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Doug Macdonald - Interview With A Zimbabwe Safari Guide



Doug on Safari.


Doug Macdonald was born in Zimbabwe in 1969 and comes from a family that has strong ties and history on the continent of Africa. His Grandfather’s sister and her husband were some of the early adventurers that joined Cecil John Rhodes to help colonize Zimbabwe in the late 1800’s. His Grandfather and Grandmother, who were also keen adventurers, soon joined them and came prospecting for gold in those early “Gold Rush” days. His Grandfather was also one of the first Europeans to canoe down the Zambezi River, from the Sanyati River through into Mozambique, in his quest to find minerals.


Doug’s Father is also like minded and spent much of his young adulthood hunting and prospecting for minerals and then teaching some of this bushcraft to Doug and his two brothers. It was from here that Doug developed his early passion for the African Bush as much of school holiday time was spent in the bush on family holidays.


Doug first joined the safari industry in 1989 working in Hwange National Park at the Hwange Safari Lodge while completing his college degree in Hotel and Catering Management. Once this was completed, he began working at Spurwing Island in the Matusadona National Park where he concentrated on achieving his Zimbabwe Professional Guides License, which he passed in 1997. Spurwing is also where he married his wife Angela, with whom he has two sons, Dean and Murray.


During his career, Doug has not only guided extensively within his home country of Zimbabwe but also guided in other African countries such as Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa and Kenya. He has also explored parts of Malawi, Egypt and Namibia.


To find out more regarding Doug's Safaris, visit his website here - www.dougmacsafaris.com




Zimbabwe as a safari destination


What do you feel that a Zimbabwe safari has to offer that can't be found anywhere else in Africa? I'm thinking of must-see wildlife destinations or interesting behavioral phenomena that are specific to Zimbabwe.


This is very difficult question to answer as it is quite a subjective thing to compare one destination with another. However, attempting to do this, I would say that we don’t have anything specifically unique that I can think of when it comes to our wildlife populations or their behaviour, but what we do have is quality wildlife experiences which are largely due to the way guides tend to do things here. I think that on average you will end up with a better quality guide in Zimbabwe than in other African countries; I stress here that this is on average, as there are some very good guides in other countries.


But here we want our guests to feel a part of what is happening around them as opposed to sitting in a grand stand on the side, and I am not talking about specifically sitting in amongst a pride of lions. But being able to walk around the bush and become familiar with the smells and sounds of the bush and to track animals so you get a glimpse of what their day is like and where they actually go during their day as opposed to seeing what is standing next to the road. It is this type of experience that I feel Zimbabwe does very well.


Having never been on a safari to Zim myself, what would you say is the strength of the parks in Zim and the Mana experience?


To add Mana Pools to the discussion, this park has more people walking around it than most and, as a result, the game is more habituated to people on foot. This means that we are able to watch animals from a much closer distance than in other parks. It is this type of experience, of walking and tracking animals, combined with the variety of destinations and activities and the beautiful scenery which really makes this a very special park, but to enjoy all of these parks I will always recommend that you go with a guide that knows the park to get the best out of it.



Overlooking the Runde River in Gono Re Zhou NP


In the last 2 years several ST members have been to Zimbabwe most notably to Mana Pools. What do the other major, and lesser known national parks, have to offer?


The variety within Zimbabwe is amazing and it’s so good to see all of these places re-emerging after a very trying decade for us here in Zimbabwe. To summarize some of them briefly


Hwange – This is a huge park with a tremendous diversity of habitats and animals and I do think it suits the longer stay as long as you do different areas of the park like Sinametella area and the Ngamo Flats for example. Water is always an issue here so obviously drier years will put the animals under the greatest pressure as all the water is either from man-made lakes or water pumped into pans outside of the natural rain cycle. This can result in a situation where the elephants dominate the water which makes the small lakes better at that time, as there is more space for everyone to fit in assuming there is water in them.


Gona re Zhou – Another very big and diverse park recently coupled with Kruger and Limpopo National Parks to make a huge Transfrontier Park. This park is very definitely on the rise as a destination but has very few safari operators within it (three that I am aware of at the moment), apart from the camps on its boundary and in conservancies around it. This is one of the few parks around that can give you a true sense of wilderness as you have a good chance of seeing no other people there and like Hwange has a great diversity of flora and fauna.


