Contemplating Mother Earth Day – a Tour Guide’s Perspective

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Each year on 22 April people around the world contemplate Mother Earth Day. On this day since 1970 a movement has grown giving voice to an emerging consciousness that is channeling human energy toward environmental issues.

South Africa is a mecca for eco-conscious tourism internationally, but with current exchange rates, locals can more easily take advantage of the glorious natural beauty available to them.

“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time…”

Photographic tour guide, John Hishin, believes this should be the ethos of every tourist. It is the central principal that has inspired his work with the travellers, both human and animal, that have crossed his path over the years.

“It is, however, the responsibility of guides to ensure that tourists, those in their care, or those they encounter in passing, are taught and encouraged to respect both the environment and the various cultures they meet on their travels,” he adds.

Responsible tourism is an approach to the management of tourism, aimed at maximising economic, social and environmental benefits and minimising the costs to destinations. Simply put, responsible tourism creates better places for people to live in, and better places to visit.

This approach aims to achieve the triple-bottom line outcomes of sustainable development that facilitates an interweaving of economic growth, environmental integrity and social justice.

“The guide is an entertainer,” says Hishin. “No matter how much knowledge he has, the ability to bring it out in a captivating way to spark the guest’s imagination is imperative to a successful exchange. The guide’s primary role is to enable visitors to find and deepen their own regard for and relationship to nature.” He aims at creating and enhancing the guest’s own compelling link to the land and to facilitate safe encounters with the creatures they meet – or don’t!

“Nature is a fickle mistress,” he says. “How and when she chooses to reveal her charms is anybody’s guess. Some visitors are disappointed by scarce sightings. Under such circumstances, the need to step forward as a raconteur is quite a challenge. You have to be able to share the unique moments others have experienced so that your visitor has a vicarious encounter with the mysterious, magical world of nature.”

Every ranger has a stock of stories, of elephants charging their vehicles, narrow escapes with dangerous creatures, snared beasts rescued and recovered, but knowing when to speak and when to remain silent is part of the ranger’s repertoire of skills.

John recalls the encounter with three baby cheetahs while waiting to cross a causeway in the Sabi Sands. “It was 1989, just after the first rains had fallen on the XYZ Plains. A female with three cubs following her sauntered into view. She jumped from rock to rock. The first cub to follow her, made it across. The second one slipped into the water and got washed away. As did the third.

“I lost sight of the cubs in the roiling water but entered the river with my guests in the Land Rover. Half way across, with water mid-way up to the wheels, I spotted the cubs swirling around in the vortex of the eddies. I jumped into the water, hauled them out and lifted them in the vehicle. On the other side, I left them under a bush awaiting their mother’s return, and drove on.

“The next morning, we crossed the same causeway. The water level had fallen, and there, in exactly the spot that I had leapt into the water, lay an enormous crocodile, sunning itself with an eerie tranquility,” he says, grinning.

Hishin’s tale of rescue and bravado is an unfinished story, that invites the curious listener to say, “What next?” This is part of the skill of the excellent narrator, luring the listener into the story that could, at the next bend in the road be subsumed into a real time encounter with nature: a hunt, a rare sighting, a snake that falls from a tree into a vehicle.

Did he ever see the cubs again? He hesitates when asked. The tension builds. Is this a sorrow he is reluctant to disclose? His eyes twinkle. “A week later I came home after a long day. There they were, lying against the gate of my house…”

When asked which is the most memorable story, he is non-committal. “No one story is special above the next, but naturally entertaining people means you can’t just quote scientific knowledge, facts and figures. “You need to tell the stories that embody the information, that make it live on in their memory, even if they never actually saw it with their own eyes.”

Guides are the ambassadors and curators to the areas they work in. “It is a responsibility…” says Hishin, “but to do work that you love… that is a staggering privilege.”

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Resources for Responsible Tourism
Better Tourism Africa
Responsible Traveller
Responsible Tourism Cape Town
The International Centre for Responsible Tourism
2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism

After 20 years managing private game lodges throughout Southern Africa, John Hishin started Drumbeat Photography, Tours and Safaris in 2007. His dual passions for nature and photography enabled him to specialise in nature, wild life and cultural tours throughout South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia.

Follow John Hishin on Facebook and Twitter (@DrumbeatPhoto).
Text by Liesl Jobson
Image by John Hishin