Brett Wallington is not only a guide, but a conservationist and a sustainability manager. He has a BSc honours degree in Ecology, Environment and Conservation, and has been published in the Journal of Wildlife Research. He guided at Londolozi Game Reserve in the Sabi Sands, South Africa where he was highly respected by his peers. He now work with Wilderness Safaris co-ordinating their Environmental Management Systems and guiding their 4Cs safari. He is one of the most down to earth guys you will ever meet. He is also extremely tall, and like zebras that follow a giraffe, walking behind Brett in the wild is a safe place to be.
What’s the most scenically spectacular place you’ve seen?
The Palmwag concession in Namibia where Desert Rhino camp is situated ranks right up there. The landscape is diverse supporting incredible amounts of wildlife in a place that does not see rain for most of the year. Springbuck are dotted wherever you look while herds of Hartmann’s mountain zebra and oryx appear after every hilltop. Seeing desert adapted black rhino is particularly fascinating and a specialty of this area, while cheetah and lion prides surprise you with their adaptability to such environments.
What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked as a guide?
A guest from Oklahoma asked me “Why are you showing us dogs that like look like my neighbour’s goddamn pets?” as we came across a pack of endangered wild dogs….he wasn’t very impressed at all.
Your most embarassing moment as a guide?
My tracker and I followed leopard tracks right up to the edge of a small water hole that to our near-fatal surprise had a hippo hiding in the shallow water taking a rest from the morning heat. We were immediately charged and my tracker and I made a very fast retreat back to the vehicle being closely followed by the hippo. Our guests then informed me that a scream a little short of the pitch of a primary school girl came out of mouth, which had them in hysterics.
If you had to recommend only one lodge for a guest with only one safari in them: where would it be?
It would be a tough call between Londolozi in South Africa and Mombo Camp in Botswana.
Your most memorable sighting?
It would have to, strangely enough, be my first game drive with guests at Londolozi. Starting the evening drive after sundowners we were surrounded by a coalition of six male lions. They began roaring all at the same time, which was too incredible for words, the noise vibrating through our bones and shaking the vehicle. We then followed them for about 1km before they came to an open area where a herd of wildebeest were resting. We continued to the edge of the clearing and remained there with our lights off waiting for the impending attack on the herd. By this time clouds had come over and we were getting a spectacular display of lightning that lit up the stage for us. With every bolt of lightning we saw the lions getting closer and closer to the herd as well as them disappearing into the bush. Eventually they made the attack as we heard the wildebeest suddenly stampede away from the lions. We heard two wildebeest get caught and when we turned on our spotlight we were lucky enough to see a third wildebeest being pulled down. I started the vehicle and we approached the bloody feast. The lions were growling at each other and swiping at each other with true lion “table manners”. It was fascinating to watch although gruesome at the same time. Some guests were in shock with what they were seeing and in fact asked me repeatedly if it was safe to be there. After about five minutes of viewing this killing spree by this impressive coalition, the heavens opened up and some intense rain began fall. We eventually left the sighting because it was beginning to become a little unsafe, not because of the feasting lions, but because of the intense lighting that was right above us and was getting a little too close for comfort.
If you could change anything about the guiding industry what would it be?
It would have to be that training facilities and camps don’t place as much emphasis on the guiding techniques when training new guides as they do on learning basic knowledge. Camps in the Sabi Sands such as Londolozi and Singita do this very well, but my experience in other African countries such as Botswana and Namibia has been very different and disappointing. Many operators underestimate the impact that a guide has on the guest’s experience, with guests often returning to a place because of the guide and how special they made the experience. I would like to see these techniques become a formal component of all professional guiding courses.
Which wildlife area is top of your wish list to see?
I have always wanted to see the grizzly bears feeding on the salmon runs in Alaska.
What was your most outstanding memory of your training?
I would have to say there are three aspects that stand out. The first would be a thing called character week, where we spent 4 nights in the bush being challenged mentally and physically to determine our breaking points and learn volumes about ourselves. The second would have to be spending ten days walking through the wild and learning the roads that I would soon use to take my guests on safari. You learn a lot more about yourself and the wild than just the roads. The final one would be the shooting of an impala. This was a final test of our character and desire to guide in a very special place. I learned to understand the hardships both predator and prey go through on a daily basis and made the final discovery of my passion and love for the wilderness.
If you could start your career over is there anything you’d do differently?
Nothing at all, perhaps possibly getting started with my guiding career at an earlier age. Otherwise I believe it was perfect, I was trained by the best and worked in one of the best wildlife areas in Africa.
Can you share three guiding techniques for aspiring guides?
Think aloud and always let your guests know what your plan is. There is nothing worse for a guest than feeling like their guide is just roaming around aimlessly.
Tell your guests relevant information to what they are seeing by interpreting the experience for them. Don’t tell them about the gestation of an elephant when you looking at lone bull. This will make the sighting much more interesting and will not seem that you are not just reciting a textbook.
Use your guests’ names and get them involved with what you are doing and what they are seeing and pay attention to their special interests. A guest will feel very impressed that you have taken such a close interest in them and their interests.
What was your most hair-raising moment?
We are on our way to camp on a very hot summer’s morning when we heard a lot of monkeys and impala alarm-calling. I stopped my vehicle and we listened carefully. We headed in the direction the alarms were coming from. It got very thick and we were not sure if the animal was still in the area, whatever it was. My tracker suggested we get out of the vehicle on foot and see what signs we could see. We entered a dry riverbed and immediately found tracks of an adult male leopard. We followed the tracks for barely ten seconds before we came across the same tracks with a blood trail. Clearly the leopard had made a kill and we assumed it must have been one of the members of the impala herd that were still alarming. It was very thick and we decided that it was getting a bit too dangerous to follow the tracks any further. However, little did we know we had already gone too far. As we turned around and walked back towards the vehicle the male leopard jumped out at us from behind bush that he had stashed his kill under. He charged a short distance, although we were only about ten meters from the bush anyway. We held our ground and I had my rifle on my shoulder in preparation for the worse. Every time we tried to back track and give the leopard his space, he would growl and slap the ground with fierce rage now that we had disturbed his meal. This happened about six times before we were far enough that we could turn around and walk away from the leopard and out of the situation. Our hearts pumping and adrenalin thumping we returned to vehicle and were able to find a way into the thick area with the Land Rover. We were fortunate to see this impressive male leopard hoist his prize up a tree thanks to some hyenas that arrived to challenge him for his kill.
What do you do now?
I am now the Sustainability Coordinator for Wilderness Safaris. After spending some time after guiding at Londolozi I took special interest in the world of sustainable ecotourism including qualifying as certified sustainability practitioner. Besides designing and coordinating the various environmental management systems in Wilderness Safaris across nine African countries where we operate I also guide specialized sustainable ecotourism circuits. I designed a package called the 4Cs safari, which is designed to highlight Wilderness’ commitment to all forms of sustainable ecotourism, that being Commerce, Conservation, Community and Culture. Guests still get to enjoy the typical aspects of the safari experience, having myself as their personal guide for their entire trip, but get additional information as to why their presence and choosing to stay in these particular camps benefits one or all of the 4Cs, making a positive contribution to the life of these places and the wildlife and people that it supports.