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The Rise of Women in Safari Guiding, Wildlife Protection, and Conservation

Matthys van Aswegen

Author: Matthys van Aswegen - 30 January 2024

Last Update: 30 August 2023

Part of the African Safari Collection

Safari guiding and wildlife protection have traditionally been very much  male-dominated fields. It was assumed that these professions needed significant physical strength, and in-depth knowledge of wildlife and wilderness survival skills.

All these were traditionally associated with and ascribed to men. Also, as the job often involved long periods away from home in remote areas, the career was considered to be unsuited for women, especially those with children and family responsibilities. 

The Chobe Angels of Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana | Photo credit: Jacada Travel
The Chobe Angels of Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana | Photo credit: Jacada Travel

Even more significantly, many societal and cultural norms traditionally placed men in outdoor, adventurous roles, while society frowned on women engaging in such activities. As a result, the safari industry was long characterised by a predominance of male guides.

This further embedded the perception of safari guiding as a rugged, exclusively male occupation. 

Kate Imrie, head ranger at Londolozi Private Game Reserve | Photo credit: Jacada Travel
Kate Imrie, head ranger at Londolozi Private Game Reserve | Photo credit: Jacada Travel

However, this has begun to change in recent years, with increased recognition of the value and skills that women can bring to the profession. Despite this, and the employment of many female guides, there are still many obstacles to overcome for women in safari guiding. 

These include overcoming traditional stereotypes and the lack of supportive working environments that make it possible for women to balance a guiding career with other responsibilities like having children. However, significant progress has been made as proven by the emergence of several all-female guide teams.

Case Studies of All-Female Guide Teams

Here are some of Africa’s women who are moving the frontiers and smashing the barriers of the safari guiding and wildlife industry:

Located in the woodlands of the central Serengeti, this luxury safari tented camp is assuredly the first of its kind. Everybody involved in operating the camp is female! Right from the chef to the wait staff to the safari guides, the camp is run entirely by women.

This dynamic team has a laudable two-fold goal: they want to achieve economic independence for themselves and their families, and they want to ensure all their visitors have a truly exceptional safari and wildlife experience. 

Safari guide Zawadi drives out of Dunia Camp, Tanzania | Photo credit: Asilia Africa
Safari guide Zawadi drives out of Dunia Camp, Tanzania | Photo credit: Asilia Africa

Dunia’s pioneering initiative was created by Asilia Africa, with the intention of promoting female participation in East Africa’s male-dominated safari industry. Pettie Mosha is the manager of Dunia Camp. She and her staff have shown comprehensively that training, dedication and hard work can overcome traditional gender norms and expectations.

Lounge area at Dunia Camp, Tanzania | Photo credit: Dunia Camp
Lounge area at Dunia Camp, Tanzania | Photo credit: Dunia Camp

They handle a wide array of tasks, from guiding safari drives to dealing with potentially dangerous animals. This camp is a powerful symbol of the changes that are taking place in the safari industry. It showcases the potential of women to excel in roles that were once exclusively held by men. 

Based at the renowned Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana, this team was pioneered and mentored by Senior Guide Florence Kagiso. It’s creation and success represents a significant milestone in breaking gender barriers in the wildlife industry.

The Chobe Angels of Chobe Game Lodge, Botswana | Photo credit: Chobe Game Lodge
The Chobe Angels of Chobe Game Lodge, Botswana | Photo credit: Chobe Game Lodge

Chobe Game Lodge started employing female guides in 2004 when Florence Kagiso was appointed. Florence’s passion for wildlife led her to excel in her role. Her success paved the way for more women to join the profession. 

Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana | Photo credit: Chobe Game Lodge
Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana | Photo credit: Chobe Game Lodge

Today the 16-strong band of ‘Angels’ handle all aspects of safari guiding, from leading game drives to educating guests about wildlife conservation. Their resounding success is a testament to their professionalism, skill, and dedication, and sets an example for other safari operators all over Africa.

