying if the animal being hunted is a buffalo. The apprentice guide then has to take the shot with the hunter backing him up with the examiners watching. If it is a frontal brain shot on an elephant, you have to drop the elephant with one shot or everything you have trained for, studied for and done up to now is of no use and you will fail immediately and have to come back the next year to proficiency if invited.

However if you have done well in everything leading up to the shooting of the elephant in the examiners eyes and you drop the elephant with a good frontal brain shot, you will then be expected to skin and butcher the elephant with your group to a set standard. With only six of you, this is no easy feat. Throughout all of this, you will continue to be examined. The skinning etc is very important but definitely your frontal brain shot is the most important part of the exam. If you do all of this and the examiners are satisfied and pass you, you are now licensed to walk guests and are a...

Zimbabwean Professional Guide.

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