Hailing from a family whose history as safari guides dates back five generations(!), Ralph experienced his first safari at the age of three. Today he draws on both his own lifetime of experience and his family’s deep-rooted history to provide in-depth and utterly authentic African experiences as the owner of Uncharted Africa. We caught up with Ralph to discuss conservation, family and authentic African experiences.
Q&A with Ralph Bousfield
Owner and Founder, Uncharted Africa
The Slow Road: After establishing a reputation as a famous hunter, your father Jack Bousfield began urging against hunting big game in 1966—the year B&R was founded, coincidentally. What prompted his philosophical shift away from hunting?
Ralph: Having spent his lifetime in the bush all over Africa, my father was astounded by the wild places in Africa which were disappearing and the numbers of animals were declining at an alarming rate and realized that, the lifestyle that had been my family’s way of living and also my family’s livelihood was a thing of the past.
He was a visionary, so could imagine safaris in Africa not being big game hunting but built on the idea that people would still come for the wildlife and more importantly the wide-open spaces.
You’re a trained botanist and archaeologist who in a previous life lived in New York and London. When did you come back to Botswana? What brought you back?
I studied wildlife conservation and spent time in South Africa and the States, but always knew that I would return as soon as humanly possible to the bush. Although I still have a love affair with New York, it’s the Kalahari that is my soul home.
Reading about an authentic safari experience is one thing. Trying it for yourself is another. Blessed with some of Africa’s most beautiful subtropical wilderness reserves and an array of exotic wildlife, you will simply never forget Botswana.
You’ve quite deliberately tried to keep your camps more authentic than some of the other, larger outfits that have sprung up since the safari business started to take off. How does the experience you provide at your camps differ from other safaris?
The environment defines how we have built our camps and how the experience unfolds. The camps are also an extension of my home and family history and therefore are authentic and not merely some Hollywood movie set. The experience unfolds as the environment permits, with the rhythm of the desert from wet seasons to dry season, from night to day. We have not felt compelled to go on a game drive in the morning and a game drive in the afternoon but rather to roll with life in the desert.
In your father’s day, safaris would last three months, but nowadays you have one or two weeks tops to give somebody a similar experience. How do you go about presenting a true safari experience in just a few weeks?
Our attitude towards the safari is that each trip is absolutely individual and is an experience in its own right. Your guide’s range and ability is paramount to the experience. We run our safaris the same way as they were run in the old days and try to achieve an understanding of the big picture and the rhythm of the environment at that time and moment of the year. In that way we give our guests a true and emotional experience in just a few weeks.
What knowledge, impression or feeling do you want people to leave with after an experience at your camp?
I want people to feel moved. To get it. To have an understanding and a sense of belonging of where we come from and ultimately where we are heading. And to have a bloody good time!
About the Author
Private Trip Designer Michele Harvey spent family holidays in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe before entering B&R history as our first-ever guide in South Africa in 1996. Today she designs incredible journeys (and writes spectacular blog posts) in and around her native South Africa.