6 June 2008
A group of 17 students who recently graduated from the BirdLife South Africa avi-career entrepreneurial programme are set to give the local eco-tourism industry a major boost, as they head out to work as bird guides along the country’s numerous birding routes.
The group, which is the first to complete the one-year birding course, will be able to take tourists along birding routes, helping them to spot and identify various species of birds along with way.
Eco-tourists are flocking to South Africa to see the country’s 900 species of birds.
The course was developed in the United States to create jobs and support small business owners in the eco-tourism and community development sectors.
“Avi-tourism is becoming the second fastest-growing outdoor activities in the world,” said BirdLife SA guide development manager Priya Vallabh in Nelspruit this week.
She said the course taught students how to open their own guide businesses in their communities or gain employment as guides on South Africa’s many birding routes.
Theta accredited course
Formerly known as the bird guide development programme, the course is accredited with the Tourism and Hospitality Education and Training Authority (Theta), and is being facilitated by Sasol, BirdLife SA and Junior Achievement South Africa.
It offers a basic understanding of what eco-tourism is all about and teaches various business skills such as market research, brand identity, developing and implementing a business plan and managing finances.
One of the graduates, David Letsoalo, from Magoebaskloof, said that he found learning about the birds’ characteristics and behaviour the most interesting.
“I am passionate about being a bird guide, my dream is to study further and expand my birding expertise to be able to take tours to different parts of the country,” he said.
Letsoalo received the Eagle Award from BirdLife SA in 2007, for his exceptional bird guiding skills that were featured in the SABC 2 series Kaelo – Stories of Hope.
Even though Letsoalo has seen most of the birds more times than he can remember, he always gets as excited as his audience when he spots a new species for the first time.
“Bird guiding is one of the ways local communities in bird-rich areas can earn a sustainable income and help conserve the area’s natural heritage,” said Sasol corporate social investment head Pamilla Mudhray.