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Welcome to an exciting podcast episode where Zander Sprague and Warren Pearson delve into the epic adventures in Africa. As a private safari guide and naturalist, Warren shares his unique perspective on what makes a journey truly epic. From encountering a leopard’s unexpected interaction to the mesmerizing sight of lions in repose, this episode explores the transformative power of African safaris. The discussion emphasizes the significance of patience in wildlife encounters and highlights the profound impact Africa has on individuals, fostering a sense of belonging and change.

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An Epic Journey To Africa With Warren Pearson, Part 2

There are many different safari experiences. Most of mine had been in Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa primarily. I’ve yet to make it up to East Africa. Most people think of going on safari and they think of going to Tanzania or Kenya. I will admit to perhaps being a safari snob to say I see on the Serengeti and I see all of those safari vehicles all lined up. I’m like, “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. You’re only supposed to have a few so you’re not impacting the wildlife.” What would you say are some of the major differences between Southern Africa? I know Botswana controls very much how many game camps there are and how many people are on safari.

East Africa Vs South Africa

Let me answer this in two ways. The quick and easy answer or difference between East Africa and Southern Africa, and I need to get more into this, i s when I say East Africa, I’m talking about Tanzania and Kenya. That’s the big open plains. That’s the wildebeest migration. That’s your typical stereotypical Africa that most people have in their minds.

The way I break this Eastern and South up is that East Africa has quantity. South Africa or Southern Africa has quality. That is a very broad way of looking at it. You can go to East Africa and you can have the absolute quality of a sighting. When I say a sighting, a viewing of animals. When I say quantity, East Africa has the big herds. They have these huge, massive herds. They’ve got the water beast and the zebra. They’ve got big elephant herds. It’s similar to Botswana in a way, but bigger elephant herds. It depends on where you go. It depends on how you travel.

The one thing I don’t like about East Africa, probably more so than Southern Africa, is the uncontrolled amount of vehicles that are viewing animals at one time. It gets crazy. It’s an experience that I don’t like having, and I don’t like giving it to people. It’s interesting. You can have an experience in East Africa where you’re on your own and you’re not going to get the numbers of people. It’s all about how you want to do the safari.

People say to me, “I want to go see the migration. I’m like, “Is that all you want to do? That’s a 2-night or 3-night stay if we hit it right there. Do you want to see anything else?” If your mind is tunnel vision towards, “I want to see the wildebeest migration,” then we might have to be flexible. We might have to do this. We might have to do that. It’s all about expectations at the end of the day. It’s a tough one.

 

EPIC Begins With 1 Step Forward | Warren Pearson | Journey To Africa

 

I’m doing another talk at the moment. You’ve been following them. It’s with a company that pushes low-season travel and why we go to areas in the low season. That, to me, speaks wonders because I always think the highest season has got a lot of people traveling. In the low season, typically, there are not a lot of people traveling. The prices are also typically cheaper. The weather might not be what you ideally want it to be, but there are so many other benefits to it as well.

Let me break this down to end off the differences between not just East Africa and Southern Africa, but about private conservancies and national parks because that’s what it comes down to at the end of the day. A national park is a park that is controlled by the governments of the country. There’s no control over how many vehicles go into a national park a day. A lot of governments, and I hate to say this, want to get as much out of it as possible. They’re going to push numbers. If they can put the more numbers through, the better. That’s where their income is coming from.

Whereas the private conservancies or the private reserves are limited. They limit themselves in the sense that they want to have a quality private viewing of animals, a small amount of people. In most of these conservancies, they don’t allow more than three vehicles to view any particular animal at a time. You have to choose to go where you want to go. The Maasai Mara is a national park, but there are private conservancies around the Maasai Mara. A lot of people say, “Let’s go to the Maasai Mara because it’s been marketed so well. It’s been sold so well.” The same thing with the Serengeti. It’s a national park. You’re going to get numbers.

If you come to South Africa or Southern Africa, you go to the private reserves of Kruger. We spoke about it with Londolozi, for example, in the Sabi Sands, which is part of the Greater Kruger National Park. It’s a continuous ecosystem. It’s closing about five million acres of land, but where you’re going is private. They limit the amount of vehicles that go there. Don’t be put off by the number of vehicles that you see in East Africa, for example. A safari can be done. I try my utmost to have a safari where we do not see a single other vehicle if we can.

You mentioned expectations. What are your expectations? One of the things is that when you first go on safari if you’re in South Africa, you probably go to Cape Town and you go to the Cape of Good Hope. I remember the first time I went. That’s the end of the African continent. I didn’t think that I had an expectation. However, I get there and I’m looking and there are some rocks in the ocean.