On Lake Kariba at Matusadona


Matusadona – This park is probably one of the most scenically attractive parks you will find anywhere but suffered badly during the “noughties” as a result of a very high lake level which covered over much of the grazing that had been available during the drier years in the nineties. It’s a long fireside discussion but the game population and variety is recovering along with the grazing and the park has the added attraction of you being able to track the small population of black rhino on foot which is always exciting. The large wilderness areas in the Zambezi escarpment of this park are also true wilderness type areas and only accessible on foot.


Matobo Hills – This is a relatively small park in a big area of granite inselbergs and Kopjes and holds incredible human history dating back to almost the birth of mankind and is therefore a fascinating destination from that perspective. It holds some very interesting mammal species that you don’t always see in other parks like Klipspringer, Rock Dassies, Black and White Rhino, Leopards to name a few. As a birding destination this park is also fantastic and has the longest running raptor study in the world which focus’s on its black (Vereaux’s) eagle population.


Chizarira – This park situated between Matusadona and Hwange National Parks on the edge of the Zambezi Escarpment does not hold any significant populations of animals and has always been a bit out on a limb for most safari itineraries, however, it does have extraordinary views from the edge of the steep cliffs and gorges of the escarpment and is a wonderful birding destination with specials such as Taita Falcons and a “Pitta Patch “ for the African Pittas. It is often used by those choosing to self drive between Vic Falls / Hwange and Matusadona.



Gono Re Zhou NP


Kazuma Pan – This park between Hwange and Vic Falls is very much an adventure type destination with little facilities or roads and would suit the self drive safari goers well, as it is as much about the journey as the destination, don’t expect too much game and what you do see will be very wary but definitely a dry season destination with some great birding.


Nyanga – This park is up on the eastern Highlands of the country and offers mostly plains game with the odd sighting of lions and leopards. It does have beautiful vistas though over the highland grasslands with pine forests around and small trout lakes so it is in an area with lots of variety in habitats and activities surrounding it so well worth a visit if you are in that area.


Kyle – This is a small park on the edge of lake Mutirikwi and has mostly plains game with the odd hyena and leopard sighting but what it does have is great populations of white rhino and they are quite easily seen, this park therefore links well with Great Zimbabwe which is the largest ancient man made structure south of the Sahara and well worth a visit as well.


Are you permitted to walk in all these parks? and if so is it wise? or are some parks safer to walk in than others?


The Professional Guides license allows us to walk in all of these parks but you have to have a tour operator’s permit for that particular park if you are conducting safaris with guests. In terms of their safety for walking the basic rules of animal behavior apply wherever you walk and it’s all about interpreting the conditions at that particular time that is crucial to ensure you and your guest’s safety.


What are the logistics for reaching some of these more remote parks?


All of the parks I have mentioned above are accessible by road either tar or dirt and the larger ones all have air strips that are used by National Parks and the various safari operators so both options are available. Unfortunately at the moment I could not recommend using Air Zimbabwe for a variety of reasons so scheduled flights, as we had in the past to the major centers near the parks, is not an option. So basically what you are looking at is the following:-

  • Direct International Flights into Harare, Vic falls and Bulawayo.
  • Well established tarred roads between all the major towns.
  • Good quality bus route between Harare and Vic falls via Bulawayo and also Harare to Johannesburg.
  • Small charter buses on the tarred road routes and into the parks,
  • Charter flights to most areas of the country and a small schedule service that links Matusadona with Hwange and Vic falls in light aircraft.
  • For self drive tourists then there are numerous options but if travelling off the main tarred routes then don’t expect to find fuel stations so carry enough fuel and you will always find the local people very friendly and always available to help should you have any problems.

What are your thoughts on Hwange National Park. I came back with mixed feelings but also realise there is a large part of the park that doesn’t see the normal tourist traffic.


Hwange National Park is a tremendous park but as I said above I do think that if it is possible, you would do better by seeing different areas of the park within your safari because there is great variety of habitat which attracts different animals in different areas so having a guide that knows the park and where these can be found and what to expect where, will make a big difference.



