The second in our series of blogs where we get under the skin of African safari holidays. This week we talk to Gareth Peake from Okavango Horse Safaris as he shares some of the thrills and spills he's experienced while riding through the Okavango Delta.
What is the weirdest thing or moment you’ve ever encountered on safari?
On safari there seem to be so many weird and funny things that go on it's hard to remember! One night I had an elephant outside my tent for hours and hours and after a while I finally decided enough was enough and I needed some sleep for the long riding day ahead. So I managed to creep out of my tent in front of him, dressed only in a kikoy, and proceeded to our nightwatchman's fire, where I picked up a burning log of wood. I proceeded to try and scare the elephant away from my tent. At the sight of the burning log and me running in the dark he had such a terrible fright that he turned and hooked his tusk on one of the tent ropes, thus disappearing a fair distance into the bush with my tent. Some funny explaining to do in the morning!
What has been your scariest moment while on safari… and how do you stay safe on safari?
I would say the scariest moment I have EVER had whilst on a horseback safari was when I was guiding a group of guests, we rode past a breeding herd of elephants, which is generally a combination of cows and calves and a few young bulls, on the way back to camp. The matriach of the herd led a serious charge towards us, followed by her babies and two other young cows, at full speed! Being on a horse allows you a bit of speed and normally we would have galloped out of danger. Unfortunately the cavalry charge by the elephants caught us by such a big surprise, most especially the horses, one of the guests lost his seat on the horse and fell off! This presents a small problem. By this stage the rest of the group took off after the loose horse and I stayed behind to try and help the chap on the ground. The elephants being less than 15 metres from us, I had to use my horse to block the way of the angry cow as our man crawled to the saftey of a rather large tree! This took some time and a bit of arguing while the elephant was pretty upset with us! By the time we got to the tree the back up rider had managed to catch the loose horse, and finding a serious amount of energy the guest vaulted onto him and we disappeared far from the charging elephants!
Keeping safe is the most important aspect of riding in the bush; we always carry a flash bang, which is pretty good for making noise and scaring off animals that are dangerous to us. We also carry a .375 rifle and spare ammunition. This is for very serious situations, in the 30 years of Okavango Horse Safaris operating we have never had to use it for effect! We maintain good communication and we are always very careful of the ground whilst riding as Aardvark holes can be pretty nasty to fall down. MOST importantly, always use experienced guides on a horse safari and rely on good information from people to say it is a safe place to travel to.
If you couldn’t be a safari guide in the Okavango where would you go?
The Masai Mara Offbeat Safari was one of the biggest highlights of my guiding career; fun-filled and exhilarating spaces with lots of wildlife and the beautiful Masai people. The conservancies where the riding takes place allows you to avoid the congregations of game drive vehicles, and also being on a horse allows you to "escape." I was a back-up Guide on two safaris for Tristan Voorspouy and would say that would be my second option after the Okavango Delta.
Is there anything that you haven’t seen or experienced on a safari that you’d like to?
One thing, although the thought is a terrifying one. To watch big cats; lion, leopard or cheetah hunting from horseback. I have been lucky enough to watch wild dogs hunting from a horse which was a seriously amazing experience.
Which safari animal fascinates you most and why?
The cape pangolin is one of the safari animals that fascinates me the most because they are so rarely seen and are traditionally believed to bring great luck to anyone who sees one! I have been one of those fortunate people and have seen two in my life in the bush; once at 12 years old and the second at 24 years old. It is a scaly termite/ant eating mammal (it looks like a small African version of an Armadillo) that is predimonately nocturnal and they are very reclusive, living in small holes in a home range, which can be up to 8km square. The jaw of a pangolin is not able to function for chewing so the food is broken up in a gizzard-like structure.
Mostly the Pangolin walks on its hind feet using its thick tail to balance itself, the young pangolin ride on the mother's back when she is out foraging! They are also listed as a vulnerable species in Africa.
The cap pangolin is probably one of the least seen animals on safari and they are one of the coolest critters to come across! Some tribes in Africa believe you could even become a Chief if you see one!
Horse safari highlights?
Mostly riding in the Okavango Delta, which is probably one of the last wild places on Earth that we are able to use and be free. Not seeing another car, person or sign of human life is something incredibly special. Also riding with thousands of wildebeest and zebra in Kenya's Masai Mara was spectacular and something I will never forget!
Best tip for a newbie safari-goer?
Take it slow, don't expect to see everything the first time and if you do, remember how lucky you are! Always take into consideration other people's opinions of places and their suggestions of what to do and where to go to have a memorable time.
Best tip for an old schooler?
Get a bunch of friends together and go somewhere wild and fun and have an adventure, rather than do something or go somewhere you have already been or done.
Safari trends you’ve seen over the years?
People seem to be getting back into adventurous safaris now, where there is a big demand to keep it simple and fun! Whether in a canoe, doing a big walk or a horse safari! At the same time, people are very focused on keeping everything eco-friendly and there is a huge emphasis on maintaining a friendly relationship with our environment.