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Africa's Best Safari Guides: Follow the Leaders

Kurt Markus

Photo: Kurt Markus

In 1992, Ralph Bousfield, his partner Catherine Raphaely, and his father, Jack, were scouting for places to set up a safari camp in the game-filled wetlands of Botswana's Okavango Delta. Their small plane crashed. Catherine emerged relatively unscathed. Ralph suffered burns over a third of his body while rescuing his father, who later died from smoke inhalation.

"When my father died, it was the end of an era," says Ralph of the life Jack spent soldiering and hunting and living in the remotest parts of Africa. But Bousfield, now the most prominent safari guide in Botswana, knows better than to fall into the nostalgia trap. "I'm proud of my family," says Ralph, who is descended on both sides from solid pioneer stock, "but I'm not proud of certain things that happened.

"Colonial style was beautiful; the colonial way was not," he continues. There was, of course, racial injustice; there was also "a huge cost to the environment." His father earned a spot in The Guinness Book of Animal Records for killing some 53,000 crocodiles. Ralph last wrestled a crocodile so he could bring it to the animal orphanage on the grounds of his house in Francistown, where the city's schoolchildren come to learn about wildlife.

Jack's demise was the fiery denouement of an age of wild-white-man individualism; it also marked the beginning of Ralph's era, one characterized by a profound sense of responsibility. Ralph's success with Jack's Camp—built on the Makgadikgadi Pans, where he grew up, and named after his father—places him among an elite group of safari guides. They are steeped in a rich tradition, yet have come of age in a post—white hunter, postcolonial environment.

Together, the four guides introduced here map the safari's new terrain. Calvin Cottar, whose camp is in Kenya, is, like Bousfield, one of a long line of adventurers; if the Cottars are the Kennedys of the East African safari industry, Calvin is Bobby Jr., embracing his background as a tool, not a birthright. Ivan Carter is the brightest new safari star in Zimbabwe, a country known for its excellent guides, who are subjected to the most rigorous licensing exams on the continent. Jackson Looseyia, part owner and senior guide of a game lodge in the Masai Mara, is nothing less than the embodiment of a historical transition: a Masai, he's the point man for a nascent conservation movement that also aims to support indigenous culture by giving tribal people a stake in the safari industry.

While politics, poverty, and corruption have taken their toll on the wilderness experience, guides like these remain optimistic, committed to preserving wildlife and culture. Thanks to the best of the new generation, the safari is far from over.

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