You could say Colin made his own luck – instead of going into the expected world of finance after completing his economics degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1977, he decided his first job would be as a safari guide in Botswana. In those days a cold beer came out of a wet long sock, tied to the side mirror of his Land Rover and cooled while hanging in the breeze. That was as good it as got. In 1983 Colin co-founded Wilderness Safaris with one of the best guides in southern Africa, Chris McIntyre. The two of them ploughed all their enthusiasm, energies and limited savings (and one second-hand Land Rover) into creating what became one of the most successful specialist safari companies in Africa.
Over the decades it grew to manage camps and lodges across 7 countries and employed more than 2,500 people. Many of these lodges gained their “bush cred” through partnerships with local communities: it was through those negotiations and relationships that Colin started to learn – by trial and error – what worked sustainably and what did not. Back then there were no blue-prints to follow or copy – creating safari partnerships with communities was breaking new ground. He sold his shares in Wilderness in 2005 and went on to co-found Great Plains Conservation a year later.
Colin is now completely independent and this freedom has allowed him to immerse himself in the Africa’s Finest project without any vested interests. The lessons learnt, the battle scars and campaign medals earned, from the many models tried and developed over the decades helped to lay the foundations and principals for responsible, sustainable tourism – what we have termed the Green Safari model. This, we believe, is the one of the fairest ways to partner with local communities and Governments in order to create viable, long-term partnerships that are a winning scenario for wildlife, wildernesses and people.
Still so many mountains to climb, still so many books to write, says nature and environmental writer David Bristow. Stints on Johannesburg’s two biggest circulating dailies – The Star and The Sowetan – following a double honours degree in Journalism and Speech and Drama at Rhodes University – made him realise a desk job would not be the life for him.
Soon after returning from an expedition to Nepal he set off on an 18-month mountaineering odyssey that culminated in the best-selling coffee table book Mountains of Southern Africa (Struik, Cape Town, 1984). Since then he has authored some 20 books and written hundreds of travel articles – mainly on Africa but as far flung as Antarctica and Alaska. Some time in mid career David decided he needed a firmer grounding in the earth sciences. There followed a masters degree in Environmental Sciences at Cape Town University.
He met partner in this project Colin Bell when they were students, rock climbing on weekends and helping to collect data on endangered Cape vultures on cliff faces around South Africa. In the late 1980s, when Colin’s Wilderness Safaris was establishing itself as southern Africa’s foremost specialist safari operator, David found himself managing and guiding at Moremi Safaris’s camp at Xakanaxa in the Okavango Delta. Now living in Cape Town, David co-ordinated the Green Safari Africa project and wrote the text for Africa’s Finest, using primarily the research gathered by the various members of the team who over a two-year period conducted environmental assessments of around 170 hand-picked safari destinations.