Tyrone McKeith, L and Phil Jeffery, R
Name: Phil Jeffery
Date of Birth: 12/02/1985
Place of Birth: Harare, Zimbabwe
Phil was born in Zimbabwe but brought up in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, where his father was working for Save the Rhino Trust. Phil has spent his life in the bush, and his knowledge and passion for Zambia’s flora and fauna is extensive. This is most evident in the Kafue National Park where he has worked for the past decade in many different capacities, including working with the Zambia Wildlife Authorities in mapping the Kafue under a project for the newest Management Plan.
Phil has been involved in guide training for a number of years, initially for Wilderness Safaris and alongside his father, Richard Jeffery, (a wildlife consultant and pilot), is highly respected in the field and in the Zambian safari industry at large. A quietly spoken young man with a good sense of humour and an eye for detail. Phil is also an Honorary Zambian Wildlife Police Officer or HWPO, a designation which carries great responsibility and pride, allowing for hands on involvmement in management of the park, assisting the park authorities in many capacities from anti-poaching to intelligence and ecological research.
Name: Tyrone McKeith
Date of Birth: 10/06/1988
Place of Birth: London, UK
Having been brought to Africa by a wildlife enthusiast father since the age of 5 and specifically Zambia and the Kafue since 8 years of age there is nowhere Tyrone feels more at home than the bush. Since graduating from University in 2009 he has managed camps across Zambia, most notably on the Busanga Plains in the Kafue NP where his guiding career started in ernest, before expanding to pass Level 1 Walking Safari exams in the Lower Zambezi NP and the Kafue NP, where he is now a member of the park’s guiding examination committee.
Tyrone is an outgoing and confident young man and has given talks to interested audiences at some of London’s largest travel shows, and as a result has spoken at Eton College’s Shackleton Society. Like Phil, Tyrone has also recently been gazzetted as an Honorary Wildlife Police Officer for the Zambian Wildlife Authorities, a designation that brings a great deal of pride to him. An avid photographer and fisherman, there are fewer young men you will meet with such an insatiable appetite for what he does and the place he calls home.
To find out more about Jeffery & McKeith Safaris visit the website www.jmsafaris-zambia.com
What is the history of Jeffery & McKeith Safaris and what is your ethos?
We started out in 2012 by running mobile safaris and fixing for film crews, including for the BBC, before securing our own permanent site, (Musekese Camp,) the following year. On starting out, we had a combined experience of 15 years in the Kafue National Park, and the idea was to secure a core area of the Park and through tourism try and mitigate the conservation challenges that the Kafue, like many other parks across Africa, faces. Whilst both myself & Tyrone had worked extensively in the Park for other safari operators, it was felt that we had a lot more to offer the Kafue from both a conservation and safari standpoint, and the best way to do this was to set up our own operation. By doing so we could have final say in how and where we allocate our resources and what we focus on specifically.
What are your own safari and conservation backgrounds?
Both of us are graduates of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. Although based in the UK, the Institute has a global reach and we were taught by leading experts in various fields of conservation. It gave a great foundation to further our existing interests in conservation. Phil: I was lucky enough to spend the first few years of my life in the Luangwa Valley where my dad worked with the Save The Rhino Trust. As he was a wildlife biologist, whilst growing up I was often fortunate enough to travel into the field with him and that rubbed off on me a great deal. Upon finishing school I went straight into guiding, before later attending University. Tyrone: My interests were sparked also by my father, when from a young age he would travel with me on safari across Africa, with Zambia ultimately being our favourite destination. After striking up friendships with various lodge owners, I was able to spend my summer holidays in the bush helping out in both Luangwa and Kafue, and straight after finishing University I decided to move out permanently. After a stint in the Luangwa I returned to Kafue, which had always been my favourite park.
As a new generation of young guides, what defines your approach to safari tourism?
In this day and age it is not enough to just be a safari guide or operator. Guides are conservationists by default, and have a huge amount of responsibility to educate guests, not only about the wildlife but the challenges in protecting it. Outside of day to day guiding we believe that guides, (and safari operators on the whole), should make every effort to lend their services and expertise to, and get more involved with, the authorities as well as conservation organisations. Through the Wildlife Authorities’ Honorary Wildlife Police Officer scheme, we are able to get involved on the ground, but also assist and contribute to organisations such as the Zambia Carnivore Programme, Game Rangers International and The Nature Conservancy. We have to make our presence count.
In your opinion, what can be done to make safaris more attractive to a younger audience?
