Having had the privilege of guiding guests on safari across Africa for over 30 years, my passion for leading extraordinary safaris remains as fresh as it always has been. Every journey begins with a conversation….
How did you start out in guiding?
For as long as I can remember I have wanted my life to be filled with animals and nature. I was one of those tiresome children who insisted on collecting rocks and eggs and feathers and insects. I guess I was born with a naturalist’s heart and curiosity. When adulthood loomed and the prospect of growing up became a possibility, I knew without a doubt that a ‘normal’ and expected life in one of the ‘professions’ was out of the question… luckily for said professions! So I was fortunate enough to get a job as a trainee guide at Tanda Tula in the Timbavati, bordering the Kruger National park. I was trained there by my early mentor, Bruce Meeser, and the legendary tracker Jack Mathebula. It was the best start I could ever have hoped for.
What’s your favorite place in Africa and why?
There are so many places in Africa that I am in love with, to name them all would be impossible. Yet the place where my mind goes most in its moments of dreaming is to Zakouma in Chad. I love it for its remoteness, its wildness, and its sheer abundance. Sitting in the evening at one of the pans and watching the layers of birds flying in, in their thousands, and settling among the herds of buffalo, tiang, giraffe, and hartebeest is mesmerizing. Zakouma also offers the freedom to explore, on foot and by vehicle, that few places in Africa can. To top it all, it is one of Africa’s true conservation success stories, thanks to African Parks, the most effective NGO on the continent.
Have you ever been really scared on safari?
No, not in the sense that the African wilderness or its wildlife are scary. My heart has often raced a little faster and there have been many exhilarating encounters that have left me taking deep breaths, but I have never felt real fear on safari. I believe we have a rightful place in nature and if we engage with it in a respectful way with knowledge and sensitivity we will not put ourselves in danger.
There have been a few times in very remote corners where I have felt in the wrong place at the wrong time and human events have clearly been beyond my control. Those stories are best kept for the campfire…
What three books do you recommend your guests read before going on safari?
It depends a little as to where you are going on safari and what your interests are, but the following offer interesting insights into Africa – choosing just three is impossible!
• Michela Wrong – It’s Our turn to Eat
• Adam Hochschild – King Leopold’s Ghost
• Alexandra Fuller – Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight
• Barbara Kingsolver – The Poisonwood Bible
• Beryl Markham – West With the Night
• Paul Theroux – Dark Star Safari
• JM Coetzee – Disgrace
• Martin Dugard – Into Africa
• Robert M Sapolsky – A Primate’s Memoir
• Phillip Gourevitch – We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families.
What are the three most important pieces of kit for guests to bring along?
A kikoi (sarong)
What is your motto in life and what concepts are sacred?
I don’t have a motto per se – perhaps “You are dead for a long time” comes close!
Making broad statements is always dangerous as the older I get the more fallible I find myself!
I do believe that Nature is intrinsic to human well-being and that we must do whatever we can to ensure its protection. Conservation is war, and we all have a role to play in winning it. As guides, our role is to ensure we deliver authentic and meaningful experiences to our guests that showcase the wonder and the joy of Africa, and yet also highlight the challenges – and solutions – that the continent faces.
The intersection between travel, conservation, and philanthropy is an increasingly important place and one that I feel I can have an active role in.
On a personal level, I strive for balance… and have certainly not as yet achieved it!
Which rules have you made, which ones do you follow and which rules do you break?
I have never been good at rules…. particularly when they are made by others! Only dead fish swim with the stream.
Common sense, respect, empathy, understanding, and intuition are better attributes for navigating the world than ‘rules’.
What's your most embarrassing or comical moments ever on safari?
There have been many – both small and big! One moment of blushing horror does still haunt me 30 years later… I was a young guide, and one of my jobs was to wake up the camp staff at around 3.30am so they could prepare morning tea and coffee for the guests. We’d had a lot of late nights, so I went back to doze on my sleeping platform, close to where the game drive vehicles were parked. But I overslept, and was woken by Jack Mathebula calling me and saying “wake up, wake up, you’re late”. I leaped out of bed, stark naked – only to be confronted by a game drive vehicle full of guests staring at me. I was mortified.
After a few decades of going on African safaris, I can testify that Michael belongs to a rare breed, in the sense that the trips he designs and guides are never conventional and always bring a different dimension to the guest’s experience, combining exclusivity and authenticity.
Paolo Mapelli, Milano - April 2017
Conservation of African wildlife and wilderness areas is a lifeblood passion for Michael, and indeed he is playing a leading and kind of pioneering role in combining Tourism, Conservation and Philanthropy.
, - January 2017
In-depth knowledge about nature, animals, wildlife and conservation together with his exceptional personal skills and general culture has proven for us to be the key to these outstanding and unforgettable trips Michael guides.
, USA - January 2017
By his excitement and passion, he was clearly invested in our trip. From our vantage point, everyday was another adventure with more astonishing things than we thought possible. And everyday went without a hiccup.
, - May 2017
The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful of Cultural Tourism
Brazzaville Congo – Heart of Lightness
How a Few Adventurous Philanthropists Are Changing the Face of Conservation
Cape Town is a magnificent place to live with the mountains, the sea, the world-class restaurants and the multitude of places and things to see and do. A recent addition to the City is the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (MOCAA) – arguably the most important and significant event in the global art world this year, and yet another reason to add Cape Town to the beginning or end of your safari.
The world’s last remaining mountain gorillas of Central Africa are now thought to number just 750 and are distributed between the Virunga National Park complex at the intersection of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.
See the world’s most accessible population of shoebills, arguably
Africa’s oddest bird.
The wildlife roams freely within the reserve and adjacent dispersal areas where the Maasai communities dwell, illustrating a rare, modern day symbiosis in which wild animals and people live in peace.
Located on the western corridor of the 14,763 square kilometre Serengeti National Park, this breathtaking concession forms part of the renowned Serengeti-Mara ecosystem.
For the hardcore safari enthusiast. A place of wild abundance!
Odzala National Park
And now for something completely different...
In March of this year I spent a week in North Korea - a country of extraordinary contrast and contradictions that defies easy description.
A true exploration into iconic Africa
A Journey to Botswana & ZambiaView Here