Some traditionally masculine jobs are no longer male dominated: in the wildlife tourism industry, according to Bushwise, a field guide training academy, women represent 50% of all field guides in South Africa.
“This demonstrates that women are making their mark in this sector,” says academy founder Sophie Nieman.
For 28-year-old Melanie Groenewald, living and working in the wild was a childhood dream that has now finally come true. Last year, she enrolled in a 23-week professional field guide training course and hasn’t looked back.
Another budding field guide, 23-year old Tasha van den Aardweeg, a BSc scholar in Biodiversity and Ecology, says the bush has always been her happy place.
The wildlife industry has made substantial strides in gender equity. Last year, 26 women, the Black Mambas, made headlines for being the first all-women anti-poaching unit at the Kruger National Park. In September, an all-women team of 12, led by Carla Geyser, will embark on an expedition over 9 000km through Africa.
A typical day at work for Groenewald, who is now living her dream in KwaZulu Natal, consists of game drives, hosting guests and administrative work. She uses her spare time to study and learn more about the environment.
“I’ve never felt that it has been difficult as a woman in this industry. The physical side of it some may find tricky. Picking up a heavy spare tyre to change a flat one can be challenging, but I am not afraid to ask for help.”
For Groenewald, being a woman in the industry requires personal growth.
“You need to be strong, mentally and physically. You need to be patient with your guests, yourself, and the animals.
“You need to believe in yourself and not be intimidated by the unknown.”