It really depends how you define ‘young’! Safari is expensive across the board, and that is the limiting factor, but we do get a range of guests of all ages, from families with young children to people long since retired. Of course, when it comes to activities like walking there are age restrictions but being flexible and catering to the different needs of each individual is key.
How do you encourage guests to disconnect from their social media world and connect with the natural world?
First of all there is no Wifi or phone signal so guests haven’t got much choice other than to well and truly disconnect. The experience with us is entirely focused on the bush, and whilst guests are always free to enjoy the ‘usual safari siesta', for us there is no hanging about! If we hear alarm calls or have an inkling that something exciting or unusual might be about, then we’re off, guests in tow! We really hope that our enthusiasm for the area and passion for the wildlife rub off on everyone who stays with us.
From the beginning what has been your target guest demographic and how have you been able to establish a reputation in a competitive marketplace?
Anyone with an interest in wildlife! I suppose we were quite fortunate in that through many years of working in the industry we were able to build up a good relationship with both agents and repeat visitors to the park, and that has certainly helped in getting our feet off the ground and establishing a reputation in a competitive marketplace. Beyond social media and active marketing, the power of word of mouth should not be underestimated!
Why base your operations in Kafue National Park?
Apart from the fact that the Kafue is where both of us had spent the most of our careers, we truly believe that the Park is one of the last remaining true wilderness areas in Africa. It is a hugely important sanctuary for some of Africa’s most threatened species, and we could have a tremendously positive impact, more so than in areas and parks that are already saturated with camps and lodges.
What made you choose the location for Musekese Camp? (Describe the area in which it is situated, what a guest can expect to experience there.)
The camp is situated on what we call a dambo, which is a seasonally flooded grassland depression that is bordered by various habitats including miombo woodland, kasakasaka thickets, termitaria, riverine vegetation and large open, sandy grasslands. This diversity of habitat gives rise to an incredible array of wildlife, and is perhaps one of the most diverse areas in the Park where beyond the common, small to medium sized antelopes, guests can expect to see all the large carnivores, (never guaranteed!), as well as the more sought after herbivores such as roan, sable, Lichtenstein’s hartebeest and zebra. There is also a healthy population of elephant. The river is closely accessible from the camp and we spend a lot of time on the water. We are located on the corner of what is essentially a peninsula, flanked on three sides by the main Kafue River, which means water is abundant in the dry season and game viewing is spectacular.
Introduce us to your staff: who are they and from where do they come?
We have a great team of 11 staff, (not including ourselves). Half of the staff came from the small village team that we employed in the beginning to help clear a 45km track to site. It was of course necessary to recruit some experienced staff from the industry but it was equally important to us to employ and train staff who had never had any formal employment before. All of the staff come from villages surrounding the Park, and as we become more established we hope to have a greater influence and outreach into their communities.
Describe your personal highlights thus far from your time operating in Kafue.
Seeing the wildlife and habitats flourish under the right conditions is a real thrill, especially to know that it is in part due to our hard work and perseverance. It should be noted that none of it would be possible without our guests, but of course the wildlife authoritoty and conservation organisations like Game Rangers International and The Nature Conservancy, to name but a few.
What does Kafue offer over parks in Zambia? How should it be viewed: as a stand alone destination or part of a greater Zambia itinerary?
The Kafue is definitely a stand alone destination. We say this because it is such a huge Park with a variety of habitats that deserve at least a few days in each to explore and make the most of the diversity of flora and fauna. There are also different experiences to be had depending on where in the Park you might be, and one could easily fill two weeks in the Kafue. Having said that, it is easily accessible from Lusaka and so one is very much able to attach it to part of a greater Zambia itinerary.
In terms of offerings over other parks in Zambia, the Kafue River always comes to mind. Of course the other major parks in Zambia are characterized by large rivers, but they don’t offer the seclusion, tranquility and quality of wildlife viewing that the Kafue River does. It is not uncommon, particularly in the dry season, to encounter lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo whilst on an afternoon boat cruise. The other offering is the diversity of large mammals and of course birds. The Park boasts 20 different antelope species, more than any other park in Africa, as well as close to 500 species of birds, so there is something for everyone whether you are a first time ‘safarian’, or a seasoned bush-goer.
What will need to happen for Kafue to recapture some of the spirit of its past glory days?
I don’t think the spirit of the Kafue has ever been lost, there is a very unique and specific energy in the park. Unfortunately that unique positivity is often overshadowed by a perception that the park is somehow a poor relation to other Zambian parks, or perceived as a ‘recovering’ park. I would say when tourism slumped throughout Zambia in the 1970’s and 1980’s all parks were affected, unfortunately the Kafue just didn’t bounce back as quickly, in terms of visitor numbers, as our better known other major parks who had some seriously talented and hard working safari tourism operators putting in the hard graft to get their park back up to where it was.
