Anna Vujicic talked to the co-founder of Upmarket Safaris about growing up in Zimbabwe, his favourite safari activity and what it’s like to have your wife as your business partner…
You and your parents moved to Zimbabwe when you were five years old. What was your experience growing up in Africa?
Zimbabwe was so wild in those days that we were always giving way to the elephant on the road between Makuti and Kariba. As a child, I had so much freedom and space. I never felt any danger or fear.
What do you love most about Zimbabwe?
Zimbabwe has always been my home; it is where I belong. There is so much to explore: the huge herds of Hwange; the private walking safari through Mana Pools; and the breathtaking beauty of the Eastern Highlands.
What is it like to run a business with your wife, Nonnie?
It is not always easy. Especially as we are both headstrong and opinionated!
What type of service does Upmarket Safaris provide for their clients?
A very special and unique one that is personalised in accordance to the clients’ interests. I guide many of the trips myself and take a lot of the photographs, which I share with clients at the end of the safari. I believe that having a naturalist guide along on the trip adds huge value and only makes the experience more memorable.
What is your favourite safari activity?
I love the traditional walking safari. I love to track on foot and to teach guests about the things that you often can’t experience from inside a vehicle. Being on the ground provides a totally different perspective – it is a reawakening of the senses for a lot of our guests!
What has been your most memorable wildlife encounter?
I would have to say Cecil the lion in Hwange. I remember him giving me a very distinct warning when I encountered him once on foot, he was a truly impressive and magnificent lion.
You are fluent in English, Afrikaans, Swahili, German and are currently re-learning Shona and isiNdebele! How did you find the time to learn these languages and is it useful in your line of work?
Growing up in Africa and in the bush, you often have no choice but to learn another person’s native tongue. I remember being put in a camp in Tanzania in 1995, where no one spoke English. I had a very quick and sharp learning curve there, I even started to learn and pick up some Kimaasai. It is certainly beneficial and really opens doors, especially if you show people you are humble and want to understand them.
Have you been involved in any community or conservation programmes? If so, tell us about what they do and how our readers can contribute.
Throughout my years in the industry, I have been involved with numerous aspects of conservation, including anti-poaching work and taking part in foundation projects. It is important to understand the vital role that wildlife plays on the wellbeing of the community. The two must live side by side in mutual benefit. I think it is very important for readers to be very well versed in how they can contribute, and it is important to know where your contribution is going and how it will be used.
Do you have some tips for first-time travellers to Zim?
Victoria Falls is spectacular and well worth a visit – take the time to walk along the Falls and take photographs from all the different viewpoints. Zimbabwe has one of Africa’s greatest elephant sanctuaries in Hwange National Park, not to mention Gonarezhou in the south-eastern lowveld. For those wanting a relaxing experience surrounded by water, I suggest spending a few days in a houseboat on Lake Kariba.
Finally, what’s next on your African bucket list?
I really want to visit Egypt and see the Pyramids. I would also love to see the lowland gorillas in Congo-Brazzaville. They have great forests there with unusual species of fauna and flora.
Ian Batchelor is co-founder of Upmarket Safaris.