Matusadona Sunset


Walking with wildlife


In Zimbabwe, more than anywhere else, and especially in Mana Pools, the ability to come close to big game has always been a draw. The guides know the animals and there is an undescribed comfort factor. What goes in your mind when you are walking towards big and/or dangerous game? How do guides draw the line. It’s a fairly subjective question but what interests me are some of the individual thought processes and the on the spot decisions you need to make. Maybe a few examples from the past or even how do you feel that thinking process has evolved over the years for you?


As mentioned above walking in dangerous game areas has certain rules and processes that you should always apply and these have not changed over the years but have perhaps become more instinctive and, I like to think, more in tune with my guests expectations of their safari. But as the guide I am always checking on these; for example wind direction and what species of animal is potentially in the habitat around or that which we are walking towards.


When approaching a dangerous animal or being approached I consider many things and primarily it covers the safety of my guests and then I add into that the possibility of getting my guests to a situation where they are safe and can watch the animal without causing unnecessary stress either to the animals or the guests and if this can’t be achieved then it’s better to back off and try again under different conditions.


For example, in Mana there maybe a bull elephant that is usually very approachable and tolerant of people but he might be near cow elephants which makes the situation potentially dangerous so best to wait until he is by himself or with other bulls. But each situation has slight differences in circumstances and its being able to interpret that and be respectful of the animals decisions that are important



Walking in Matusadona


This question pertains to the central attraction of a safari in Zimbabwe- that of being able to approach animals on foot. In a new article on walking safaris in Zimbabwe published by the Wall Street Journal recently in America, a safari guide named Dave Christensen describes situations that appear to be me to be potentially dangerous to both the clients and the animals.


Have you ever been in a similar situation? What is your view on the ethics of approaching dangerous game on foot with the possibility of having to shoot the game if something goes wrong? Are the odds not significantly higher of something going wrong when on foot compared to a traditional safari in a vehicle?


This is a very good question but very difficult to answer as perhaps there is no correct answer as everyone will view this differently, but I shall try to be as honest as I can. Firstly the example that is cited from the press is one I can quite easily see happening and I have had similar situations happen to me and I can assure you being tracked by an elephant is no fun! But without actually being there on the day, in this situation and seeing the terrain and all the circumstances that led up to that situation, it is very difficult to pass judgment on it. But I do know the guide involved and he is very competent and experienced so I am making the assumption that he deemed the situation safe to start with and then those circumstances changed and he reacted accordingly and, ultimately, with a good result as no one got injured and the same for the elephants.


However the second, and main, point of the question is regarding the ethics of walking as potentially you could kill an animal and whether it is a more dangerous safari activity than your traditional vehicle based activity.


I would agree that it is potentially more dangerous than driving and this would be borne out by the relatively few reports of people being injured while going on a vehicle based safari, but it does happen from time to time and I am sure many of the readers of this would probably have experienced a charge from an angry elephant and the ensuing chase down the road which rarely ends in injury to either party. On foot you don’t have the luxury of just being able to evacuate the area at great speed so the confrontation will generally be a lot more dramatic for both parties and could end in death again for either party but rarely does.


However I do feel that linking this to simple ethics is a bit questionable and maybe I am being too simplistic but would you consider not driving a motor car because potentially you might have an accident with another car and kill someone or perhaps hit an animal on the road? Does that make it unethical to drive? – maybe there are a lot more factors than straight ethics when considering this question.




Widlife/Conservation Issues


Have you seen shifts in wildlife populations in Mana Pools in the past 10 or 15 years? For instance, have you noticed an increase in Nyala and Eland, and a decrease in Leopard and Bushbuck, as some say?


Mana Pools is like many parks in Africa that are constantly changing in response to so many factors such as rainfall, tourist density, predator density, food changes etc. and these I think are in many cases cyclical and for us as humans we seem to always want to maintain the status quo of what it was like many years ago. But to answer your question specifically on Mana Pools there is no doubt that the Lion and Wild dog density has increased some what and continue to flourish. I feel the hyena population has dropped, but I have no absolute figures to support this only from observation. Regarding leopard I think the baboon populations are of a size currently that makes it very difficult for the leopards to operate in the day and so I am not certain if their numbers have dropped (unusually I saw three on my last safari) but what seems more likely to me is that they are having to stay far more concealed during the day and twilight hours to stay out of the baboons way and this makes seeing them all the more difficult.


