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YALI Voices: Mpunga – Dreams of a Female Wildlife Safari Guide
May 17, 2018

Growing up as a little girl, I remember listening to melodies made by different birds, and I mastered all of them. These are some of the earliest memories I have of my passion, and little did I know that it could take me a very long time to know each of their names and their distinctive features. My parents actually thought I was going to be a vet doctor since I enjoyed playing with insects, frogs and tadpoles. I actually thought tadpoles were little fish until my father told me the ugly truth. Growing up in such an urban environment is somewhat a disadvantage for my career. However, watching a lot of wildlife documentaries and reading extensively about wildlife and conservation has helped me a great deal. During my training, I did much better than some experienced guides in exams and assignments. Since I was only a first timer I am very proud of this.

I gave up a job as an administrative assistant to follow my passion, to start a career in wildlife safari guiding. Tourism at large is a huge contributor to our economy in Zambia and it’s the fastest-growing industry in the world. That is why wildlife conservation is important for each and every member of the community to participate in. I strongly believe it should be introduced in schools, because if we teach children about wildlife conservation and its benefits, we are assured of a perfect future free from poaching with a lot of animals secured from extinction. After reading about a school offering such courses, I knew great things were in my future. The school program was a one-week training course with three months of extensive, continuous assessments and assignments.

After I completed my training, I was required to do an industrial attachment. I was attached to a safari lodge in the Kafue National Park. This was my first time in a national park, and it ignited my urge to learn and explore. While I worked at Kafue as a trainee guide, I could only go on activities as a spotter. In learning from experienced professional guides, who were all male, I learned so much about wildlife. I even learned how to drive a boat. It was the perfect place to be! I had some ups and downs of course, mainly due to the fact that I am a woman. At first, I handled more office tasks than guiding work and am confident that this — accompanied by many negative comments of how dangerous it was for a woman to go in the bush — was because no one believed in me. I was demoralised at times, but I knew I had to forge ahead to accomplish my dream. I didn’t think I needed to prove to anyone that I could be a good guide, looking at how far I had come with this dream. I believe that as long as someone loves what they do, they can learn to do anything. I also realised that to make it in this male-dominated field I had to focus and work toward my goals with every opportunity presented to me to attain what I had dreamed of since I was a little girl.

With great anticipation I will complete the rest of the courses needed for me to become a professional guide soon. I cannot wait to become one of the best female safari guides in my country and the continent as a whole.

Mpunga has been a YALI Network member in Zambia since March 2018. Reach out to Mpunga on Facebook. The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blogs contributed by members of the YALI Network.