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Where to track down the top safari guides in Africa

Brian Jackman, Sunday Times correspondent in khaki, picks the best of the wild bunch.

The Sunday Times - Travel Section
February 19, 2006


Deeply suntanned, dressed in shorts and a faded green bush shirt, the modern safari guide cuts a romantic figure. In what is almost exclusively a male profession, he is a true outdoors man, who can track a lion, fly a six-seater Cessna, extract a bogged down Land Cruiser with a Tanganyika jack and, if needs be, drop a charging elephant to protect his clients. In Africa, he is the king of the new frontier and, like the old time professional hunter he has largely replaced, he is often the cause of the malady known as khaki fever that sets female hearts aflutter.

Well, maybe. Possibly, there are still one or two guides who fit the khaki image; but the vast majority is a credit to their profession – men whose only desire is to share their passion for Africa, and the wild world that made them.

So what makes a good safari guide? First, he has to be someone to whom you are happy to entrust your life. Last week, New Scientists published claims that a generation of disgruntled elephants is attacking humans to avenge decades of poaching. True or not, it is a reminder that the African bush can be a dangerous place.

Years ago as I walked with a veteran guide called Cecil Evans, the two of us were confronted by a bull elephant that bore down on us with a terrible, strident scream. I was rooted to the spot, but Cecil, who was carrying a rifle, did not shoot. Instead he waved his hat and yelled, “Bugger off” at the top of his voice.

The elephant skidded to a halt meters from where we stood, then crashed off into the bush. It was Cecil’s knowledge that saved the day. He had a split second in which to judge that, for all its terrifying realism, this was a mock charge. Otherwise we might have had a dead elephant on our hands. Most of the time though, your guide is there to interpret the natural world in which he grew up, to spot the game and name the birds and to be an inspirational source of knowledge on everything from elephant behavior to the secret life of a termite mound. Added to which, he will be the perfect host, a born raconteur with an inexhaustible fund of stories to keep his clients entertained at dinner.

Where do these paragons exist? Here is a guide to some of the best guides in the business and their particular expertise.

The best of the best
John Stevens

The doyen of professional safari guides, John Stevens began his career in the bush as a teenage cadet ranger with Zimbabwe’s National Parks Service. Sixteen years later, he left the service, and has been guiding ever since. He made his name at Mana Pools National Park, on the Zambezi, specializing in small groups, with an emphasis on walking. But that was before Zimbabwe’s fall from grace. Today he spends much of his time guiding private groups in Tanzania and Kenya.

Also included in article:
Rod Tether
Jackson Ole Looseyia
Grant Cummings
Bertus and Andre Schoeman
Gavin Ford
Tristan Voorspuy
Simon Evans
Mike Penman


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