For the bushbuck I think this year I have seen more bushbuck than I usually do and that might be a result of it being drier so they are more visible but, yes, the habitat has changed for them in the flood plain area of Mana. I would apply the same to Nyala and Eland in that we tend to see many more of them on the flood plain when conditions are drier and also, this year, we have had a plentiful supply of Vachellia ( Acacia ) Pods in a low rainfall situation which has further enhanced sightings of these animals – but on the whole I would say the Eland populations are not too different but Nyala has a feeling of being more in number.




Has the wildlife been neglected and what is the state of poaching in the country after the recent years of political turmoil in your country?


I am not in a situation to give you exact numbers on poaching stats in Zimbabwe and I don’t think anyone is, but what I can tell you is that from my observations and guest feedback on our safaris, there is very good and healthy populations of animals in the parks that have always had that, so no one will be disappointed with a safari in Zimbabwe – yes there is poaching but National Parks teams on the ground do their part to minimize this and prosecute those involved so we definitely don’t have a free for all situation. There are also private organizations helping where they can and so on the whole it is remarkable that our wildlife has not been plundered in light of our poor economics and politics over the last decade.


Your thoughts on the IPZ for rhinos in Zim and how it’s worked in the last few years and again where do you see it headed.


First let me explain what an IPZ – Intensive Protection Zone is. In the early nineties National Parks decided to move all the remaining Rhino in Zimbabwe into particular parks and areas to boost the numbers in those areas and where it would be easier to concentrate their anti poaching resources. Some of the Rhino were also shipped out to Australia and USA.


I think anywhere in Africa at the moment that has a Rhino population, is under severe threat and Zimbabwe is certainly on that list. In principal however the IPZ plan is a very good one if it was supported properly with the full resources of the state which it was in its early days and this worked quite well. However the support for it now largely comes from National Parks and Private Organizations and people of which there are many. Government however only really pays lip service to it as they do not have the resources to do much more, but it would be nice, for example, to see our air force involved with aerial reconnaissance and deployment of anti poaching teams


For the future I believe that firstly a master plan should be devised that is very specific on what involvement each of the various stakeholders should have to support the program and all African countries that are involved should have a singular approach to dealing with the end market. I don’t have a clever answer for how that could be achieved but without the market for the product being reduced or the price reduced we are very much swimming against a rip current here.


What do you see as Hwange NP’s future with the elephant population and the waterholes?


The elephant population in Hwange is huge and I do feel that there should be some intervention here. It must be understood that Hwange is trying to support a population of elephant that wouldn’t naturally occur there throughout the year in such density. This has been compounded by growing human populations on its peripheries and a reduction in available surface water so elephant are pressurizing areas so much more than they did 20 years ago. Culling I think is a solution that is too easy and not ultimately correct; this problem requires a lot more research and clever thinking which largely revolves around how the water is managed to reduce pressure. I would like to see someone at least trying a few ideas in the mean time, even if they are ultimately wrong but at least we are trying to make a plan while researchers observe this and work out more long term solutions.




Guide training In Zimbabwe


Could you describe the Zim pro licensing process for us in some detail?


The Zimbabwe Professional Guides go through the following process and I must say before that there is no set time frame for the process and it is based on each individual’s aptitude and experience to complete the process.


You would start by being employed in a safari camp and do menial tasks such as cleaning vehicles, basic mechanics, preparing the vehicles for the trips, helping with camp duties etc. You would also be learning basic things about the envioronment that you live and work in and how the tourism industry works.


From this experience and back ground reading and learning that you have done you would be able to write the Zimbabwe Guides License exam and this is 4 papers covering. Law ( National Parks and tourism ) - Habits and Habitats - Firearms and the law pertaining to them - General Paper ( this covers a range of topics including current affairs, mechanics, first aid etc but all related to the industry )


If you pass this then you have to become apprenticed to a professional guide in order to receive your learner guides license which now enables you to conduct game drives in an open safari vehicle in a national park or dangerous game area, to conduct walks under the supervision of a professional and to conduct plains game hunts ( not dangerous game ).