Akashinga’s female rangers are playing a truly pioneering role in protecting Zimbabwe’s wildlife. They’re Africa’s first armed, all-women anti-poaching unit. The training the ‘Brave Ones’ undergo is physically and mentally extremely demanding to ensure they are thoroughly prepared for their challenging jobs.

These brave and tough women are revolutionising the way wildlife is protected, and arresting poachers with minimal confrontation and violence.

Akashinga anti-poaching unit in Zimbabwe | Photo credit: IAPF
Akashinga anti-poaching unit in Zimbabwe | Photo credit: IAPF

The creation of the unit reflects the International Anti-Poaching Foundation’s innovative approach to conservation. It aims at community buy-in rather than full-on armed war against poachers who often come from local communities.

The IAPF believes that if communities understand the economic benefits of conservation it’ll eradicate the scourge of poaching without armed conflict.

The Akashinga anti-poaching unit during training, Zimbabwe | Photo credit: IAPF
The Akashinga anti-poaching unit during training, Zimbabwe | Photo credit: IAPF

But Akashinga is about more than conservation and animal protection. For many of Akasinga’s Brave Ones, it means financial independence and being able to support their families. They can now buy property, educate their children, construct a house, get driver’s licences, and finish high school; even enrol in college. Definitely a giant leap forward!

  • The Black Mambas, the world’s first all-female anti-poaching unit. 

Based on Balule Nature Reserve, this unit of 36 young African women patrol 20,000 hectares in the Greater Kruger to safeguard the world’s largest population of rhino that is being poached mercilessly.

The unit plays a vital role in the early detection of poacher incursions and the removal of snares set by bush meat poachers. Since the Black Mambas was founded in 2013, there’s been an impressive 63% reduction in poaching.

The Black Mambas anti-poaching unit, South Africa | Photo credit: Helpingrhinos.org
The Black Mambas anti-poaching unit, South Africa | Photo credit: Helpingrhinos.org

But their objective is more than just protecting rhinos. They do extensive work in the local communities that many of the poachers come from. They strive to get their communities to understand the far greater benefits for them in protecting animals rather than poaching them.

They’re also involved in conservation education through their dynamic Bush Babies outreach programme. 

Challenges and Opportunities 

To recap, women in the safari industry have historically faced unique challenges due to the common assumption that guiding required physical strength, to survive in the wilderness, deal with dangerous wildlife, and handle demanding tasks. It was also assumed that women couldn’t do all these things!

The all-female staff at Dunia Camp, Tanzania | Photo credit: Asilia Africa
The all-female staff at Dunia Camp, Tanzania | Photo credit: Asilia Africa

This led to skepticism about women’s ability to effectively perform guiding, as well as how they’d combine the demands of the job and the responsibilities of children, a home and families. Traditional gender perceptions strongly suggested that women should prioritise their domestic roles over their careers.

Members of the Akashinga anti-poaching unit during training, Zimbabwe | Photo credit: Reasons to be Cheerful
Members of the Akashinga anti-poaching unit during training, Zimbabwe | Photo credit: Reasons to be Cheerful

However, these barriers are being progressively dismantled. Women have demonstrated that they can handle the physical and mental demands of safari guiding very well. Training programmes that emphasise the importance of training and skills over physical strength have helped challenge, debunk and change these preconceptions. 

Jennifer Denton of Mwiba Lodge in Tanzania | Photo credit: Jacada Travel
Jennifer Denton of Mwiba Lodge in Tanzania | Photo credit: Jacada Travel

Workplace policies have also evolved to be more supportive and inclusive of women. Provision for extended maternity leave are helping women balance work and family life effectively.

Women like Jennifer Denton of Mwiba Lodge in Tanzania, Michell Steinberg at the Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve and Kate Imrie at Londolozi Private Game Reserve are proving daily that women do an excellent job in this previously ‘male’ preserve. 

Impact on Local Communities

The employment and empowerment of women as safari guides has profound effects on local communities. When women are gainfully employed in guiding jobs, it leads to an improvement in the economic welfare and stability of their households.

