It all began in Botswana 35 years ago with Colin Bell, Chris McIntyre, an old Land Rover and a mission to help conserve and restore the remote places of Africa.
The guides sought to offer authentic photographic and birding mobile safaris. This was just the beginning.
Soon they opened camps in the Okavango Delta, expanding their luxury safari experiences to Namibia, Rwanda, Kenya and the Seychelles.
More than three decades later, Wilderness Safaris has pushed the boundaries of ecotourism, making strides in wildlife conservation and community development.
With its presence in seven African countries and rare experiences that combine wildlife, culture and cuisine at its 40 luxury eco-lodges, Wilderness Safaris will not stop until it has an impact throughout the continent.
Whether it’s a hot-air balloon safari in Namibia and Zambia, gorilla tracking at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda or an underwater adventure in the Seychelles, travellers will get to explore uncharted territory and play a part in shaping that particular destination.
“The company is responsible for the protection of almost 3million hectares of remote areas,” says Grant Woodrow, the chief operations officer. “We pride ourselves on responsible and sustainable ecotourism, which has inspired positive action for our guests and staff. As we enter our 35th year, we hold true to our sustainability ethos that comprises the 4Cs: commerce, conservation, community and culture.”
Making a difference
The company has more than 3000 staff, 85% of whom come from within the community.
With people being a focal point, the Wilderness Safaris launched Children in the Wilderness in 2001. It is a life-skills and educational programme for rural children.
Every year, more than 500 children are hosted in camps and take part in educational programmes.
As wildlife plays a critical part in the experiences, it has done a lot to help conservation efforts, too. One example is the Botswana Rhino Conservation Programme founded in 1999.
The project helped to return locally extinct black and white rhino to the wild, in what is known as the largest cross-border move completed.
The latest project, which started in 2015, involves the reforestation of Rwanda’s Albertine Rift by planting more than 20000 trees at the six-villa luxury Bisate Lodge last year
Woodrow says the company hopes to soar just like its mascot, the African skimmer, a rare and striking bird that symbolises pristine, fragile ecosystems.
“One can say that it has been our lucky charm over the years,” he jokes.
The company has lots to celebrate this year. It reopened the Little Makalolo in Hwange in June, will reopen Serra Cafema in northern Namibia in September and will launch Magashi in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park in December.
Since gaining two new partners, Rise Fund and FS Investors this year, Wilderness Safaris hopes to continue its winning streak.
“We want to remain the leading authentically and sustainable ecotourism operator in Africa, as well as make the biggest impact to Africa’s wilderness, wildlife and people through high-end ecotourism,” says Woodrow, toasting to another 35 years.