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Hi, my name's David Amyot, and I'm your Guide

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David Amyot

I was born at the end of the Bush war in what was then Rhodesia, which soon would be re-named Zimbabwe; born into a family who spent much of their time in the outdoors. When my father, a keen botanist, was not on our family ranch inspecting his cattle, he would be walking and observing with his  well-used copy of Coates Palgrave’s ‘’Trees of Southern Africa’’  in its bag made from old curtaining my mother had hand sewn for him. It would be draped over his shoulder during most outings, and It was from his passion that I inherited  a  love for the African Bush and its wildlife. 

 

As I grew older I  would spend my entire school holidays on our family cattle ranch, living the dream. I would use an old series 3 land-rover to check on cattle in their different paddocks or oversee dipping along with the various chores I had been given, and spend many hours simply walking through what I considered to be God's country. At the end of school holidays Mom would phone the ranch to give a stern reminder that I would be starting school the following day and that I should be back in our home town of Bulawayo.   Reluctantly I would comply. And so, after a few years, I did the inevitable and joined the safari industry as a learner hunter / guide,  eventually working my way up to becoming a professional safari guide. ​

In the early 1980s after 12 years of civil war,  the safari industry was in its infancy and most of the guides at the time were former national parks rangers, who had spent long and rewarding careers with the department . Most of them had had vast experience from regular duties at the time such as elephant culls, capture programs and general experience stemming from years of anti poaching patrols. This was the model who would set a strong precedent for future generations of hunters and guides to maintain the high  standard that is today maintained in Zimbabwe. ​

 

By the late 90's I knew, with a profound certainty, that my future lay in the bush as a hunter/guide. 


I applied for work with two companies, the one a hunting company and the other  a photographic company. The first call came from the hunting company; they liked me and offered me a job.  Two weeks later a call came from the photographic company and Mom had to make an apology on my behalf as I had already found work.

 

The die had been cast and my course was set as a learner hunter, and in time I and those with me would learn a set of skills, to read and follow tracks which later would help to  find big game.

 

​At the very beginning of a hunters and guides career he or she is required to write the learner professional hunters & guides licence, an  examination which consists of four subjects: the Habits & Habitats paper( A paper covering all aspects of flora and fauna), a Firearms paper (covering all aspects of firearms), the General Paper (asking questions about Zimbabwe and world events) and, most importantly, the Law paper (covering all the acts of law which govern the industry on the whole and which establish clear guidelines for one's conduct while on safari.) 

 

​Both the hunting and guiding candidates having passed this exam will require a minimum of four years to accrue the practical experience with a lot of focus on them having the necessary experience to be able to ultimately defend their guests. This experience is gained from having actively hunted Cape buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard, crocodile and hippo, the candidate having personally shot and recorded a number of these.

 

The animals hunted for the learners  experience typically are problem animals having eaten people's crops or, in the case of lion and crocodile, being livestock killers and even having killed people  as this is not uncommon in villages bordering national parks and safari areas. Human/ wildlife conflict is a part of day to day life for the people living there. On the strength of having acquired the right number of animals and necessary experience as well as being armed with letters of support from a tutor and relevant photographs, the eager candidate will continue  to undergo a pre-proficiency interview.  

 

​Prior to interviews the ZSSF (Zimbabwe Shooting Sport Federation) runs a proficiency shoot that involves the candidate being required to hit a series of targets with his or her heavy caliber rifle. (the criteria are that the rifle should be personally owned by the candidate and it should be of a suitable caliber for thick-skinned dangerous game. The most popular is a .375 H&H). The candidate having shot accurately and within a certain time frame will pass the shoot and will be ready for the interviews, which is the final step to the big exam. 

 

​At the interviews, there are both examiners from the Association of Professional Hunters and Guides as well as those from Parks and Wildlife Management Authority who are all extremely competent and require the candidate being interviewed to have his rifle and pack ready, presented as if he were going to lead a walk. Typically the nervous candidate will  be thrown a barrage of questions which could range from details of his rifle or his first aid kit, GPS, water bottles, ash bag (for ascertaining wind direction) accompanied with an array of questions on skulls, skins, leaves, seed pods and pictures of birds to identify.

 

​At the conclusion of the interviews some will continue on to the practical examination which is an intensive six day affair. 

 

For those found to be ready,the area for the proficiency exam is announced and the candidate is required to provide a full camp including beds, linen, groceries, refrigeration, chef, toilet, shower, beverages etc. and should be able to cater for and entertain his examiners as his guests for the full 6 days. 

 

​Understanding that people come from all walks of life and that some may have more financial resources than others, there are no  extra points for a shiny camp but at some stage a candidate in his career will provide a tented experience for his guests and needs to show an understanding of what is needed to make it work. 

 

​It is during this time out in the field that the examiners will ask many a question and will put the candidates into as many a situation as they can, principally to see how confident the candidate is and to try and simulate scenarios with elephant and buffalo. These the candidates will  shoot and, based on their performance, it will be determined whether they get their full licence or to try again the following year.  The percentage of full passes is very low proportionate to the number of candidates that do the exam each year. 

