We once filmed a scene that will stay with us for life. Lions attacked an elephant cow and over the following forty minutes she fought and swayed, striking out and finally went down on her knees. The life seemed to go out of her eyes and her shoulders sagged. She was half standing, still alive but emotionally dead, although largely uninjured. It was as if she knew it was over so what would come next was acceptable. Sad. But then something happened…
“The natural world in which we live is nothing short of entrancing – wondrous, really.
I take great joy in sharing a world with the shimmering variety of life on Earth. Nor can I believe any of us actually want a planet which is a lonely wasteland.”
A bolt of lightning struck some way off and as if ignited by this her eyes widened and I saw through my lens, something in those eyes that can only have been a surge of hope. She drew on every bit of energy she had left and straightened one back leg and then another. She plucked one lion off her shoulder as if it was just an irritating thorn, then flipped her trunk at another and charged the rest until all eight lions were left in her dust as she ran off to join her family again.
There are those that lean back, collapsed by adversity, and there are those that just need a nudge to get up and live on.
In April this year, as the world went into lockdown, I briefed my team on what I thought our future would hold. It wasn’t a happy prediction and as it turns out, it was quite realistic. But like that elephant, we straighten up and looked at the horizon with one single notion: that this will pass and when it does, will we be better versions of ourselves coming out of it at Great Plains Conservation?
What makes the Great Plains team special you might ask?
I immediately assured all our staff that their jobs would be secure. This is what a family does. We tackle the hardships collectively and share our successes. I called for volunteers for able-bodied guides, and others, to switch to ranger duties, and to a man and women, all put up their hands.
As a result, we started Project Ranger and so far have funded over 130 rangers in 7 countries. We issued a challenge by putting up $250,000 for funding to this important initiative to be matched, and am happy to say we are halfway there with support from industry and conservation partners.
Thinking about you and what your concerns would be about travelling to our shores, we entered into an agreement with a worldwide private flying company to offer you the opportunity of flying directly from your nearest airport to our camps. We have a selection of our suggested Private Flying Safaris available on our website to view, with the beauty being we can customise your arrangements from literally anywhere in the world!
Then we turned to our camps.
With no guests, we have had the perfect opportunity to rebuild and refurbish, without inconveniencing anyone.
In Kenya, we went back into Mara Nyika and have now added two new family suites that have been completed this month.
We completely re-roofed ol Donyo Lodge and built a new kitchen for our Relais and Châteaux chefs here.
We have also started relocating Mara Expedition Camp to a brand new site we just acquired with its new location slightly higher up and overlooking the rolling hills of the Maasai Mara but yet hidden from any light pollution.
I’ve just completed designs for something quite special on the old site of Mara Expedition Camp.
We will be moving our Mara Plains Family Suite here. Once completed it will be up into the trees with a very special private ‘villa’ offering (See sketches). Its name is the Mara Jehazi Suite.
Our Zarafa Dhow brand in Botswana needed a twin and so we are extending the East coast nautical narrative to this new Mara Jehazi Suite – a Jehazi is a large dhow. Traversing will be into the Olare Motorogi Conservancy, the Mara North Conservancy, and the Maasai Mara itself! Truly spectacular areas to explore.
Moving south, we’ve been up to some mischief here too.
Mpala Jena in Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls is getting a total rebuild and different styled facelift as we speak. The new camp will offer a rustic thatch beach style, but maintaining its standard and service you expect from us. More details to follow in time on this exciting development.
In our SAPI concession, we are adding a brand new camp to open mid-2021!
I’ll pause here to tell you a story. We were standing at a potential site on the Zambezi River looking out over the plains under the tall trees. Suddenly I was aware that I was standing in my “virtual lounge” of the new camp with something else.
I stepped to the left and saw them – a peaceful herd of elephants, asleep under the same trees. Thus the new camp’s name Tembo Plains was born.
So while you have been away, these Tembo (elephants), and their plains, are what has inspired this new camp’s design, including raised walkways that allow these massive herds to walk around, or under, your room.
In Botswana, we have not been sleeping either!
We announced recently, that we will be working closely with Xigera Safari Lodge as their reservations, marketing, and sales partner.
In addition, I have just looked at our final plans for another new camp we will building just south of the Panhandle in the Okavango Delta. This new camp will be called Bayei Camp, in honour of the great fishing clans of the northern Okavango. It’s a great fit because the camp is designed as giant fishing baskets in the trees!
I know you may be saying that lockdown and our Great Plains Gin may not have been a good combination for me, but I love this new concept and haven’t seen anything quite like it before. I can’t wait to share this camp with you all in the near future.
This new camp really does respect the community nearby and we will be decorating the camp with their art and bringing their culture into the experience.
Last month we included a new concept for us, our Expedition concept, mobile or travelling safaris in the tradition of the great scientific expeditions over the past 200 years.
We planning to offer you a mobile safari through our totally wild Selinda concession gathering scientific data during your expedition with us so you can contribute something more than what you already do by visiting us. This is by helping us enhance the science and our understanding of elephants, pangolins, and painted dogs.
Next month we are closing off Zarafa to completely redo all the decks and pools in preparation for your return there!
I’m exhausted just listing all these exciting enhancements we have on the go for you, but it has been worth it because frankly, we have never had a better chance to refresh our camps, retrain our staff, develop new menus, and new hosting protocols. Our guides have become rangers, our cooks are now chefs, and our staff more bonded as a family than I have seen since we started Great Plains.
And whilst this is quite a list, there are still two or three things that we have brewing behind the scenes to widen out the Great Plains portfolio further so you will have the choices of the finest safari experiences we can offer across Africa.
That elephant cow has inspired me to live life as if each breath is a precious jewel, and leaning back is just not for us.