BESPOKE Magazine’s Special Edition highlighting the Best of Africa will be available for download later this month. Preview some of the magazine below as Ker & Downey catches up with Doug Wright, our long-standing favorite guide in Botswana.
The safari business has evolved over the past half century just as all businesses have evolved. In the days of Hemingway, a safari was a several months-long production with porters, cooks, gun-bearers, and trackers with the Professional Hunter heading up the whole affair. The job of the Professional Hunter in those days was not only to locate big game for his clients, but also to entertain and educate his clients on anything from the cherished ritual of manhood for young Masaai males to the annual flood cycle of the Okavango Delta. He was an educator and a protector, the guru who knew the telltale signs that indicated when one could approach these elephants or those lions on foot. At the end of the day, he could entertain with stories of the bush around a campfire and a G and T.
Today’s safari guide is much the same. He should be someone who has spent a lifetime in the bush, knowing and understanding all things flora and fauna. Within hours of meeting his clients, a safari guide should be able to determine his clients’ fitness level in the case of trekking for gorillas or know when the clients prefer to do a walking safari. He will have a wonderful ability to get children and teenagers involved and away from their smartphone. In short, today’s private safari guide is someone who will make this experience special for every member of the group regardless of age or gender. One such safari guide is Doug Wright.
Doug was born in Maun, Botswana in 1941. His father came to Botswana in 1918 to establish a business trading in a wide variety of goods. Doug refers to his “University Education” in safari terms, beginning when he was sixteen and hunting lion. The lion in question charged, was fatally shot in the process, yet had plenty of life left to give Doug a severe mauling. The horrific drive home in an old Chevy and the fact that he did not reach hospital for four days impressed upon him the necessity to treat dangerous animals with the utmost respect. Doug still thinks the iodine bath administered to him by his mother upon reaching home hurt far worse than the lion mauling.
Doug hunted professionally in Botswana until 1990 when he left the business, deciding instead to concentrate on providing the best photographic and adventure safaris. Since then Doug has been General Manager of Ker & Downey Botswana and Chairman of the Hotel and Tourism Association of Botswana, and he was also appointed to a seat on the Tourism Board.
While a shareholder and director of Ker & Downey Botswana, Doug focused on the development of new adventure programs using the skills that served him so well as a professional hunter. The “Young Explorers” program was developed because Doug saw a need to introduce the increasing numbers of young American families going on safari to some of the bushcraft he learned as a young boy. Children as young as seven learn to track and identify game, fish, pole a mokoro, safely shoot a pellet gun, build a fire, identify constellations, drive a Land Rover, and much more.
Doug also developed the Mokoro Safari where clients have the opportunity to get up close to one of the most elusive antelope on the planet, the sitatunga. This is done the old-fashioned way with native polers silently poling the mokoro through the reeds while reading the “signs” the sitatunga have left behind.
Some of the best times with Doug are spent walking in the bush, reading the signs of nature and exploring whatever they reveal that day. If you want to walk up to elephants or lions, under the right conditions, Doug will escort you with his trusty 458 rifle by his side.
But he’ll also tell you when it’s not right because the elephants are in musth and aggressive, or because this is a family herd and the matriarch looks a bit “goosey.”
Doug continues to escape to the bush on a safari whenever it is possible. He can look back on over 40 years of exciting days spent with intriguing guests. Many famous people have been on safari with him and he continues to have lasting friendships with many of them. He is happiest in the bush and even today continues to enjoy sharing his love of nature and the many skills he has with young and old.