When it comes to wildlife experiences, there isn’t much that Grant Reed hasn’t seen or done. Maria Airey spoke to him to find out more about the lifelong passion for nature that led him to establish Letaka Safaris
What was your childhood like?
Growing up in the Magaliesberg was idyllic, with our smallholding set against the foothills of the mountains with vast farmland that we had free access to (or at least that’s how we saw it!). I spent every spare moment I had scouring those hills for snakes and food for my ever-growing serpent collection.
How did Letaka Safaris come about?
While working in the Kruger National Park, I had an opportunity to become a guide in Botswana and fell in love instantly with the unspoilt wilderness. A year later, my brother Brent joined me on a safari and quit his job the moment we got back. From that day, we started plotting the start of our own company. Five years later, Letaka was born, and a few years later we were strengthened by the addition of our father to the business.
What makes it different?
Owning Okavango Guiding School has given our guides unrivalled exposure to training and it really is the guide that makes or breaks the African safari. Despite running a large number of safaris, we still have a post-mortem after each one to try and find new ways to create the best possible guest experience.
What is your most memorable encounter in the bush?
It is hard to pick between the psycho hippo that rammed my vehicle so hard that it rocked onto two wheels, with his lower teeth jammed into the seat below me and his upper jaw slamming down on my door, or the bull elephant that tipped me and my 16 guests out of the vehicle at night and spent the next 15 minutes charging us in the dark and trumpeting murderously…
Where does your passion for snakes come from?
To be honest, I think it is genetic. My grandfather was a passionate snake collector, my father took us gathering when we were little boys and now my children are catching snakes at the tender age of five. I have tried everything to discourage their interest but to no avail!
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
So many people don’t comprehend exactly why they travel to Africa and why it has such a huge impact on them. Only when you break the traditional radio guiding of chasing from sighting to sighting and introduce them to the tranquility of the wilderness do they really understand.
What have been the main challenges in your career?
The leap from guiding to running your own business is a massive one. Going from being responsible for only your vehicle and guests to having people depend on you and your decisions for a salary and ultimately a livelihood is sobering.
Why do you think tourism is so important?
Tourism gives value to the last remaining wilderness areas and without it we would not have the financial justification to prevent them from being plundered. It also allows us to connect to roots long forgotten and allow us to understand our heritage and role on this planet.
Where do you think African tourism will be in 10 years?
Wilderness as we knew it 20 years ago is a thing of the past. With more and more people travelling to Africa and an endless construction of new facilities to host these guests, it is getting harder to get away from other people and connect to the wilderness. Come now!
Do you have any plans for the future?
Yes, the same plans I had 20 years ago! Only now to do it with my family. I would like to spend my time immersed in the wilderness, sharing experiences with people and training and mentoring other young guides and to achieve more than our generation of guides ever did.
Why should people choose Botswana for a safari?
In a world of ever shrinking wilderness, it is one of the few places where you can still get away from the crowds and have phenomenal wildlife experiences. The Batswana are incredibly peaceful people and Botswana has managed to avoid the corruption, dictatorships and violence that affect so many other African countries.
What’s next on your bucket list?
My next destination of choice would be to go to Ethiopia and journey to see the Nechisar nightjar featured in the book The Search for the Rarest Bird in the World, but also to appreciate the history, culture and wildlife there.