With this license you would now be trying to gather as much experience as you can in doing game drives, walks etc in dangerous game areas and this would include going on hunts to get experience in shooting dangerous animals and in particular elephant and buffalo. This period can take a few years to gather the necessary experience and knowledge.


During this time you will also have to get an advanced first aid certificate so that you can deal with trauma situations and also pass a firearms test which tests your shooting skills in a controlled environment.


If your tutor / professional deems you ready and you have all the above in order you can then go for an interview which is conducted by other professional hunters and guides along with National parks examining teams and they will go through your logbook and references and quiz you about what you have done and they will establish if they feel you are ready for your final exam. If you pass this then you can attend the practical exam.


The practical exam is a one week exam in the bush where you will be expected to set up a full mobile camp with staff and in essence conduct a safari where your guests are other professional guides and hunters with the parks examining team. These people will test your skills in the bush and put you under as much pressure as they can while quizzing you an a whole range of topics and see how you deal with it and you will be required to shoot either an elephant or buffalo in a pressure situation. If you handle that then you are now qualified as a Zimbabwean Professional Guide.


I would like to learn more about the whole guides licensing process in Zim. Compare it to KPSGA and FGASA for reference if you can (not sure how much you know about each of these).


I am aware of these licenses but not fully in the picture of the curriculum and who exactly the examining body is but these are basic requirements for a guide to do a game drive which is very different from walking through the bush with a rifle so I think you will find the focus will be slightly different. Zambia also has a licensing system but it is specific to a park so a guide qualified in Lower Zambezi has to qualify in Luangwa separately.


Is a canoeing licence part of the basic guide training or is this additional to the normal syllabus?


The canoe licenses are examined differently and have different written exams. In addition and there are two different canoe licenses; one covers the upper Zambezi (Vic Falls) and the other the lower Zambezi (Kariba to Kanyemba).


Are you seeing increasing numbers of people joining the Safari Guide Training in Zimbabwe? Are these all from Zimbabwe or is this training offered to non-residents?


The training is only available to Zimbabweans and yes there are more opportunities now for young learner guides to enter the industry and we are seeing this happening but we are virtually starting from scratch again so it will be awhile before companies start recreating a more formal approach to guide training within their organizations – there is still a little bit of wait and see happening I think.


During the lean years, how did Zimbabwe trained guides manage? Did they take other work in Zimbabwe or move to another country, and if so have they all come back?


Many guides did leave Zimbabwe for work in other African countries and are still there, but we are finding a few re emerging back here in Zimbabwe which is great, but many also left the industry and have moved into different industries completely, so bit of a mixed bag really.



Guiding outside of Zimbabwe


How is it that pro-guides such as yourself feel comfortable guiding in multiple countries? Wouldn't one need up-to-date local knowledge to find the best sightings in each park, for example, your personal knowledge of the dog den sites in Mana? Or is the training you receive such that you can transpose these skills and knowledge quite easily to another?


I have been fortunate that over the years I have worked and guided in many different areas of Africa so I feel I can confidently conduct a safari in those areas, however going into a new area is very exciting for me as a guide and yes if you are there by yourself it does take a few days to get a handle on what the general patterns are of the game movement but the basics do remain largely the same so for example the body language of lions is quite universal so as long as you understand that you can take that knowledge and apply it to all parks. I also rely on current local knowledge from the guides on the ground which helps tremendously in delivering a quality experience for my guests.




Talking about guiding in countries different from Zimbabwe, I assume that it is quite important to build a relationship with local guides or even drivers. Is there any practice you follow so as to ensure that the local guides do not feel diminished or stay within their shelves in front of guests who are travelling with a private professional guide like you?


You are absolutely correct that it is important to ensure that the local guide and myself form a team to deliver the safari experience for our guests, going in with a know it all attitude is definitely not the way forward and I always try to learn something new about the area when with other guides and I hope they learn something from me.


