Into the Wild: Interview with Legendary Guide Ralph Bousfield

Born into a family of explorers and raised in the Botswana bush, Ralph Bousfield has a unique perspective on the country’s diverse landscapes and the people and wildlife that inhabit them. His strong relationships with local bushmen and passion for conservation and archaeology have shaped his life’s vocation and the safaris he leads, which provide a multidimensional look at Botswana. His father, Jack Bousfield, was a famed Africa specialist and adventurer and instilled in Ralph a deep respect for the expansive wilderness they called home. After Jack’s death, Ralph and his mother Catherine opened Jack’s Camp in his memory and founded a bespoke safari company. Ralph’s conservation efforts, research and expertise have made him one of Africa’s most sought-after guides and a pioneer in protecting Botswana’s incredible geography.

Ralph will be leading an Indagare Journey through Botswana next April, which will introduce Indagare members to the varied landscape, people and wildlife of the country. Here, Indagare talks to the visionary conservationist about what to expect on next year’s insider trip, the future of Botswana and what’s on his bucket list.

Learn more about this Indagare Journey or contact Indagare to sign up.

You are leading the Indagare Journey to Botswana next year. What are some of the special experiences that our members can expect on this trip?
This trip will offer a very holistic and multidimensional perspective on Botswana’s extraordinary environment and wildlife. We will begin at Jack’s Camp and then head into the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango Delta for an in-depth look at these very different regions. Indagare members will have the opportunity to spend time with bushmen on safari, walk with meerkats, ATV through the desert, canoe down the Okavango, analyze fossils and track wildebeest migrations.

Related: Africa by Indagare

What are some pieces of wisdom that you want to impart to someone before they go on this trip?
Come with an open mind and positive attitude, and prepare to be dazzled. We have a saying here: “This is Africa, get involved.” This incredible journey will give Indagare members the chance to get involved and engage in this vast landscape.

Related: Botswana: Five to Know

Are there any particular readings or videos that a member should read or see before they go?
I suggest Number #1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith; The Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens; Africa, the Biography of a Continent by John Reader; and Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allison. I also highly recommend watching United Kingdom, a wonderful movie about Botswana’s first president that provides a good perspective on Botswana’s geopolitical situation.

At Indagare, we often talk about transformative travel moments. Have you had one particularly life-changing moment on safari?
I find that my most transformative moments are always people-based and involve peeling back layers of history and time. One special memory was meeting a native group at the border of Sudan and Ethiopia that had never encountered anyone outside of their own kin. This experience came with a huge sense of awe and responsibility, and I found it profound that even in today’s world, so much remains undiscovered. Another transformative experience has been tracing the movement of people through Africa with archeological discoveries. I am involved in a project with Oxford University that focuses on the dispersal of people in Africa because of climate change beginning in the Early Stone Age.

Related: Indagare Matchmaker: African Safari

Having grown up going on safari, what are the biggest changes you have observed in safaris over the years?
The changes have been for the better because Botswana has a really positive perspective on tourism and conservation. Here, when you add value to something, it is taken care of and allowed to grow. The wild areas in Botswana are still as they were millions of years ago, and animals are no longer hunted here so they are very habituated, which allows for intimate exposure. We have the means now to explore new regions, maximize current areas and give back to local communities.

I have also observed a change in attitude of those who visit Botswana. People have become much more open minded and interested in having transformative experiences. It’s wonderful to be the shepherd and show visitors the incredible landscapes and cultures that still exist in today’s world. These wild expanses offer people the transcendental and humbling moments they are seeking.

What is some advice you would give to a first-time safari goer? 
Come with an open mind. The experience is not just about the safari itself, but it’s about coming to Africa, the birthplace of the human race. There is a feeling of coming home here.

Related: Safari in Botswana

How is safari in Botswana different than in other African countries? 
We are very fortunate in Botswana, especially from a wildlife perspective, because we have vast expanses of wilderness that are completely untapped in the Kalahari and Okavango. Also, Botswana was never colonized, so Botswanans have a deep sense of self. The country is completely safe and has not been marred by corruption, so the money that goes into projects here, such as putting waterholes in the Kalahari Desert or moving rhinos from overcrowded parks into Botswana, really makes a difference.

What role does tourism play in the future of Botswana?
The future of Botswana is in tourism because it is paramount to conservation. Almost 20% of the country’s land is set aside for wildlife, which is more than any other country in the world. A trip to Botswana isn’t just about having a wonderful time on safari, but it is also about protecting the ecosystems here.

Related: Botswana and the Magic of Safari

What was your original vision for the camps you created? Has it evolved since?
I built Jack’s Camp to honor my father with the intention of maintaining the authentic safari camp. Jack’s Camp is a true museum with the original letters and papers from the great explorers of our family, dating back to the 1870s. The idea here is not to replicate the accommodations our guests can find at home, but instead to give them a completely different experience. In the same vein, I don’t guide like a tour leader on safari, but rather introduce our guests to my way of life here, treating them as equals and friends.

Related: Botswana 101

Do you have any future plans for more camps? What is next for you?
For many years I have wanted to build a camp in the watery wonderland of the Okavango Delta, so that will be next. I also plan to work with the local bushmen to create a camp that will emphasize their immense knowledge and perspective of the land.

Do you have any places on your bucket list? 
I would like to explore the Gobi Desert and other areas in the Sahara, such as the Tbesti Massif, shared by Chad, Libya and Niger. This is the only big mountain range in the Sahara, so it will reveal a lot of unanswered questions for me.

Contact Indagare to sign up for next year’s Indagare Journey to Botswana led by Ralph Bousfield and learn more about Africa by Indagare.

– Kira Reinke on September 8, 2017

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