In terms of dedicated wildlife holidays, the job of the naturalist tour leader is clear-cut: to act as an ambassador between nature and human visitors. Leading tours into the wild, whether in the outback of Australia or the seas surrounding the Azores archipelago, requires a deep knowledge of the location and its history, as well as the skills to communicate that knowledge to a group. For nature enthusiasts who also enjoy working with people, becoming a professional naturalist guide is an excellent way to enjoy the outdoors while spreading that passion to others.
The Role of a Naturalist Guide
Broadly speaking, a naturalist is an expert in natural history, which is the research and study of organisms in their environment – and includes plants, animals, and fungi. Natural history differs from biology in that it is focused on observational rather than experimental methods. A naturalist might specialise in botany, zoology, entomology, ornithology, or ecology, but all naturalists will have one thing in common: they are passionate about the natural world.
A good naturalist tour leader needs to effectively communicate and spread that passion to group members on a wildlife excursion. They are effectively cultural and ecological ambassadors between a place (and habitat) and outside visitors, responsible for bringing a greater understanding of local flora and fauna to the nature enthusiasts they lead.
Besides their role as teaching ambassadors, naturalist guides are also in charge of the logistics concerning the group holiday or excursion. They might accompany the group to and from the tour location, arrange the day’s activities and transportation, and sort out any questions or problems. They might also have to file a report after every tour they lead based on their observations and experience with the group.
Becoming a Naturalist Guide
Anyone who wants to become a naturalist tour leader will have an advantage with a university degree – especially if the degree is in forestry, environmental science, or wildlife management. However, you do not necessarily need to have a university degree in order to become a naturalist guide. There are training programs that can teach guiding and interpretive techniques, natural and cultural history, and even language skills.
Having a strong knowledge base is essential to being a naturalist tour leader, as he or she will need to be able to identify the flora and fauna they encounter, as well as put them in the context of cultural and natural history. But apart from thorough knowledge, a guide must be able to communicate that information clearly and effectively. They should be engaging but informative, personable but professional. Naturalist guides may lead the same tour many times, so enthusiasm is an extremely important quality. Though the location may be the same from tour to tour, a constantly changing group of visitors keeps things interesting.
To enjoy a successful career as a naturalist tour guide, it’s essential to balance natural and scientific knowledge with a friendly and engaging manner. Whether the itinerary is based in Canada or the Canaries, expert guidance on a wildlife holiday can make all the difference to the participants’ experience.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer. If you’re looking for a holiday with a focus on wildlife, lead by a naturalist tour leader, Naturetrek specialises in expert-led natural history and wildlife tours worldwide. Naturetrek brings over 25 years of experience to polar expeditions and tours to other spectacular regions on Earth.
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