Have you had any problems in dealing with local guides, in particular in transmitting to them the desires, priorities or dislikes of your guests?


I have not had any problems when dealing with other guides as I do try and discuss with them as much as possible about what we would like to do and if it is possible in the area. I always try and get their recommendations for what they see works in that area and we create the plan together.


How would you describe and compare your time in Selous with the Zim parks especially Mana Pools?


For me the Selous was excellent as we were able to guide there in the same way as we do in Zim Parks, which is without having a game scout to chaperone you and also the flexibility to walk wherever we saw fit at the time. So in many respects it was very similar.


What are your biggest frustrations and, by contrast, your favourite aspects of guiding in other countries compared to guiding in Zim?


I think my biggest frustration about guiding in other countries is not having that flexibility to jump out the vehicle and go for a walk when we feel like it or even just to go over the ridge or up a tree to quickly check things out. However the excitement to me of seeing new areas or revisiting a park that I don’t often see sometimes outweighs the frustrations.



Doug at the Great Zimbabwe Ruins


Hunting in Zimbabwe


Do you have a background in hunting (either as a private resident or professionally), and if so, in what way has that shaped you as a conservationist and guide?


I do not have a hunting background outside of my father being a hunter in his younger years and we listened to his stories when we were small but my hunting experience is purely from my guide training, so difficult to answer as to how that might have influenced me outside of the fact that I know I am not one for going around killing animals, that’s just not my thing and probably reinforced through my guide training. But the skills I learnt during my hunting training are still very relevant as a guide; the only real difference being that the end result I want to achieve is either a fantastic photo or a great experience, as opposed to a stuffed animal on the wall.


How has trophy hunting, eg in SAVE Conservancy, helped wildlife conservation during the Mugabe years when photographic tourism was down?


The trophy hunting industry has been hugely influential in helping with conservation in this country as for many years it was the bulk of the revenue that National Parks received and I am sure it still does give the department a big slice of its funding through trophy and concession fees – likewise places like the Save conservancy would never have been able to survive if they were based around photographic tourism as there was just so few people visiting the country. Hunting has also assisted in the CAMPFIRE areas as well which also would have not been sustainable if based around photographic tourism.




The Present and the future


Zimbabwe: how does the negative media attention on land grab issues, poaching, wildlife issues truly compare to the state of things in the country?


Zimbabwe is my home and it is where I choose to live in Africa with my young family and I can assure all your members that if I found the country unsafe or untenable to live in I wouldn’t be here. However I am not naïve enough to say all the reporting was unjust and biased for one side’s agenda, although sometimes reading some of these articles you really do feel that there is an agenda there and they are badly researched. This does not help for people not familiar with the country if you read a report about poaching for example in an area, it’s very easy to extrapolate that in your mind to that being the situation throughout the country. But I do believe that for any visitor to this country they will find a country that has wonderful national parks and wild areas, tremendous people with big smiles that are always willing to assist and welcome you and contrary to some reports there is food, fuel and medicine here – we are rebuilding.


For obvious reasons Zimbabwe has not fully benefitted from the safari boom of the past 10 years or so - in a way it has been protected from tourism (although I imagine you didn't view it as 'protection' at the height of the troubles). What are visitor numbers like now and what do you think is going to happen to Zimbabwe's parks when all the tourists visiting Victoria Falls feel it is just as safe to go on to Zimbabwe as it is to Botswana or South Africa? In so far as you have experience of the Botswana concessions, Chobe, Kruger (including Sabi Sands and the like), the most popular Zambian parks, Tanzania, do you think about what is coming and if so what do you fear and what do you hope for? Also, I understand Mana Pools had many more visitors in the past than it does now - were those "better days" in your mind?


The great thing personally about the “unnecessary decade” was that if you did come on safari you could almost have some of the finest parks in Africa to yourself, but it was very sad to see so many good people lose their livelihoods in this industry. But we are now coming back and getting back into the tourism spotlight, some are still a little skeptical and I have no doubt for those that have visited in the past years, a friend or family member raised their concerns about you coming here – and I truly hope they were unfounded. But yes going forward I have huge concerns as to what the future holds for tourism in this country for me and for the type of tourism we are going to attract.


