Jackman says that most of the time a guide is there to interpret the natural world in which they grew up, a bush-wise genius who can read animal tracks in the same way that others peruse a newspaper, put a name to every bird and be an inspirational source of knowledge on everything from elephant behavior to the secret world of the termite mound. Added to which he or she will be the perfect host, a born raconteur with an inexhaustible fund of stories to keep clients entertained around the campfire.
As Jackman says such expertise doesn’t come cheap. Seeing Africa through the eyes of a top-dollar guide undoubtedly costs more than your average package safari, but the rewards are well worth it.
There are two guides in Jackman’s list from Botswana, namely, Ralph Bousfield (naturalist, botanist and archaeologist) and Map Ives (everyone’s idea of the archetypal safari guide) who are both outstanding and passionate about their jobs and love for the bush.
One particular guide mentioned is Jackson ole Looseyia, who is one of the most successful guides in Kenya, a former Big Cat Diary TV presenter and a partner with the Beaton family in their safari enterprises. He is tall, graceful, powerfully built and looks every inch a Masai.
Serengeti’s Richard Knocker, from Tanzania, is the chief guide for Nomad Safaris. He leads what he describes as “a charmed existence, doing what I love best, looking at awesome animals in the most beautiful parts of Africa”
Brian also mentions two incredible and astounding guides from Zambia, Garth Hovell and Robin Pope. Garth, like many of Africa’s best guides, is from Zimbabwe. It was there that he learned varied guiding skills such as dealing with crop-raiding elephants and buffaloes. He has guided all over southern Africa, including a spell as head guide at Matetsi, Zimbabwe’s largest private game reserve, and tracked tigers in India as well as plying his trade in the wilder parts of Malaysia, Russia and Australia. “I’ve been charged by buffalo and lion and had my vehicle flung into an acacia tree by an angry elephant that was protecting her young, but it’s all just a walk in the park for me,” he says.
Robin Pope grew up running wild in the bush with a pellet gun and a fishing rod. In 1988 he founded Robin Pope Safaris, Zambia’s acknowledged market leaders, whose four camps – Nsefu, Tena Tena , Nkwali and Luangwa River Camp – are among the best in Southern Africa. His knowledge of Zambia’s wildlife is unrivalled and comes with a natural gift for enthusing clients, who return year after year.
One favourite is Zimbabwe’s well-known Steve Edwards, the bear-like owner of Musango, a 12-bed luxury safari camp on an island in Lake Kariba on the edge of the Matusadona National Park where Steve was also warden for many years. He is also chief guide, leading his guests on walking safaris while Wendy, his wife, runs the camp.
He was born in Margate, in Kent, and was only a year old when he came to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with his parents in 1955. It was during a school outing that he signed up to join a bird watching group headed by a national parks warden, and from then on all he wanted to be was a ranger. He found himself guiding in the Zambezi Valley, where canoeing and walking in the magnificent Mana Pools and Matusadona national parks convinced him where his future lay. Twenty years ago, he set up his own safari business and finally built Musango – the camp of his dreams. Having clocked up more than 30 years of guiding in the wild (including a near-death experience with a hippo), he is also a decent photographer and a mad-keen birder. His other abiding passion is paleontology; he recently discovered a fossil site in Matusadona with four species of dinosaur.
Having the look of a desert prophet, which is not far from the truth, is Garth Owen-Smith. Jackman says he has been a voice in the wilderness, crying out to protect the Kunene Province, the thirst lands of north-west Namibia. He is a knowledgeable man and spends most of his time in a desert oasis known as World’s End. Every year he leads small groups of clients on what are best described as “limited edition” tours run by Kunene Conservancy Safaris, a community-based Organization.
To conclude Jackman’s top 10 pick of the finest safari guides in Africa, are two exceptional South African guides, Juan Pinto (director and head ranger at Royal Malewane) and Pokkie Benadie (well-known and respected in conservation circles throughout Africa).
Top 10 Safari Guides List:
Botswana: Ralph Bousfield
Botswana: Map Ives
Kenya: Jackson ole Looseyia
Tanzania: Richard Knocker
Zambia: Garth Hovell
Zambia: Robin Pope
Zimbabwe: Steve Edwards
Namibia: Garth Owen-Smith
South Africa: Juan Pinto
South Africa: Pokkie Benadie
By: Brian Jackman