 

​The typical exam involves the candidates  out all day executing approaches and showing what they know. With animals harvested they'll execute complete recoveries of elephant, buffalo, baboon and impala, which will be carried out by the candidates without any outside assistance. 

During my examination, for the first 72 hours  we slept for 7 hours! The next four days were to be a bit of a blur as we completed the necessary tasks of covering ground, answering questions and giving talks on requested topics as the examiners, with complete focus, worked out our individual strengths and weaknesses. We baited and set up a lion blind and approached a pride as the examiner looked on to see who would stand their ground as a big lioness barreled in on a mock charge; or while on a Bull elephant approach one examiner would start to talk to see how the candidate in question would handle himself being now compromised with a full six tonne bull elephant at ten yards, having spun around to face the noise and seeing the group, his ears out he's head held high and he's trunk at an obtuse angle in a stare-down. 

 

​The exam is tough and the industry needs this to continue to produce the quality of hunter and guide, with a strong emphasis on safety and competence, which gives Zimbabwe the reputation of being the finest walking destination in Africa. 

 

​While conducting big game safaris, a realization dawned on me that  I was drawn more and more to the enjoyment of  being able to track game in the same way I would have done while on a hunting safari; but I found that the difference lay in being able to quietly sit on a termite mound nearby and get to know a certain lion or elephant who also, in time, got to know me, and to be able to enjoy the many special moments and photographic opportunities these habituated animals presented. 

 

​Although for many years I had guided (and continue to guide privately) in  many of Zimbabwe's numerous and magical game parks, today I principally guide for John's Camp in Mana Pools. It is situated in the lower Zambezi Valley and is home to four of the big 5. Sadly the last black rhino has been removed and relocated to other parks. This is due to a surge in poaching activity seen through the 1980s. 

 

​This truly is a wildlife frontier with the finest  encounters on foot in Africa. It is a place where people and wildlife co-exist with an understanding developed over many years due to the absence of human settlement in the area. This is because areas with settlement also have human wildlife conflict issues which give the wildlife an element of aggression which is not seen here. 

 

​My favourite animal to encounter on safari is the lion, which I think is everyone's favourite animal to see. The reason I give for my natural fascination is a theory that man and the lion evolved at a similar time which I believe could be why we all love lions. It's in our DNA.

 

​ The profession of guiding, for me, is the magic of meeting new people and taking them on a journey of discovery in a world that I love to share my knowledge of and to hopefully give further understanding in a world where everyday this planet loses more and more natural habitat. Sharing my passion doesn't necessarily mean I'm always right, however.. Possibly my most embarrassing moment as a guide was an occasion when I positively identified a zebra having been killed by our resident pride of lions when it turned out to be a crocodile!  
 

One of the most asked questions when preparing for safari is, what should I pack? 

​I'm sure you've heard the usual chant of Sunscreen, a good pair of walking shoes, a good hat, mosquito repellent, anti malarial prophylactics etc. which are certainly vital tools for your health and comfort; however, most people take it for granted that the guide in camp will have an adequate flashlight to accompany them back and forth from their tents at night. The trouble is that the guide in question could have been in camp on a six week rotation and could be at the end of his rotation meaning that his torch batteries are probably nearly done. 

Most wildlife accidents happen because people hadn't seen the animal in time to take evasive action. In my view a flashlight is one of the most important tools to take on safari and should be at the top of any "to take" list.

 

The walking on offer in Mana pools is an experience that every visitor needs to undertake. The value of having a guide who  can show you, on foot,  elephant and lion  up close as well as the many incredible animals on the Mana floodplain can not be underestimated.. 

 

While out tracking, it is essential to be quiet as the sound of the human voice alters the animal's natural behavior. This is because despite most wildlife areas being non-hunting, the various forms of wildlife still have an instinctive fear of us. 

 

Most guides will tell you not to run if anything untoward were to happen. The reason for this is that the moment  the animal charges, the only person that needs to be in its sights is the guide, who is trained to defend his guests in such a situation. If one person in the group  were to run in a different direction it would be  a lot harder for the guide to draw the attention of the animal. 

​In the event of a lion or elephant charge, the guide will stand with his guests behind him and will call the animal's bluff by standing his ground. Although each circumstance is different and there are many variables, many a time the guide will shout at the animal as it begins its initial mock charge, the idea being that at that moment the animal instinctively has a fear and understanding that people are dangerous and will ask itself, "What can you do to me that you are not running away?" It is this action that prevents the tragedy of having to destroy these amazing creatures in an act of self defense, and by the guest standing his or her ground behind the guide that courage allows this to play out the way we would hope it to, giving everyone a once in a lifetime adrenaline filled encounter. 

 

​In the Safari Industry what ordinarily would be a busy season, 2020 has proven for most lodges, Bush camps and Hotels to be a challenging year having been badly affected with the ban on international travel and no-one visiting Southern Africa due to the Coronavirus pandemic. 

​From this it is clear how far afield the effects are felt.

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