We trust them blindly!
How many of us just book an adventure and never really consider the apparent risks involved. We have this assumption that it’s fine we will be with a trained guide or instructor everything will work out. Have you ever stopped to consider what makes this person qualified to be an instructor or a guide.
Think, when you fly in an aeroplane you know that the pilot has put in a huge number of hours training and obtaining there certification to be qualified to pilot the plane. Then to further increase the safety of the aeroplane the pilot has regular medical tests as well has restrictions on how many hours they can fly non-stop. So this already all sounds pretty safe, then you consider all the sensors, gauges and computer systems controlling the aeroplane to ensure the pilot does it correctly. Then just to back themselves up the airlines install black-boxes to be able to analyse any crashes so they can build fail safes for those unforeseen circumstances. All this and there are still a large number of individuals who are very scared of flying and it is still considered as ‘unsafe’ by certain people, and in a way they are right how many plane crashes have you heard about?
So lets get back to the concern at hand. How many of the following activities (if not more) have you done without considering the skill and qualification of the instructor and guide:
- Safari Walks
- Safari Drives
- White River Kayaking
- Bungee Jumping
- Sky Diving
- Rock Climbing and abseiling
- 4×4 driving adventures
- Scuba Diving
- Zip-line Canopy Tours
- Hang gliding
- Cave diving
- … and so on
I am just going to pick on one of these purely because I do not want the blog post to be ten pages long and also because there is one activity that really bothers me. The instructor or guide I would like to raise a concern about is safari guides, I live in South Africa and I love guided safari walks and guided safari drives but are they as safe as all the local and international tourists believe. To start off we need to ask “is it safe?” in short no, there is a definite risk involved being in a game reserve and around wildlife. Just one very recent example of someone being injured badly whilst on safari without a guide is the UK tourist who was attacked by an elephant and had a tusk go through her thigh (read more here). So yes it is unsafe for untrained individuals, but it is also unsafe for trained field guides shown by these two articles.
- Guide attacked by lioness (article) (Please note pictures are graphic)
- One minute the leopard was walking alongside the vehicle, the next minute she was inside, biting a guide’s leg (article)
So we see that various incidents do occur and often it is in the bigger wildlife area’s such as Kruger National Park where the animals are not as accustomed to human interactions but it can happen and it does happen in many smaller game reserves as well. So we climb into a safari vehicle and assume we are safe, or we walk along with a guide with a nice big gun and think we are safe. As we can see though it is not guaranteed. It now suddenly becomes clear as to why you need to sign an indemnity form when you sign up for a safari walk or safari drive. The companies know they cannot guarantee your safety 100% and they cover themselves by requesting you to sign a little piece of paper that no one reads. So basically what does it come down to, what is it that is protecting you, it is the guides skills, knowledge and qualifications. The question is then raised, are the guides trained and what does it mean to become trained as a guide?
From a quick internet search I found the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA). So what is it that the FGASA does:
FGASA aims to promote a culture of professional guiding based on a strong ethical well-informed, safety conscious approach that provides the visitor to Southern Africa with a pleasant and memorable experience. From the FGASA website
FGASA essentially offers a wide variety of training and qualifications for different levels of guiding and preparation for various job descriptions. If you are more interested in FGASA and you would like to get involved please go to their website.
What FGASA is doing is great because it now allows you to ascertain the skill levels and qualifications of your guide on a standardised and public level. It allows you to research and determine if you are actually putting yourself at more risk than necessary. Just because a guide is qualified with FGASA it does not mean you will be 100% safe but at least you know they have done the various training that should equip the guide for most scenarios. The concern then becomes what about those guides that are not qualified with an affiliation such as the FGASA! The second thing to consider is what kind of qualification does FGASA provide? It is good to see such an organisation but what are the alternatives. Are there better organisations, are there worse organisations where they just push guides through for numbers not ability? This is the kind of concern that one would need to inspect and I am sure in future posts we will address this issue.
What can we draw from all this information? Is it crazy to feel the need to research and determine the qualifications of guides and instructors prior to signing up for an activity? There is more than enough evidence when you look around to support the fact that these guided activities are not as safe as the companies would like to present them as. Just a quick Google search brings up a number incidents where tourists and guides have been hurt or killed by animals, and just as quickly you can find stories from around the world where bungee jumps have gone wrong from snapping ropes to broken necks. The same holds water for the other activities above.
I would like to ask anyone who has a story where the guide or instructor turned out to be under trained and under equipped for the scenario to leave a comment explaining the situation, if you have a story where the guide was outstanding and very skilled let us know maybe this is the organisation we should be doing activities with? I would also like to prompt all those places such as game reserves and adventure activity companies to explain to us how we can trust their guides and instructors. More importantly I would like to ask companies offering such activities to start displaying these qualifications, and these standardised regulatory boards that ensure the guides and instructors are qualified. Help us your clients and customers to feel at ease with your instructors and guides!