Another phenomenal Safari Guide of the Year competition wrapped recently at Nkambeni Safari Camp in the Kruger National Park. What a week! We were again privileged to capture the considerable action via photography and videography, witnessing the tremendous camaraderie and tight competition that characterized it all. Above is a photo of the 7 intrepid finalists, together with some of the esteemed judges, including Mike Karantonis from Africa Direct and Grant Hine from the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa, the two key organizations behind this initiative.
Generous sponsorship was contributed by a number of individuals and companies, making the competition possible, and there was excellent representation from across South Africa, with the finalists having been selected through interview rounds, including private guide Brett Horley from Brett Horley Safaris, Jabulani Silinda from Kariega Game Reserve, Juan Heydenrych from Pilanesberg Game Reserve, Laetitia Cronje from Campfire Academy, Nick du Plessis from Singita, Raymond Khosa from SANParks and Rudi van Niekerk, also from Kariega.
Action Packed Week
Challenges came thick and fast, with the contestants being assessed according to their performance in 7 categories of skill. Freezing games drives and bush walks at dawn alternated with warmer ones, all featuring breath-taking wildlife encounters, from elephants and buffalo on foot to leopards mere metres from the game drive vehicle. Along the way, candidates also had their cameras ready to capture the spirit of the competition for the photography category.
Adrenaline pumped during the shooting assessment, where highly respected safari guide and 50/50 TV presenter James Steyn put the contestants through their paces with demanding exercises that required swift, accurate high-calibre rifle handling, combined with sprinting between targets. Evenings brought magical boma and bush dinners along with much laughter as the finalists shared their experiences, still under scrutiny for the story telling category.
Finally, renowned Alex van den Heever from Tracker Academy posed an intensive tracking assessment, before the contestants could at last relax, aside from dealing with the overriding suspense of the awards ceremony, when internationally acclaimed speaker and survival specialist extraordinaire, Quinton Coetzee, captivated everyone with his signature insight and inspiration, followed by Mike Karantonis and Grant Hine.
Brian Serrao from the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa presented the hotly contested category awards, starting with the birding assessment, which was won by Brett Horley, who was also awarded Top Gun for shooting. Jabulani Silinda took first place for tracking and Rudi van Niekerk won best photographer. Top honours in the key game driving category went to Nick Du Plessis, while the best guided walk was awarded to Raymond Khosa. Juan Heydenrych from Pilanesberg emerged as best story-teller, as well as being voted Mr Personality by his fellow finalists.
Tension continued to build as 2013 Safari Guide of the Year, Tom Imrie from Londolozi, shared his insight, inspired by considerable experience of the competition and industry, before presenting the overall runner-up award to Brett Horley of Brett Horley Safaris and then handing over the Safari Guide of the Year trophy to Nick du Plessis from Singita Lebombo – a richly deserved award for such an outstanding ambassador of this exceptional industry.
Heartfelt congratulations to Nick and Brett, and well done to all the finalists! Now it’s their turn to fly the flag high and promote the important role of safari guides within South Africa and the world. For a whole lot more photos, take a look at our Facebook albums: SGOTY 2014 – Awards, as well as Prizes, Welcome, Game Drives, Lodge, Shooting, Story Telling, Bush Walks, Tracking . . . and stay tuned for the video, which is coming soon!