I am always trying to find those areas within a park that holds few people and lots of wildlife which as you rightly point out if everyone visiting the region now gets channelled into Zimbabwe there is going to be a lot of pressure as the camps are so different now from what they were 15 – 20 years ago. Then it was a few tents on the ground and a campfire for the kitchen which has now evolved into “tented camps” that are all on platforms with thatched roofs and luxurious surroundings and huge dining /lounge areas so their impact is so much greater than before. A good example being the new camp built in Mana Pools which has caused so much controversy, this site used to be for mobile safari operators with their tents etc. and now it is a 24 bed luxury lodge all under thatch so covers a good stretch of the river bank and will come with all the staff, vehicles etc that are needed to make that work, but if you are a government official looking at the numbers and the new jobs created, investment etc. you would be patting yourself on the back for a job well done.


So my fears are mostly around the short term decisions that are made which are going to have long term effects but I must be sensible in that this industry is changing. The government sees it as a quick way to bring money into the country, which is sorely needed, and therefore feel justified in charging huge concession fees, which ultimately is a tax on the travelling public from wealthier countries, but this is not isolated to Zimbabwe. This in turn leads to large and fancy camps being developed by the operators in areas as a way of being able to pay these fees as it won’t be achieved with a few tents out of the back of the safari vehicle. There is no easy solution here but I just hope that areas are maintained in the parks where those looking for that truly wild experience can still get it without having to own a fortune 500 company to get there.


Do national parks actually have a viable future in Zimbabwe if the country gets back on its feet and starts to become productive and even reasonably well-run again? Will they have to produce a lot of tourism revenue to justify their existence or is the pressure on them not that great?


Yes there is a big role to be played by our wildlife estate in this country and government is fully aware of what the possible potential is and the industry and parks will be put under pressure to achieve this and I believe that this is reflected in the fact that, despite our very poor performance over the previous decade, the parks estate has remained intact and not left to be overrun by people as has happened in many other countries. This is seen as a very important resource for the country.


Other questions


Seeing that you worked at Spurwing Island, do you know Greg Poole and/or Andy and Sonja Webb? Andy and Sonja been great mentors to me for a few years.


Yes, I know Andy, Sonja and Greg very well as we all worked together for many years on Spurwing Island.


What are a few of your all time favourite Mana wildlife moments/experiences?


I have so many stories it’s hard to pick one over the other, but I think one of my more amazing experiences was to be out tracking lions one morning when an impala came sprinting into the clearing we were in, closely, and speedily, followed by with 6 wilddogs, who then caught the impala right in front of us! This was very quickly followed by the arrival of 2 lionesses (the ones we were tracking ) who clearly intended to take the impala from the dogs; but within a few seconds four hyenas turned up and were fighting the lions for the impala. While all this was going on the wilddogs were not letting them get away with it and got in the middle and were pinching back parts of their impala as chance allowed. Chaos! A very memorable encounter and at very close quarters, but of course my camera was back in the vehicle so only memories to record it.


Some lighter questions - I'm thinking Breakfast TV style here.


Where do you buy your outfits and do safari guides discuss clothes and accessories?


I think outfits is probably the wrong description as I think with most guides its what’s on top of the clothes pile is what gets worn that day it certainly is for me anyway, and when it comes to the accessories discussion every guide has his / her way of doing things and carrying what he / she feels works but you do find that as time goes on the amount of clever things that get carried get less and less and we try and keep it simple and reliable.


What music do you like to listen to in the bush, or is it bush sounds only 24/7?


I do have music in the bush but rarely listen to it and generally not around guests unless the situation calls for it; but no specific taste except I think I am a bit past the heavy metal phase!



Doug, Dean and the Dogs


How do guides like yourself manage a family life?


It’s difficult to have a family life as well but when I am home I do try to spend as much quality time as possible with my family and as they get older I hope to involve them more and more in the time I spend in the bush.



This interview took place on the banks of the Zambezi at Mana Pools and was finalised by email in the last couple of weeks. It included a number of questions submitted by Safaritalk members.




The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.

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