Marelize Conradie is a safari guide at Tswalu Kalahari in South Africa. Bushtracks Vice President Carolyn Tett asked Marelize to share her thoughts on being a female guide in a profession still largely dominated by male safari guides.
Although female safari guides are still the exception in Africa, David and I were lucky enough to meet Marelize Conradie (pictured above) when we visited Tswalu Kalahari on a recent South Africa safari. Marelize has been guiding for 5 years, and is passionate about her profession, the African bush, and creating opportunities for the next generation of female guides.
What is the ratio, would you say, male to female in South Africa for guides?
I think probably one female for every ten guides. That’s what I’ve seen in parks like Tswalu and also Madikwe. I don’t know, I’m not sure about the Kruger, but definitely in those areas.
Do you feel accepted by your male counterparts in your position?
I think in the beginning they try to be a lot tougher than they really are. And then if they see that you can do exactly what they can do, they do feel a little bit intimidated. But I had a lot of mentoring. I had a female mentor the first time. And she taught me how to jack up a car, how to change a wheel and everything. The shooting and everything I was taught by men. So at the end of the day I always thank them for what they’ve taught me. If they’re not tougher than me then I tell them to “man up"! But I think they can feel a little bit intimidated if you can do exactly what they do, or you shoot better or you do something better.
Are there ways to encourage other young women into the profession?
Yes, definitely. When I meet young girls, I always encourage their interests, even if they are guests, even if they are as young as six years old. If they’ve got a passion for it, they should do it and not be discouraged, because girls bring great qualities to guiding. We tend to be more accurate, we communicate better. There are a lot of attributes that girls have so I always tell them to pursue their dream or give it a try at least. Some girls are in the bush for six months and if they learn it’s not for them, then they can go back. If you’ve got a passion for it it’s going to burn the rest of your life so if it doesn’t work for you, you can go on, but give it a try.
What is your schedule? How many days on and how many days off?
So usually in the South African industry people would work six weeks on, and then they get two weeks off. But that’s people who live in Kruger, closer to home. Because our camp is in the Kalahari, and some of us live in Cape Town, and others live in Johannesburg, we're quite far from home. So they made our schedule eight weeks on and then we get 19 days off. So it’s much longer time off. Luckily at Tswalu the flights are included so we get that for free so we can just fly home. It’s quite nice. For the trackers it’s different they work four weeks on and then get nine days off because they live much closer, they live an hour from here, so they can go home more regularly for a shorter time.
What is the best part of your job?
I enjoy the wild dogs, so if I can be on a wild dog chase, that’s my high for the day. And also just seeing guests arriving, with absolutely no knowledge and then and then leaving, and they know more and you can see they enjoyed it. That’s also a good thing!
And what is your least favorite part of the job?
The least favorite is resisting guest food. That’s hard. Because you’re always around good food!