They’re more likely to invest their income in their children’s education, health, and well-being, which contributes to the overall upliftment of their communities.

The Black Mambas anti-poaching unit during a march, South Africa | Photo credit: Love Exploring
The Black Mambas anti-poaching unit during a march, South Africa | Photo credit: Love Exploring

Furthermore, gender equality is powerfully promoted when women take on roles traditionally held by men. The successful inclusion of women in guiding and anti-poaching activities has broken down gender stereotypes.

It’s also paved the way for other women to join the field. Having women in leadership roles greatly inspires other women. It empowers them to break out of traditional gender roles and holds great economic and social benefits.

Guest Experience and Feedback

The week of 23 – 30 June 2023 was World Female Ranger Week. The event celebrated the rise of female rangers across the world. It also highlighted the growing interest in (and larger numbers of) women entering the guiding and wildlife professions. 

Michell Steinberg, assistant head ranger at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve | Photo credit: Jacada Travel
Michell Steinberg, assistant head ranger at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve | Photo credit: Jacada Travel

And the guests agree! The response to having a female ranger has been generally very positive. Here are just a few summarised comments from satisfied customers about their female guides: 

  • “Our guide was well-versed, worked hard and deserved a great shout-out for making our trip remarkable.”
  • “Our guide was the best!”
  • “Our guide was an absolute gem and extremely knowledgeable. “
  • “Our wonderful all-female game drive guides showed us the magic of the bush. “
  • “I felt secure with her, she looked after me attentively, and was very professional.”
  • “Our guide was an amazing driver, very knowledgeable, nothing was too much trouble, and she made our drives unforgettable.”
Future Directions and Predictions 

The trend towards employing more female guides in the safari industry seems set to continue and accelerate in the future. As the benefits of having women guides become increasingly recognised, more safari operators are likely to actively recruit and train women.

In addition, as more women succeed in guiding, they will serve as role models and inspire more women to follow suit.

Jennifer Denton, a safari guide at Mwiba Lodge, with local village women in Tanzania | Photo credit: Jacada Travel
Jennifer Denton, a safari guide at Mwiba Lodge, with local village women in Tanzania | Photo credit: Jacada Travel

And, as more women join the safari industry, local communities will reap significant benefits. More households will earn stable incomes and improve their overall living standards. Educational benefits will accrue as successful women guides inspire girls to finish their schooling and pursue careers.

This trend will have empowering social impacts, challenge traditional gender norms and promote gender equality.

Francine Bwizabule Muhimuzi, a ranger at Virunga National Park | Photo credit: Jacada Travel
Francine Bwizabule Muhimuzi, a ranger at Virunga National Park | Photo credit: Jacada Travel

For the safari industry as a whole, an increase in the number of female guides will lead to a richer and more complete visitor experience. Women contribute unique perspectives and skills that enhance the quality of safaris. Their strong communication skills and empathy create more engagement and emotional connections with guests.

Ultimately, more female guides will contribute to a more sustainable, inclusive, and higher-quality industry.

A Few More of Africa’s Inspirational Women in Wildlife Management and Conservation 

Across the world many women, far, far too numerous to list, are doing incredible work in the fields of conservation and environmental protection. To end, we’d like to list some dynamic women in Africa who are having an impact on conservation and wildlife management through the organisations they head up or are involved with:

How to Support

If you want to support these worthwhile initiatives, just click on the links we’ve provided. You can support the rise of all-female guide teams by choosing safari lodges that employ female guides, or by supporting training programmes for women in this field.

Lindy Sutherland, the director of the Kariega Foundation | Photo credit: helpingrhinos.org
Lindy Sutherland, the director of the Kariega Foundation | Photo credit: helpingrhinos.org

You can also get involved and do your bit by sharing this information, creating awareness, volunteering or donating to any of these extremely worthy causes!

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Copyright © Discover Africa Safaris | The Rise of Women in Safari Guiding, Wildlife Protection, and Conservation | Last Updated: 30 January 2024