Lion Sands Field Guide Kimberlee (Kim) le Hanie won FGASA’s Safari Guide of the Year 2023. As the first woman to win this title, and in celebration of Women’s Day, we asked Kim to share her experience.
“In 2017, I embarked on my journey in the guiding industry, eager to explore this incredible world of guiding. Witnessing my Head Guide’s participation in SGOTY (Safari Guide of the Year) ignited a dream within me – to one day stand among the best guides in the industry. Aware of the long road ahead, I committed myself to continuous learning and improvement, striving to be the best guide I could be.
Fast forward 5.5 years, my time had come. Nominated by my peers at Lion Sands Sabi Sand, I eagerly awaited the email that would decide my fate. During those months of anticipation, my team and I immersed ourselves in intensive training, honing our tracking skills, studying bird calls, and spending time on the shooting range.
When the moment arrived to meet my fellow contestants, the energy in the room was electrifying. We were all nervous yet excited to spend a week together, learning from each other and sharing our passion for guiding. We were challenged with a series of activities, each designed to showcase our skills.
The competition included Track and Sign, photography drives, bird slide and sound tests, game drives, and bush walks. It was exhilarating to push my abilities and compete against industry legends. I placed second in Track and Sign, with Pioneer, an incredibly skilled human being, especially in tracking, taking the win.
During the bird slide and sound test, my dedication to practice paid off, securing first place in that category. Game drives are my passion, and the satisfaction of winning first prize in that category was immeasurable.
The Advanced Rifle Handling challenge put us to the test, and while I placed second, I was proud of my performance. No matter how comfortable you are on the range or with a rifle, when you are standing on that shooting line knowing that all eyes are on you, its daunting. The task was to shoot 5 rounds into a target placed at 12m. I took a deep breath, and I kept a steady hand and said to myself, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”, I placed 5 rounds beautifully in the centre of the target. Next challenge was to place a round in the 12m then the 8m then the 4m and this exercise was timed. Finally, it was the well anticipated Hailey’s hop. In this exercise 3 targets are placed at 30m, 20m and 10m, the aim is to run to the 30m target, touch it, run back, shoot rounds into the 10,20 then 30. Run it again and repeat, it most definitely gets your heart rate going and almost simulates what a real-life scenario would feel like if you needed to place an anchor shot.
However, it was the storytelling category made me the most nervous. It’s daunting to speak in front of industry experts, but I just spoke from the heart sharing the story of myself and my Tracker Jabu as we searched high and low to make our guests dream of seeing a leopard come true. I touched on how lucky we are to be able to do what we do. It must have gone well, regardless of my hands shaking like a leaf the entire time, I managed to take home the win for that category too.
As the week drew to a close, camaraderie grew between the contestants. We knew that regardless of the outcome, we had experienced a transformative week together.
The awards evening arrived, and the tension in the room was palpable. Each category winner was announced, and I was fortunate to take home several awards. Jan Dykema was named the runner-up, a deserving recognition of his exceptional skills.
The moment I had dreamed of…I was announced as the winner of Safari Guide of the Year 2023. The flood of emotions was overwhelming, not only because I had achieved my personal goal, but also because I had become the first-ever female to win this prestigious accolade in its 12-year history. It was a significant milestone for the industry and for women in guiding.
Now, with the dust settled and a sense of pride in my heart, I am more motivated than ever to continue my journey, constantly improving myself, and embracing the opportunity to do what I love. The experience at SGOTY has reinforced my passion for guiding, and I am eager to contribute to the industry’s growth and inspire others to follow their dreams.”
Kimberlee’s journey to becoming the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) Safari Guide of the Year began at the MORE Field Guide College and has been marked by her exceptional career at Marataba Safari Lodge and Lion Sands Game Reserve. Over the years, Kimberlee’s commitment to her craft has been unwavering. Her genuine passion for the environment has propelled her to go above and beyond, continuously seeking to develop her career through FGASA and enhance her guiding skills. Her dedication to her profession has made her a role model for aspiring guides.