Chobe National Park, located in the southern African country, Botswana, became Botswana’s first national park in 1968. The park is home to thousands of different species of animals, including one of the largest concentrations of elephants in Africa.
Chobe Game Lodge is the only property located in the park, and has the only all-female safari guiding team in Africa. In a field dominated by men, the decision to appoint all women to the difficult, yet invigorating job pushed the lodge to its status as one of the most progressive destinations in Botswana.
The decision actually occurred due to the realization that female drivers are better than their male counterparts. In 2004, the Botswana Wildlife Training Institute, the government-regulated college that provides safari guide certification, asked the lodge if they had room for two female guides.
After these two women were accepted by the lodge, the institution soon realized that these women used less gas and were more gentle on the open-air safari vehicles. They were saving Chobe Game Lodge money! The lodge asked the institution if they could send all of the female graduates their way.
At that point, there were only 10 female guides in Botswana. Today, there are around 50, and 17 of them work for Chobe.
“In many respects, they had to work harder to prove themselves, so you’re actually getting more out of them as guides,” said James Wilson, Chobe’s marketing manager.
All of the safari applicants complete the same rigorous schooling, which includes placement at a safari camp and tests to calculate English skills and scholastic aptitude. The men and women are also paid the same, and both work the same long hours. Guiding usually starts at 4:30 AM and lasts well after the sun has set.
Guiding is a full commitment, and most guides live on-site due to the demanding hours. All 17 of Chobe’s female guides are mothers and have broken many traditional norms by not staying at home with their children.
“As safari guides, they are pushing several boundaries that circumscribed women in the past,” said Deborah Durham, an anthropologist at Sweet Briar College, who has conducted research on Botswana since 1986. “From soon after its independence from Great Britain, Botswana has recognized the talent and potential of women.”
Safari guides have high expectations, and sometimes guests question the women’s ability to do things like change heavy four-by-four tires, handle aggressive wildlife, and escort guests to the best wildlife sighting areas. The guides believe that the novelty of the situation causes guests to have these concerns, but their ability to perform should not be doubted.
“The ladies have developed quite a tough skin as far as that’s concerned. They stand up for themselves. They give as good as they get out there,” says John Aves, the manager of the female guide team.
Chobe National Park’s decision to have an all-women guide staff should set an example for other safari locations and jobs around the world.
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