Monday, October 18, 2021

Keowetse’s close encounters and working with Hollywood A-listers

Danish author Karen Blixen once said ‘there is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne …bubbling over with heartfelt gratitude for being alive.’

If the ‘Out of Africa’ author’s sentiments are anything to go by, then Wilderness Safaris Kingspool safari guide, Evans Keowetse, downs that ‘bottle of champagne’ every day for the better half of 365 days.

“What I love about my job is not just meeting new people from all over the world, but also so special is going out on safari every single day anticipating to learn something new from the ever so amazing wildlife. There is absolutely no room for monotony when it comes to this job,” Keowetse says. “No two days are the same. You learn something new every day. And being in the wild just has a way of connecting one with the universe.”

I met Keowetse during a two week long trip across some of the country’s most breathtaking safari camps late 2017, courtesy of Botswana Tourism Organization (BTO). He was one of our designated field guides.

Having joined Wilderness Safaris back in 2013, the 27 year Keowetse has amassed a reasonable wealth of experience as a safari guide. And with his background, being born and bred in Maun (the gate way to the Okavango Delta) he must have taken to the job like a duck to water.

“My interest to become a field guide developed during my early school days when I learnt about Botswana’s tourism being one of the biggest contributors to the economy, and how people would come all the way from overseas to marvel at the beauty some of us had always taken for granted.” He always came across open safari vehicles and small air crafts and developed curiosity about the requirements for working in the safari camps.

“I was inspired mainly by the environment that I grew up in,” He tells Lifestyle. “During school holidays we would spend time at the cattle post where we would constantly interact with wildlife. Seeing tourists go out on open safari vehicles got me curious about how that was possible given the dangerous wild animals that I knew existed.” He says that was when he decided to get closer and understand the nature of safari life.

Keowetse made use of available guiding resources and visited libraries especially the Botswana Wildlife Training Institute where he eventually sat for examination. He also received advanced training from Wilderness Safaris Training Institute as well as Okavango Guiding School on Rifle handling.

Before joining Wilderness Safaris at Linyanti concession he worked as a guide at Moremi Game Reserve. Some of his most memorable experiences on the job include rare sightings of wild dogs, leopards, and hyenas all in one spot having a meal. “You always wonder who came there first.”

And of course the job comes with its own risks.

“I have experienced a few life threatening situations like being charged at by a female elephant which might have lost a baby or had had a bad experience with a safari vehicle. As soon as she saw us she just charged at full speed only to stop within inches of the jeep.”

Keowetse says while he has hosted Batswana his clientele is predominantly from outside of Africa.

“It is encouraging to learn how they respect and appreciate Botswana’s conservation efforts.” While the Minister of Wildlife and Tourism Tshekedi Khama has recently expressed his reservations about walking and horseback riding safaris Keowetse believes it makes for a totally different and at times better experience.

“It is great for us to offer a variety of activities as they give varying experiences to the tourists,” he says. “The walking safari is unique because you focus on things that you miss while driving like smaller insects, and plants since the idea is to bring one as close to nature as safely possible,” the guide says, adding “As for horseback riding I have never guided from a horse and I have reason to believe that it is done in a safe manner as I have never heard of any incidents. I strongly believe that it must make for an incredible experience.”

Working in safari camps means one has to be away from family and the rest of the world for at least two months at a go, taking three week breaks in between. Keowetse has learnt to live with it. And who wouldn’t?

“I take myself out on game drives a lot when I’m free,” he says. “I also get to meet international celebrities and it is amazing to have somebody that well known and respected at your mercy asking you questions, listening to you and expressing admiration for what you do. Almost surreal.”

Keowetse has some advice for the youth interested in safari work. “To all the youth out there who would love to become guides, the door is always open. I would also love to encourage them to follow conservation documentaries and wildlife research projects so they can see where fit in.”

He says it is important for aspiring young people to surround themselves with likeminded people so that they become each other’s support network.

“I hope to see more young people joining this industry, becoming professional guides and sharing with visitors the beauty that our country has to offer.”  Personally, Keowetse hopes to one day exhibit the images he has taken while on duty.

“I have a collection of pictures and videos I would like to share with the rest of the world.”

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