This year, we were honoured to be chosen by FGASA as the hosts for the Safari Guide of the Year (SGOTY) competition.
Watch the video below to meet all of the candidates, and then read NJ MORE Sales Manager, Francois Fourie’s blog on how the event unfolded…
It was with great excitement that the NJ MORE team awaited the arrival of the first judges and contestants to arrive.
Slowly but surely everyone drove up in convoy. We were greeted by nervous but excited smiles as everyone arrived, and we got the formalities out of the way.
Thereafter it was down to business, as the contestants were asked to assemble in the lecture room for the first of 6 main events that would determine our SGOTY 2019 winner.
The Bird Slide and Sound Test was first, and I have to admit that as an avid birder and guide myself there were a few tricky ones thrown into the mix. The concentration on their faces made it evident that this was not your normal FGASA test. After about 2 hours they all appeared from the lecture room with delighted but nervous faces, knowing there were a few mistakes made.
The afternoon was used for some of the contestants to relax and go on a short game drive, while others joined some of our sponsors on a Miss Mara boat cruise, where they were treated to splendour that is Magical Marataba.
At camp we could hear the vehicles making their way back by following the peals of laughter reverberating off the Waterberg Mountains. It was incredible to see the camaraderie between not only the contestants, but also guests, staff and judges.
We knew we were in for a special few days with likeminded people, reaching the ultimate goal set out by judge Mike Karantonis: to give guides a platform to showcase their skills and the guiding profession.
On our first day of game drives and walks, the contestants were ready and rearing to go. While everyone enjoyed an early morning cup of coffee with rusks, the film crew from WildEarth started chatting to the contestants about the day ahead.
We could sense a bit of apprehension from the contestants. They were completely out of their comfort zone, as Marataba offered new challenges. This was what SGOTY is all about: being able to showcase your skills even in the toughest environments.
Riaan Fourie went out on the first walk, while Margaux Le Roux took the game drive. These activities allowed the guides to showcase their knowledge of the bush while interacting with guests – skills gained from years of experience.
The afternoon saw Julius Mkhize take the walk, while Antony Collet headed off on the game drive. All candidates came back with a spring in their step, excited about what they experienced out in the field.
Elephants were seen on drive, giving the guides great interpretation opportunities. Some unique tracks were spotted, that some had never seen before, including the elusive Aardwolf.
As soon as the sun rose over the horizon, we were off on what turned out to be one of the most exciting days of the event.
Antony Collet was leading us on a walk with judges James Steyn and Juan Pinto as back up. Rassie Jacobs was in charge of the game drive, with the self-proclaimed Three Musketeers in the back row as judges – Brian Serrao, Mike Karantonis and Quinton Coetzee.
After about an hour and half of our walk, we came across the tracks of a White Rhino and in the same spot tracks of at least one lion. Antony decided to follow the rhino tracks and leave the lions be…
After a while the decision was made to leave the rhino tracks and to start to make our way back to the vehicle. A mere 10 minutes after we turned, it was like all sounds surrounding us went dead quiet, and Antony’s hand went up to signal us to stop. All we could hear was very low but very clear growl coming from about 30m away.
Antony immediately manoeuvred to get everyone to safety, but within seconds the first male burst out of the bush. Growls intensified, the ground shook and branches broke, but with clear instruction the situation was expertly handled and everyone was moved to safety while Antony made sure the area was secure.
The best thing for me in this scenario was that within split seconds a decision was made, the group was handled, and years of experience and training came together. Brilliant!
Evenings around the campfire are always something to behold, as each night two contestants had the opportunity to tell us their best stories. This is such a crucial part of being a guide. You need to be able to host and entertain your guests. Over the course of 5 days we heard some tall tales, and all the contestants were more than able to keep us all entertained.
This marked the last of the game drives and walks, and roles were reversed for Riaan Fourie and Margaux Le Roux. Again, both did extremely well, as did all the other contestants. As they returned from the bush and dusted themselves off after their activities there was time to relax before the much-anticipated shooting exercises.
With only a 10 minute drive away and the range all set-up, the guides readied their rifles as the pre-brief from the judges started. They would partake in 3 exercises. One being a distance grouping exercise, then a rapid fire exercise at short range simulating an animal advancing on you, and the famous Haley’s Hop.
This exercise was demonstrated by judge James Steyn, and then the contestants stood in line and watched their fellow guides going through the exercises. I must say, it was like being at one of Golf Major championships, with all the contestants being applauded as they left the rifle range. Again the camaraderie shown by everyone involved was just incredible.
Tracks and signs were the order of the day for the guides, and as a guide this is such an important skill to have.
Juan Pinto said it perfectly: “If you can track and if you understand tracks you understand what is out there.”
Here’s more on Tracks & Signs event:
And with that done, all the events came to an end and the guides could finally relax around the fire and enjoy swopping stories about their SGOTY experience.
Anticipation filled the air, and After hours of discussion and tallying of the scores, the judges had finally come to a decision on who will walk away with the coveted title of Safari Guide of the Year 2019. This year no one left empty handed with each Guide winning an award.
The Ambassador Award: Julius Mkhize
Game Drive Award: Margaux Le Roux
Originality & Creativity Award: Rassie Jacobs
Guided Walk: Antony Collet
Birding: Margaux Le Roux
Tracks and Signs: Antony Collet
Story Telling: Riaan Fourie
Advanced Rifle Handling: Margaux Le Roux
The best thing about this year’s Safari Guide of The Year was how close it was and it showed how well rounded all the guides actually were. There was only 1 point separating the top 3 spots, but in the end consistency and high averages prevailed, and Riaan Fourie from Royal Malewane was crowned Safari Guide of The Year 2019. With tears of disbelief in his eyes, he received his very well deserved title of Safari Guide Of the Year 2019.
I can truly say that it was an amazing week with some incredible, like-minded people. It opened our eyes to where this great industry is headed, and we are so proud to be able to part of such a great event. The professionalism of guiding is definitely on the rise.
None of this would have been possible, if it were not Mike Karantonis’ idea to give back to guides who work hard, and are great ambassadors for this industry. We are also so grateful to FGASA, for be the foundation on which we build our guiding
Looking forward Safari Guide of the Year 2020 at NJ MORE!
Words: Francois Fourie