The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) and Safari Guide of the Year are thrilled to announce than another whirlwind competition has ended. Our Host Sponsor for the event, Mhondoro Safari Lodge and Villa pulled out every stop and absolutely blew us away with their professionalism and hosting excellence. We could not be more grateful for the herculean effort put in by their guides, staff and operations teams.

Mhondoro Safari Lodge and Villa Operations and Guiding Team – Image credit: Armadillo Media

Six days consisting of intense assessments across eight categories truly tested the skill and knowledge of out finalists and invitational candidate. We would like to thank and congratulate each one of you for having the courage to put your hand up and accept the challenge of competing in Safari Guide of the Year 2024. The purpose of this event is to celebrate guides like you who have shown career commitment and dedication. The ambition and relentless motivation it requires to achieve what you have in your careers is a beacon of inspiration to all safari guides.

The Five Finalists (left to right): Themba Mabunda, Tracey Bruton, H.J. Esterhuizen, Phillip Wessels, Ashley Meintjes – Image credit: Armadillo Media

We are excited to announce the H.J. Esterhuizen from Royal Malewane in the Greater Kruger took home the title of Safari Guide of the Year! Huge congratulations to you H.J., you certainly deserve this monumental accolade.

H.J. also took the number one spots for the Guided Bushwalk Experience, Advanced Rifle Handling, Track & Sign and Storytelling categories as well as runner-up in the Guided Photographic Experience and the Hospitality & Professionalism categories.

H.J. Esterhuizen – Safari Guide of the Year 2024 Winner accepts his trophy from Howard Rogerson, Managing Director of Ruggedwear – Image Credit: Armadillo Media

Ashley Meintjes of Lalibela Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape came runner-up overall for this year’s competition. Massive congratulations to you Ashley! It was a very tight competition, you excelled in your guiding and professionalism. We hope that this will only encourage you further and that your achievements during the past week have inspired your colleagues and guiding fellows in the Eastern Cape.

Ashley won the Guided Photographic Experience and the Hospitality & Professionalism categories and came runner-up in the Guided Bushwalk Experience, Advanced Rifle Handling and Storytelling categories.

Ashley Meintjes – Safari Guide of the Year Runner-up, standing with Candice Pretorius and Jody Cole of WISE – Image Credit: Armadillo Media

Tracey Bruton from Thornybush Game Lodge in the Greater Kruger performed to the highest standards of guiding excellence and truly demonstrated the meaning of the word ‘courage’ for putting her hand up to compete against the best the industry has to offer. Tracey is certainly of this calibre and took home the runner-up spot for the Bird Slide & Sound assessment. Congratulations to you Tracey for all the hard work and effort. We are encouraged and excited to see your continued growth and self-development along the path of your guiding career journey.

Tracey Bruton – Safari Guide of the Year Finalist accepts the runner-up prize for Bird Slide & Sound from Mike Karantonis – Image Credit: Armadillo Media

Phillip Wessels from Cheetah Ridge Lodge in Nambiti Private Game Reserve brought a gentle and philosophical approach to his guiding, that deepened our appreciation, passion and love of nature every day of the competition. Phillip’s incredible knowledge, experience and passion truly shone in the Guided Game Drive Experience and the Bird Slide & Sound categories as he bagged a win for each. He also came runner up for the Advanced Rifle Handling assessment.

Phillip Wessels – Safari Guide of the Year Finalist accepts the winning prize for the Bird Slide & Sound Category from Mike Karantonis – Image Credit: Armadillo Media

Last but certainly not least we have Themba Mabunda from the MORE Family Collection’s Lion Sands Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand. Themba’s cool, calm and collected approach set all his guests at ease and comfort during the week of the competition. Always excited and smiling Themba was one of the first to greet everyone for their morning coffee in the lodge. Themba’s guiding is truly magnificent, and we couldn’t be prouder of his performance during the competition. He took home the runner-up spots for the Guided Game Drive Experience and Track & Sign categories.

Themba Mabunda – Safari Guide of the Year Finalist accepts his Runner-up Prize for the Track & Sign Category from Juan Pinto – Image Credit: Armadillo Media

Lewyn Maefala was our Invitational Candidate for this year’s event, a promising young woman who’s heart shines through her sparkling personality. Safari Guide of the Year invited Lewyn seeing her as a guide with a great deal of promise. Lewyn’s work with Transfrontier Africa’s Bush Babies Environmental Education Project ensures that young people and children are well educated and exposed to the critical value and wonders of nature ensuring a sustainable future where the environment is protected by the next generation. The competition has inspired Lewyn to continue to develop and grow in her guiding career. Thank you, Lewyn, for accepting the often-intimidating offer of joining Safari Guide of the Year. We can’t wait to see where your guiding career journey takes you!

Lewyn Maefala – Safari Guide of the Year Invitational Candidate – Image Credit: Armadillo Media

As cliché as it sounds, as many times as this has been said before, each and every one of you are winners. The purpose of Safari Guide if the Year is to give back to the guides who have worked so diligently and determinedly in their careers to not only develop their knowledge and skill but also to develop themselves and their deep love of nature. To be nominated for this event is a massive achievement alone, to be selected is another, but to have the confidence and tenacity it takes to accept the selection, knowing that you will be competing against the best, is a demonstration of strength and character like no other. By virtue of this, and in the eyes and hearts of all the esteemed Judges, Sponsors, Special Guests, Staff and Organisers, you all won the day you said “Yes! I will compete in Safari Guide of the Year.” Congratulations to you all! WE SEE YOU!

Safari Guide of the Year Finalists and Invitational Candidate on Awards Night – Image Credit: Armadillo Media