Achieving the Special Knowledge and Skill Dangerous Game (SKS DG) Qualification was important for me as a walking guide because it shows a skill level and dedication to your craft that is unparalleled. It means you have entered a space within yourself of calm, confidence and understanding. Walking is the truest form of guiding. You are a participant when walking in the veldt, rather than being the observer when leading vehicle-based safaris. It is a coming home to our natural state as humans, as mammals, and as organisms within our ecosystems. It is, to be succinct, the bare essence of guiding.
The number of hours and resources poured into yourself throughout the many, many years it takes to accomplish this level of guiding is something hard to comprehend from those who have not travelled the path. As a guide you sacrifice leave-cycles and numerous paychecks and gratuities to go shooting and honing your rifle skills, to attend tracking assessments, to visit new areas, for walking kit and vellies. For lodge-based guides who are walking guides, the jobs you choose are based around whether you will be on concessions and reserves that are good for walking, (free-roaming wildlife and all the DG categories), and with companies that attract walking clientele. You need to grow as a guide and where you work and whom you work with is the best way to do this. Lodge-based guides will need at least ten years to get the number of hours and encounters needed to start the SKS DG final leg.
As a female guide, longevity in the industry means sacrificing personal aspects of your life, including either not having children or prolonging when you do have them. It sometimes means taking years off, and away from, your career to raise kids and have a family. Most lodges do not allow you to have children on-sight. All but one of my contracts with the lodges over the years stated I will not have children while being a guide for those companies. You also must consider that your guests come all this way to be with a proficient and competent guide. It is exceedingly difficult to assert those aspects of yourself if you are visibly pregnant.
Sacrificing time away from relationships, families, friendships, to pour all your heart and soul into your career and craft, making your skill-level the best it can be so you can give the best of yourself to your clients, is how you get to the SKS DG level, as a guide (male or female.) Fifteen to twenty years of putting yourself first and making sure you are growing and learning constantly is not an easy road. This is why you see fewer women at this level. Not because they did not want it or are not capable, but because the sacrifices are not always worth the end goal. For me it was worth it. And I believe my co-assessed would say the same. She walked a different path to mine to reach this goal, but the sacrifices were just as hard. One of the best experiences of my life was being able to do the SKS DG bush-phase trail alongside Julie. She is the top female walking guide in sub-Saharan Africa, a wealth of bush craft skill and the most generous human being. Our Assessment Trail was relaxed, fun and filled with the joy and wonder of being lucky enough to tread the same pathways alongside lions and elephants in vast wilderness areas, that our ancestors travelled. I had given birth six months and one day before we did our Assessment Trail. My body was not where it used to be. I would not have been able to centre myself without having Julie beside me who is also a mother, a ferocious Trails Guide and lover of wilderness.
I was lucky to be surrounded by mentors, trackers and senior walking guides who really believed in me, and all these men were themselves, SKS DG guides and/or high-level Trackers. They allowed for aspirations and the reaching of goals. The lessons taught by them, some soft and some very sharp, allowed me to mold myself into who I really wanted to be as a guide. Sitting at the table with these men as a past mentee, and moving into the realm of an equal, is awe-inspiring and hard to wrap my head around. In the early days of guiding, you were proficient at both walking and vehicle based, with a few guides specializing in walking safaris and Trails. The SKS DG Qualification shows that there are still a few of us who hold the true essence of being in the bush close to our hearts.
Tracking is an integral part of becoming an SKS DG guide. Your skill level is such that you can be dropped anywhere in the wilderness and survive, navigate, find water, build shelter, make fire, and deal with wildlife, doing so with minimal impact on your environment. Tracking allows for situational awareness building and true understanding of wildlife behaviour and movements. My journey to become a CyberTracker Senior Tracker has led me hand-in-hand to becoming an SKS DG guide. My love of walking would be incomplete without my love and dedication to tracking. Holding the Track and Sign Specialist Qualification was a huge milestone. The Specialist Trailing Qualification is what I am busy with now, my Mentors telling me I am ‘amper daar’ (meaning ‘almost there’ in Afrikaans) and just as important a goal and skill-level as that of SKS DG.
And now, after completing the SKS DG Qualification, the real fun and work begins. This is a new starting off point. A new platform to grow and gain knowledge. This qualification allows you to pass on your years of skill-building to the next generation from a mindset of knowing the hard slog, loving the journey, and realising you are still a babe-in-the-woods and have so much more to learn and accomplish. The relationships with your mentors morph and grow into something new and better. The knowledge keeps being handed down, walking guide generation to walking guide generation, expanding, and flowing into new pathways and new skills along the way.