I’m not sure what I expected, but I expected this Monty Pythonesque that there would be a tent with banners, klieg lights, and a deep voice that said, “The end of the African continent.” It’s not that way, frankly. You could be standing on any rocky promontory looking out at the ocean. You go, “The end of a continent.” It was that perhaps unrealized expectation that it was going to be somehow much more majestic and magnificent. Not that it isn’t, but it is funny. You’re right. It’s hard to say what expectations you have. I know that even though I’ve been on safari, and you know this, you don’t really know what to expect when you go on safari. When you go on a game drive, you have no idea what you may see.

Keep Your Expectations Low

That’s the best part of it. I always try to get people to keep their expectations as low as possible and not to have these high expectations. If you have these high expectations of what you’ve seen on National Geographic, Animal Planet, or anything like that, it’s been packed into one hour. Most of these documentaries have taken 5 or 6 years to film to be put into 1 hour. If you’re expecting one hour of wham bam boom, you’re going to be disappointed.

Getting back to what to expect on a safari, don’t expect anything. Expect to be in nature. The animal sighting is almost the cherry on top for me. You’re in this beautiful environment. You’re coming back down to Mother Nature at the end of the day and letting Mother Nature show you what’s out there, what she has, this system that we are part of, and how we need to be part of it more, not how we’ve separated ourselves. I’m hoping that this pandemic has helped a lot with that, and it’s going to help going forward.

Don’t expect anything on a safari. Expect to be in nature.

The expectation is don’t have expectations because every single time you go out there, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what you’re going to see. You might not see a single thing, but you might see a ton of animals the next day. It’s hard to say. It’s a book that still needs to be written. Every day is a new page that still has to be written.

I love getting out there and seeing stuff. One thing I can say is that when you’re with Warren, if you are lucky enough to get some of his valuable time to go on safari with him, which I highly recommend, there are things that Warren may set up for you that you aren’t necessarily sure about but turn out to be unbelievably epic.

The last time when I was on Safari, we got to spend the night out on this. The Rangers use it. It’s this elevated platform. We were out in the bush. One of the things that I found amazing, although expectations and then you shouldn’t have expectations, was that it was going to be really noisy with all the animals going around and stuff, and it was unbelievably silent.

When you and I were talking about it the next morning, I was like, “It was so much quieter than I thought.” We heard some hyenas briefly and maybe a leopard, a lion roar, or something. As you pointed out, the prey animals are going to be quiet because they don’t want to give away where they are. That was such an epic experience that I really wasn’t sure about, but I was like, “Here I am in Africa. I have come all this way. Why am I not going to take advantage of this opportunity to do something that I had never thought about?”

I remember that night very well. It is a highlight of my year. I always try to get people to experience something different. I always think, “We’re sleeping out on this wooden deck that’s up in a tree in the middle of the bush. We are having our dinner cooked around a fire, and we are sitting around this proper campfire with no fences around us at all.” It’s those experiences to me that make something epic. T he epicness of it is that unexpectedness.

You were very surprised with how quiet it was.  We did hear a leopard that walked relatively close to us while calling. The lions were calling in the distance if I remember correctly. That’s about it as well as the odd hyena. That’s another thing about what’s created about Africa and about safaris. A lot of people will say, “The nights are very noisy,” or they expect them to be, but they’re not.

The other thing that a lot of people say to me is, “I want to go on a night safari.” I’m always hesitant to go, “Let’s do it.” They can be really good, but for the most part, with your expectations, you’re going to be disappointed. Where you think that you’re going to see a lot of nocturnal species and things are going to be out there, that’s not the case. Safaris are pretty quiet at the end of the day unless you’re following a pride of lions or a leopard that you’ve heard at sunset. If you’re staying with them and they get up and walk and start moving and hunting, then that’s fantastic.

Safaris are pretty quiet at the end of the day, unless you’re following a pride of lions or a leopard that you’ve heard at sunset.

For me, it’s to have an experience like that. If I can get people to experience us sleeping out in the middle of nowhere, I always think of those people sleeping back at the lodge that aren’t experiencing this. I feel sorry for them in a way because this is what we are doing. We were the talk of the town at the lodge for a few days afterward because everyone was quite surprised that we did it.

I don’t want to say it’s pushing boundaries at all, but it’s, “Let’s do this.” Wherever those opportunities present themselves, I, for one, am going to try and say, “I want us to do this. I want us to experience this. I want to do that.” I always think about how with the expectations, manage them. My job is managing people’s expectations at the end of the day. That’s the epic side of it.

To go back to those lion cubs that we saw back in April 2001, an interesting addendum to that is it turned out that these were five brothers. Maybe you have a little more idea, but for probably about a 6 or 7-year period, and maybe it is slightly longer, normally, males that are the head of a pride, their reign isn’t all that long because of younger, stronger ones.

It turned out that these five brothers were unbelievable. They were the apex of apex male lions. They did stuff that had never been seen before. In fact, there’s a National Geographic documentary on them. I remember when I came back, I said, “I know you’ve been on a lot, but do you remember we saw these five lion cubs?” I came to find out that they had ruled an incredibly large territory quite viciously.

