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Is a Career in Guiding Right for Me?

Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Authority holds examinations in February and September of each year for the Learner Hunters and Guides examinations, leading to the Learner Professional Hunter (L.P.H.) certificate.

Roughly 200 people write the examinations each session. Many of the candidates write the exams because they are hoping to gain a qualification that does not require them to have O-Levels and will lead them into regular employment and income. A very high proportion of people fail the exams because they have not really understood what is involved.

This article explores the reasons why someone might decide that the L.P.H. examinations are not for them and that they are better off putting their time, energy and money elsewhere.

Before we go any further, answer the following questions for yourself, choosing one of the three answers.

  1. I have grown up in the bush and am familiar with trees, birds, insects and animals.  Yes/Somewhat/No
  2. I have always been passionate about being in the bush and identifying trees, birds, insects and animals. Yes/Somewhat/No
  3. I have a pretty good background in understanding the complex workings of the natural world and how trees, birds, insects and animals interact in the environment.  Yes/Somewhat/No
  4. Whenever possible I choose to spend my time in the deep bush. Yes/Somewhat/No
  5. I already have a job in the guiding/hunting industry and want to progress professionally.     Yes/No

If you found yourself answering “Yes” to all these questions then the L.P.H. qualification is probably going to suit you. If you are answering “Somewhat” or “No” then it is doubtful whether you should be pursuing this course.

And here is another important question to ask yourself.

Why do I want to write the LPH exams?

  1. It is something that I can do without O-Levels to get a qualification.
  2. Any qualification is better than none.
  3. I must try anything that might lead to employment.
  4. I think it will lead to a job in the lucrative tourist industry.
  5. I am not interested in a profession that involves sitting at a desk.
  6. I am passionate about being in the bush and want to line up a career accordingly.

If your reasons for writing are anything other than f) then I think you should start considering other options.

Let us start unpacking some of the reasons why you might find it a good idea not to pursue this qualification. The reasons are divided into two sections: Challenges related to passing the exam and Challenges in entering the guiding/hunting industry.

Challenges related to passing the L.P.H. exams (or Do I really want to put myself through all this?)

  1. High Failure Rate

You have a less than 50% chance of passing the examinations. The average failure rate is 62% and can be as high as 80%. Look at some results in recent years.

LPH Exam Results – Feb. 2022-Sept. 2023

 Sept. 2019Feb. 2020Feb 2022Sept 2022Feb 2023Sept 2023
No. of candidates182245210167208266
Passed 4 subjects30%29%26%49%16%22%
Passed 3 subjects2%21%2%7%7%16%
Failed68%49%72%43%80%62%

N.B. Bear in mind the following requirements for passing.

  • The pass mark is 60%.
  • The candidate is expected to pass each exam individually and achieve an average 60% pass mark overall. 
  • If you obtain over 60% on three papers but fail a fourth you may re-write the one you failed at the following sitting.
  • If you fail two or more papers you have to re-write them all.   

People obviously fail for a variety of reasons, for example:

  1. Some people’s English language skills are inadequate and they have trouble understanding the questions and forming adequate answers in English. Many people misunderstand the wording of questions, e.g.  “Categorize the five World Heritage Sites found in Zimbabwe.”  The vast majority of candidates did not understand that “categorize” didn’t mean “list”. It meant that the World Heritage sites should be listed categorized into “cultural” vs “natural” sites.
  2. The marking scheme means one error carries quite a heavy penalty. Look at this example from the General Paper of October 2020. State the name of the world’s largest Transfrontier Conservation Area.  1 mark  How big is this Transfrontier Conservation Area? 2 marks In terms of land area covered what is each country’s proportional contribution (as a percentage) in the KAZA Transfrontier Conservation Area?  5 marks    What if you could only answer a.? Then you would lose 7 marks. And because the marks shown on a paper only add up to 50 the final loss would be 14% from a pass mark of 60%. If you get four or five more answers wrong you will have failed.

3. In preparing for the examinations, you are required to study for four very different kinds of exam, each of which presents its own kind of difficulty.

  • The Habits and Habitats syllabus is extremely wide (and basically covers everything about all types of wildlife and vegetation in Zimbabwe).
  • The General Paper, as its name suggests, is extremely general, doesn’t have a syllabus and always contains questions no one expected or prepared for.
  • The Firearms paper gives many people trouble because they have never touched a firearm in their lives and find the whole subject confusingly technical.
  • The Law paper intimidates many people with legal jargon and the job of making sense of pieces of legislation.

