“My great-grandfather, Charles Cottar, first came to Kenya not long after Teddy Roosevelt”
Ever wondered what ridiculous things guests ask them when on safari? Rose Cobb, founder of Abambo Luxury Safaris, sits down with Calvin Cottar…
Calvin is renowned as one of the best safari guides in Africa due to his unfathomable knowledge of wildlife and the environment, his calm demeanour and that glint in his eye that warns you never to assume you know what he is going to do next. He guides out of his luxury camp – Cottar’s 1920’s Safari Camp in Kenya
Calvin’s deep appreciation of wildlife led him to start guiding at the tender age of 15. Calvin went on to Tanzania as a professional hunter, returning to Kenya to set up a wildlife management company. In 1993, Calvin joined the Kenya Wildlife Service in the community development department, and initiated five district wildlife associations to help landowners acquire user rights of their wildlife in the name of conservation.
Calvin is one of the few guides to have passed his gold-level KPSGA exam, he has also been awarded a position as Honorary Warden for the Kenya Wildlife Service and has been honoured as one of the best guides in the industry by both the Safari Awards and the Daily Telegraph, to name a few.
Where do you live, when you’re not in the wilderness?
In Karen in Nairobi, or traveling all over really.
How did you end up making your home here?
It’s a long story, but it starts and ends with this: my home has always been here. My great-grandfather, Charles Cottar, first came to Kenya not long after Teddy Roosevelt declined to run again for president and took off instead on his African safari adventure, in 1909. Charles returned to Africa with his entire family and belongings and settled in Kenya for good in 1915.
I was born and raised right here in Kenya, of a safari family, and I continue the line and raise my children as ‘safari’ children – adept at living in the bush and understanding the natural world.
Can you name 3 of your daily challenges, being a safari guide?
Logistics, client expectations and averting crisis before it happens. I suppose people would expect me to say something about the wildlife, or the weather being troublesome, but the wilderness is never the problem!
What do you miss most when you leave the wilderness?
The pace of life of the bush, particularly when I end up in a city. Even setting foot in the airport requires a twist of the dial in order to become ready to digest more information at a quicker pace. The intensity and speed of communication in the ‘developed’ world is remarkable when you view it as an outsider.
What are the biggest threats as you see them, to your natural environment and to the communities living around you?
Human population growth, needs and ambition to join the modern world..fencing, farming, monoculture land uses; this list is as long as it is troubling.
Do you have any solutions to these problems?
The short answer is: yes! The solution to many of these issues is simple, it’s getting everyone on the same page that is the problem. The most obvious solution is: using the land for activities which benefit the eco-system. Leasing the land provides a livelihood, income and an incentive for the communities to live in villages and do rural-based income-earning activities. This keeps the land relatively free for wildlife and controlled numbers of domestic livestock. But there are so many hurdles to achieving this. I could talk for hours on this – and regularly do.
Can you suggest a local experience or phenomenon that you could recommend to knowledgeable and well-travelled safari explorers, for example the mating call of a rare bird, or the migration of wildlife terminally shadowed by the wildebeest?
A lion roaring close by in the dark…. It takes one back to when we humans were just prey, and connects us to the fear our ancestors must have felt for millions of years in Africa.
What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever been asked in the bush?
Where’s that maasai walking to?
Calvin guides safaris both from his gorgeous Cottar’s 1920’s Camp in the Mara, and throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Get in touch if you would like this living legend Calvin, one of the best safari guides in Africa, to show you his Africa.