There was a coalition of males. There were five of them. They ended up teaming up with an older, unrelated brother. It was quite an interesting line dynamic. There were six of them in total. They ran terror on this entire region of Southwestern Kruger National Park. They did things that a lot of people did not expect. Any lion book that was being written and any reference book had to be rewritten after these guys ended there. I’ll be honest with you. I can’t remember the details.

That’s okay.

I wasn’t in the area when it happened, but from the stories that I know, they did. They upset the lion apple carts, in a way, of that entire region and it destabilized a lot of lion pride. I get back to it. It’s what I love about nature. It’s a nonstop, never-ending soap opera. There are so many people who have gone to a place and they found out about a particular leopard, a particular lion, an elephant, or whatever it might be.

A lot of these safari lodges will keep an updated blog going and you can follow the story of these animals. That, to me, is what’s so special. It’s being able to follow these animals and understand how, where, and what they’re doing all the time. In the story about these 6 male lions, they made a lot of men out of boys of the rangers and guides that were working with them at the time because you had to treat them very differently to, I don’t want to say a normal lion, but to most other coalition males or anything like that.

One of the things in the stories I heard was that they drowned a hippopotamus. For people who don’t know, those are unbelievably large animals. Not that lions won’t kill a hippo, but it’s not as common as you might think 1) Because a hippo can retreat into the water and 2) A hippo has an unbelievably powerful and large mouth. If they got a hold of a lion, they would kill it.

Animal Behavior

It’s a good point that you raised with the behavior of animals. I know the gentleman who took the photographs and witnessed this. I’ve got those photographs somewhere. I’m not sure where they are. The thing that intrigued me the most with this was that lions typically follow a pattern with how they hunt and how they kill prey. That comes from growing up with their pride and their pride teaching them how to hunt a particular animal, for example.

What these lions did, this showed me, and it should show everyone if you have an open mind, is that this is an apex predator that adjusted its hunting technique to kill and catch anything pretty much. There’s the intelligence factor in this, When people say, “Animals are intelligent,” sometimes, they’re a lot more intelligent than we are. We are the only animal on this planet destroying our own home.

Humans are the only animals on this planet who destroy our own home.

Also, their home.

If I remember correctly, there were three of them at the time, or maybe there was a fourth one if I remember correctly. They knew that to kill a hippo, and this hippo wasn’t badly injured, they had to get it away from deep water and they had to hold the head down. I remember this photograph of two males on either side of the head of this hippo, holding it down with their body weights into the water and drowning it. The hippo couldn’t lift its head up. The other one was on its back trying to weaken the back leg. That shows me the complete and utter intelligence of a predator.

For me personally, no one can say there’s a stupid animal out there. There is no stupid animal. It’s that you’re intelligent to your niche on how you need to survive. If you can survive, you’re intelligent. For me, it was a very interesting example of how they killed that hippo. If you look in areas of Botswana, lions there have learned how to kill and hunt elephants. If they can figure out a way, which they probably will very quickly because it’s survival, and you don’t figure it out, you die. They will do it. It takes a lot of lions to hunt an elephant and bring an elephant down, but there are lion pride in Northern Botswana that do it. That’s one thing. I’ll keep saying it. What keeps me going every day is trying to figure out what these animals are doing and why they’re doing it and following the stories.

I can imagine that you are chomping at the bit to be able to get back out into the bush.

I  am longing for the bush. I’ll be honest with you. I don’t want to say I feel whole, but I love the time I’m spending with my family. There is a part of me that wants to be back in the bush and experience the smells and the quietness at the end of the day. It’s not necessarily about the animals. The animals are a draw card, but it’s getting into nature again.

I’m fortunate enough that I’ve got some friends that I’m going away with. We’re going somewhere not too far from where I live. There’s a small nature reserve that’s not too far away. I’m going to have a little bit of nature again, but I need to travel again into the bigger parts of Africa and the wilder parts of Africa. For me, the wilder the better.

I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk about the epic and Africa with me. Clearly, it isn’t done. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get you back on. Maybe we can talk about not just all the apex predators and stuff, but talk about some of the other aspects of what makes Africa so epic. As a teaser, the nighttime and being able to see the stars and all of that is because there’s so little light pollution. It’s amazing what the nighttime sky looks like.

I would love to. You know me. I’ll keep on talking as long as I’m blue in the face. Honestly, I’d be honored. I’d love to join you again. Thank you for your time. It’s been fantastic chatting with you again. I love talking to you. That’s a good catch-up. It brings back a lot of good memories.

You agree with me that the epic begins with one step forward. If you ever want to get to Africa and experience this, it begins with one step forward, which is to make the decision, “Here’s something that I want to try and make happen.” You then start to figure out how you’re going to do that. Thank you so much for being here. That’s Warren Pearson. Thank you so much.

Thank you. Take care.

You bet.

 

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