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PORTRAITS

Into the wilderness

Charles van Rensburg

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Charles van Rensburg lives in the heart of southern Africa, and has immersed himself in a career in conservation, wildlife, and safari excursions. Now the Business Manager of Wilderness Safaris, Charles remains an advocate of respectful encounters with wildlife and is a fervent believer in protecting the places where the lions rule the land. He shares insights gained from a life of conservation…

Charles van Rensburg
© Rhonda Thorp

Where does your connection with wildlife stem from?

I was raised in South Africa, and studied Conservation through a correspondence university course. Whilst doing that, I worked for an anti-poaching unit in the great Kruger National Park, protecting state-owned and privately owned land from the scourges of poaching. From a very early age, my father introduced me to wildlife, through fishing, hunting and just simply being in the great outdoors. And it was from that point in my life that I knew I wanted to pursue a career and a life in the wild places of Africa!

Read "Kenya: Where the wild things really are"

Could you share an inspiring experience you had on safari?

There are too many to mention. Once, I took a partially blind person on Safari and had to explain everything we were seeing. The look on his face as I was explaining things was priceless. This is someone who has never been to the bush and has been partially blind all his life, so it was a first-time experience for him. It tested my ability to creatively explain what things looked like and certainly gave me inspiration. He was so excited to (not) see things.

Tell us about some of the places that are most special to you…

The central Kalahari; it is wild, harsh and simply magnificent, you will feel like you are the only person left on earth when travelling into the Kalahari. It is a harsh landscape that makes one realise that Africa is a tough place, but a beautiful place. The Okavango Delta is just heaven on earth. It is a mosaic of channels and grassy flood plains, the wildlife is spectacular and the peace and tranquillity you will not find anywhere else. It is also untouched. The Zambezi Valley, both on the Zimbabwe and the Zambian side; not only is the wildlife spectacular here, it is the people that make the place special. The southernmost tip of the great rift valley and is nothing short of spectacular.

Charles van Rensburg
© Rhonda Thorp

What makes for a truly memorable, unique experience?

Africa is a big and dangerous place, anyone visiting must do their research and know where they are going. They must ensure they are going with a reputable company and that they are going into the very best areas. Of course, having reliable equipment is key, but having a good guide is essential. It can take your safari to another level.

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What are the essential components of a respectful encounter with wildlife?

Respect that you are in their environment and that it is only with their permission that you may enter their space. In a vehicle, or even on foot, it is important to let the wildlife come towards you and not the other way around. When you move towards wildlife, it startles them, when they move towards you, it is on their terms and their choice.

Tell us about some of your conservation efforts.

We support dozens of projects throughout Africa. But I think our biggest achievement is the protection of the areas that we are custodians of. As concessionaires and lodge owners/operators, we help to protect 2.5million hectares of land across 8 different biomes. This is home to more than 1,000 bird species, 250 Mammal species, 200 reptiles and 50 amphibian species, including 33 IUCN red list species that require immediate attention and protection.

Has your work in the field of tourism changed the way you think about wildlife encounters?

It has taught me patience, tolerance and respect, three elements that are lacking in today’s world. This is why I love the bush so much; it is a leveller. It doesn’t matter how rich you are, or how famous you are, or how fast you can run, or how many followers you have on Instagram. In the bush, you are nothing. You are a defenceless animal, trying to survive in an environment where you are not suitably equipped to do so.

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