Co-owner of Uncharted Africa Safari Company, Ralph Bousfield needs no introduction in safari circles. His family have been guiding for five generations and his father, Jack Bousfield, was a hunter who gave up his profession to become a safari guide, before his seventh plane crash, which proved fatal. Based in the Kalahari Desert, Ralph is now one of the most famous guides in Africa.
Your father must have been such a huge influence on your life. What elements of his personality and character did you admire the most, and what is the main thing you learnt from him?
My father [pictured below] was a huge influence on my life: his love and fascination for all living things, people as well as animals, and an extraordinary, inquiring mind, mixed with a remarkable open-mindedness.
I learnt to question what may seem obvious and to seek the unexpected. There are always new frontiers to be explored – be it previously explored places, but with new knowledge and a different attitude – and most importantly not to be scared to push the boundaries.
After the plane crash, which saw you spend two years recuperating, do you think your outlook on life has changed?
The accident did make me accept that maybe I wasn’t invincible! It helped me to appreciate how blessed I have been and to value all opportunities and experiences, with people and in extraordinary places.
Botswana offers a very different safari experience from other countries in Africa. What really marks the country apart in your mind?
We are extremely privileged in Botswana in that the country is vast and has remained wild, as development has been well governed, considered and secure. This has resulted in the wild areas remaining truly wild so one can offer an authentic life changing experience.
How did you initially earn the trust of the Bushmen?
I had the privilege of growing up with Bushmen, with my father having huge respect for the people, their knowledge and skills of Kalahari.
How do you hope to tackle the threats to the lifestyle and culture of the Bushmen?
Culture is constantly changing. Major change is always scary, but how one deals with it, to me, is a measure of one’s success.
The different Bushmen groups are at a major cross road, with the old way disappearing, but not being equipped for the modern world. Certainly the older people know only the old way, but by circumstance have to survive in the modern world. I really value the skills and knowledge and believe that we will be poorer if we allow this to disappear.
Tourism is one means – not the only – in which culture and knowledge can be respected and valued, and putting a value to it can give it a chance to be passed on.
Why did you choose to target the luxury market with Jack’s Camp and San Camp? How do the camps benefit the environment in which they’re based?
The Kalahari and the Makgadikgadi in particular are extremely fragile environments, therefore the low volume and low impact luxury market is the only way to go. The camps benefit the environment by giving it an economic value that will ensure that it remains pristine.
You’re known for always managing to look pretty dapper despite the harsh conditions of the Kalahari, and now you’ve launched your own safari clothing line, Hickman and Bousfield. What are your tips for staying stylish on safari?
a) 100% cotton/natural fibre, airy loose shirts or bush jackets. Throw away the atomic bomb-resistant nylon modern kit.
b) Tough, snag-resistant cotton moleskin trousers or khaki jeans.
c) Leather, rubber-soled slip-on ankle boots. Check out the “Bousfields” by Penelope Chilvers – the best I have ever come across.
d) A really good quality, very wide-brimmed felt hat.
e) Basically, dress head-to-toe in Hickman and Bousfield Safari clothing!
How do you want people to feel when they leave your camps?
To feel moved and to “get it”!
When you’re away from the Kalahari, what do you miss the most?
The silence. The peace.
What is your favourite animal to spot on safari? Is there anything you still get really excited about seeing?
My favourite is Brown Hyena. I get really excited by new places and observing new behaviour in animals.
Botswana is one of the most eco-friendly countries in Africa and the Okavango Delta has just been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but there are still conservation issues. What are the changes you want to see in the next few years?
I believe we can really improve upon what is already great. My dream is to get the Kalahari migration back to being what it was when I was a child with similar numbers of animals as the great Serengeti migration. We can also play a very important role in ensuring the future existence of rhinos in Africa.
Finally, can you please promise us that you won’t ever cut your hair?
Ralph Bousfield is the co-owner of Uncharted Africa Safari Company, which owns Jack’s Camp and San Camp on the Makgadikgadi Pans of Botswana.
Images © Uncharted Africa.