4. Many people are not academic and don’t enjoy studying for and writing examinations. They panic and are defeated by more obscure questions and questions expressed in a less-than-straight-forward manner. I know a number of cases of people who have been brought up in the bush and know their wildlife and vegetation really well and have been familiar with firearms since they were toddlers BUT they have failed repeatedly because exams are not their thing. (More recently National Parks can provide the accommodation of a reader &/or scribe to a candidate who is officially certified as experiencing a learning difficulty such as dyslexia.)

5. And then of course there are many people who just do not know enough to pass the exam. This does not mean they are lazy or stupid! If one has grown up in an urban area and have very little background in things to do with wildlife then all the material needed to pass the exams has to be learned from scratch and might be difficult to access. Many people have difficulty:

  • Studying on their own
  • Studying from books
  • Obtaining the relevant books to study from
  • Knowing how to study online.

6. Sometimes candidates feel desperate and pay money for courses which are offered with the promise to get you through the LPH exams.

Many of these courses are highly suspect money-making ventures and cannot actually provide any guarantee of success. (ZPGA is undertaking an exercise to examine each of the institutions offering such courses and assessing their material and teaching and offering some sort of certification to those that prove adequately respectable.)

  • Costs

Writing the L.P.H. exams is relatively expensive. The bill can look something like this.

  • 1st Aid course – $50
  • Study Pack – $100
  • National Parks’ Mushendike course – $180
  • Other courses offered by a doubtful expert – $100
  • Writing the examinations ($50 per paper) – $200

You could easily end up paying over $600 to write these exams.

Challenges Entering the Guiding/Hunting Industry

Imagine that you have in fact passed the exams and now you have a Learner’s Licence (which you have to renew each year at a cost of $50.) This is very far from an automatic ticket to a job. There are over 5 000 people with L.P.H. Licences in Zimbabwe and sadly very few of them will come anywhere near a job in the industry unless they were already employed in a camp or safari company when they wrote the exams.

The realities are that jobs in the hunting/safari industry for people with an L.P.H. are:

  • Very few and far between
  • Generally given to friends and relations, or their children
  • Usually poorly paid.

And you would want to become employed by a reputable outfit as an apprentice and start the long, arduous process of preparing for the Proficiency Exams that will qualify you as a Professional Hunter or Professional Guide.  One of the less attractive aspects of the industry is that many youngsters are used as lowly paid dogs-bodies in camps for many years without getting any closer to a professional qualification.

Read John Laing’s article “What Does It Take to be a Guide?” to understand something of what a guide’s job involves and the stages involved in becoming a Professional Hunter or Guide. I will give you the absolute summary here, laying out the steps towards becoming a Professional Guide or Hunter that John explains:

  1. 1st Aid qualification
  2. The Learner’s Licence (L.P.H. examinations)
  3. Apprenticeship (minimum of 2 years of working with a recognised tutor)
  4. Shooting Proficiency test
  5. Oral examination (interview)
  6. Proficiency examination

Take note of the following:

  • This process usually takes four years, often many more.
  • Many people drop out of the process. There are many failures along the way.
  • The process is costly – US$16 000 to $25 000 (not taking into account personal living costs or supporting a family.)

……………………………………………………………….

If you have a complete passion for the bush and the idea of being a guide or a hunter and see the L.P.H. as the first step towards carrying out your life’s plan – go for it!

If you have the time, energy and money to do the L.P.H. course for fun and for general interest – go for it!

If you have an idea that the tourist industry involves getting close to lots of wealthy people and want to do the L.P.H. so that you can get a part of the action – go elsewhere!


* There is a possibility for confusion here – the qualification is officially called the L.P.H. but is equally a preparation for becoming a Professional Hunter or a Professional Guide – the latter providing walking/photographic safaris as opposed to hunting safaris. (Take note, The Z.P.G.A. used to be called the Z.P.H.G.A. (Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association) but elected to drop the “Hunters” part from their name because of the increasingly negative perceptions of hunting internationally.)

Paddy Pacey

Zimbabwean field guide and trainer of aspiring guides

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