Drum roll! It's that time of year again when I release the details of my upcoming safaris for 2020 and 2021. If you are thinking of going on safari next year or the year after, please read on....
What makes my safaris different to others? Well, let's start with the people. It's more than just the fact that you have your own personal zoologist in tow. It's the group itself. If you are the sort of person who is really interested in wildlife and conservation, and you just love animals, there's a very high likelihood you will meet fellow like minds on one of my group safaris. It's not uncommon to make firm friends on my trips, because group sizes are limited to 12 and people do tend to stay in touch afterwards. Going on safari with a zoologist with over twenty years of experience in Africa, you are not going on a 'point and shoot' (the photographic kind) type of safari where you see an animal, get a photo and ten seconds later, move on to the next thing. We spend time talking about animal behaviour, watching and learning, taking time to get the photos you want, and seeing what unfolds on the savannah. We talk about the big picture of conservation and what's happening to the natural world and share ideas about what needs to be done to fix things. But we also have a jolly good laugh and there's never any shortage of good humour on the safari vehicle.
If you're looking for a cheap safari, my safaris are not for you, and there's a very good reason for that. I want my groups to know they are genuinely giving back to the local people who are the custodians of the wild lands we have the privilege to visit and ensuring the conservation of the animals we are all there to see. It costs money to conserve wild ecosystems and to ensure the local people benefit from wildlife. At Matson & Ridley Safaris, I know that we really do make a difference because I hand pick the companies we work with and I ask a lot of questions! I want to convert everyone who comes to Africa to me to a conservationist if they aren't one already and to feel really good about what they've contributed to the cause just by going on my safari.
Over the years I've been taking people to the mountain gorillas in Rwanda we've contributed tens of thousands of US dollars to gorilla conservation in permits alone. Our current contribution to gorilla conservation through permit payments stands at a whopping US$90,000! This does not count the additional positive contribution made through our safari groups' paying for local porters, local guides and staying at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, which is community-owned by a trust (SACOLA) and has contributed US$3.5 million to the local community to build houses, connect electricity, provide health insurance, and even build school rooms and a local clinic, since its inception. The mountain gorilla population is increasing in Rwanda and has actually tripled since the days of Dian Fossey's early work on their behaviour. Read more about the way staying at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge makes a difference here.
In Rwanda, in addition to our considerable influence in conserving gorillas, we also run the park's first elephant research project, which your safari with me there directly funds, the Akagera Elephant Project. Together with my safari groups, and working closely with local guides and park management, we are responsible for developing the first photographic identification database for the 100 or so elephants in Akagera. This is the first time this population has been studied and we are learning not only 'who's who in the zoo', but also who's related to who, who are the matriarchs, which bulls are most likely contributing to the population through matings, and so much more about elephant behaviour as this population recovers from many years of human disturbance. I'm so proud to be bringing groups to this part of Africa as the work being done by African Parks in combination with the Rwandan Development Board in Akagera National Park, from reintroducing lions and rhinos, to training rangers across the country in anti-poaching, is truly incredible and one of the best examples of successful conservation on the ground you will find anywhere in the world. I lead my elephant research focused safaris in Akagera during the month of December, followed by two gorilla treks at the end. (Just as an FYI, December is low season in Rwanda and you have the added benefit then of a 30% discount on the first gorilla permit and low season prices on accommodation.)
Further south, the safaris I book and lead in Botswana all give back 1.5% of revenue through the company we use there, Natural Selection. Check out the fantastic projects this money funds in Botswana and Namibia and this comes directly from the safaris booked with them. Projects range from leopard research and giraffe conservation work to environmental education for local school kids and even provision of a bus in a high elephant conflict area in Botswana to help kids get to school and avoid potentially lethal confrontations with elephants. Again, it's not just the fact that 1.5% of your safari cost goes to these conservation and community projects, but the bigger picture of what these camps give back to the economy and local communities in terms of jobs and training. When you go on safari with us, you see this positive impact first hand.
What about my safaris in Tanzania and Kenya? Unsurprisingly, they give back too! That's because we don't work with any companies on the ground that aren't actively making positive impacts. Our main ground operator in these countries, Asilia Africa, gives back through their partnerships with community conservancies (such as Naibosho Camp), through paying for scholarships for Maasai school girls through the Maa Trust, hosting local school kids in their safari camps as part of the Twende Porini environmental education program. My Serengeti Green Season Safari (23-30 May 2020) directly supports Tanzania's only all-female run safari camp (something I'm personally very passionate about as the industry is very male dominated) and the Serengeti cheetah research project. For more information on Asilia Africa's positive impacts from your safari dollars check out this site.
How do you really put a price on the feeling you get from being in a true wilderness among lions and elephants and giraffes? Think about that for a second. What is that really worth to you? That feeling of groundedness and connectedness to nature, that totally clear view on your life and place in the world, the sense of clarity in the present moment, and true peace.... the kind you only get after a few days in the bush in Africa, after you've heard the lions roar by your tent and experienced a few gob-smacking sunsets to put things into perspective. In reality, when you book a safari with us or come on one of my safaris you are paying a very fair price for the amazing privilege to spend some time in Africa's wild places. The truth is, being in Africa's wild places is truly priceless.
One thing's for sure, as conservationists, we need to come up with more ways to ensure that wildlife continues to thrive in Africa, with so many increasing pressures from climate change, human population increase and human development, and illegal hunting. Ethical photographic safaris that genuinely give back are an important part of the picture for conservation in Africa moving forward, and I'm proud to be one of those vital moving parts through Matson & Ridley Safaris.
It's your chance now to sign up for one the life-changing safaris I'll be leading in 2020 and 2021. Group sizes are limited to 12 people. Kids over the age of 6 are welcome, except in the case of the mountain gorilla treks which have a minimum age of 15 (set by the Rwandan government). For more information on these safaris please click here and contact me if you'd like a detailed itinerary or to sign up. I also lead private safaris for family or friendship groups of 8 or more. If you'd rather travel on your own, we can book your safari to travel independently to our preferred lodges across Africa, ensuring your safari dollars make a difference. Please contact me for details.
The amazing Skybeds experience is part of my Botswana safari in both 2020 and 2021. Imagine yourself sleeping out in the wilderness on a tower above a waterhole frequented by elephants, being cooked a superb dinner over the fire and spending the night looking up at Africa's spectacular starry, starry sky.