When guests arrive with a perception that the park they are seeing is a ‘shadow of it’s former self’ or something similar then you already start on a negative, in my opinion people should visit the Kafue for exactly what it is today and exactly what it will be in years to come, they will be pleasantly surprised.
What are some of Kafue's secrets and what are your favourite areas of the park?
I couldn’t say! I can however tell you that the most rewarding places to visit in the park are those areas, of which they are many, that have never had the foot of a tourist touch the ground. There are not many parks where you can head out on foot, (with a GPS…) and literally explore unchartered areas. I do know however that Phil is a big fan of the Lunga area and I myself have a soft spot for Nanzhila, as I say though there are so very many worthwhile and wholly different ‘secrets’ to explore in the Kafue.
How do you feel Kafue is promoted internationally and what can be done to increase its visibility in the media?
Overall little is known about the Kafue in the international media, I will say however that there has been a good, strong and steady increase in awareness of the quality of the park in the past 5 years or so, this is being reflected in increasing visitor numbers year on year. We have been lucky to have several world renown film crews shooting various scenes in the Kafue, unfortunately these have not been as self-proclaiming as wildlife films and documentaries that have been shot in Luangwa for example, these shows, such as ‘Countdown to the Rains’, have brought significant interest to the Luangwa, as such we hope for similar shows to come through the Kafue and showcase what we have to offer.
What does Kafue offer the first timer, the more experienced visitor, (perhaps five safaris), and lastly someone who has experienced many other places but not yet been to Kafue, for whatever reason? Obviously each person’s criteria would be different so what would you recommend for each?
Good question! It is a little gripe of mine, (just a small one), that the Kafue is often not seen as a suitable first time safari destination. My counter to that commonly held belief is that for the right kind of person it is very much a first time safari destination. If you have not safaried before but have a keen interest in wildlife, conservation, landscapes, geology, simply a slightly enquiring natural history orientated mind, then the Kafue is surely the ideal first time safari destination! With more antelope species than any other park in Africa, all of the major predators present and a great diversity of activities and habitat types on offer what wouldn’t a first time safari goer with the aforementioned interests not be enthralled with?! I feel there are many folk who would love the Kafue, they just havn’t heard about it yet.
How far from both Livingstone and Lusaka is Kafue and what options exist for self driving in the park? Indeed, how is driving to the park, whether self driving or with an operator a viable option?
The Kafue is a big park! The Southern most gate of the park is only apprx. 3 to 4 hours drive from Livingstone, however the Centre of the park is approx. 8 to 9 hours drive from Livingstone, Busanga in the north is more like 14 to 15 hours drive, (of course you would never do this in a day…). Lusaka to the Central Kafue is an easy 4 hour drive on a fantastically smooth road.
Self-driving is certainly doable in the Kafue and although access to camping sites is non-existent in the Busanga Plains area, (unless you stay at one of the existing bush camps) - the rest of the Kafue from the Centre through to the South has a good handful of lovely campsites, notably McBride’s, Mayukuyuku, KaingU, Kasabushi, Nanzhila to name a few.
Guests to our Musekese Camp invariably make use of our transfers or fly in to Lufupa airstrip which is just a short hop by boat from camp, we do still welcome self-drivers but do not have camping facilities and as such they stay with us a guests of the main camp.
What improvements have been made to tourism infrastructures in Kafue National Park since Jeffery & McKeith safaris has been operating? What about safari operators – what are they doing for Kafue and how are they investing? What new properties and operators have started up recently?
Considering the vast size of the Kafue we must applaud the wildlife authorities for what they manage to achieve in terms of infrastructure development in our park. Recently a re-opening of the magnificent ‘Spinal’ road from Central Kafue to Itezhi-tezhi has been one major success and has even made it possible for tourism development along it, (Mawimbi and Kasabushi Bush Camps as examples), something that would not have been possible 5 years ago before the road was created. We, like most other operators are very active in aiding the authorities in improving infrastructure, from lending man power to help clear old roads to providing the fuel and helping with the maintenance and spare parts of grading equipment.
In terms of tourism, what developments would you like to see happen in Kafue?
I am a real advocate for tourism development in the Kafue, the key however must be in the careful and well planned approach to it. We have so much space to play with here, as such there is no need for tourism developments to be on top of each other and most importantly in the eyes of Phil and I, by carefully selecting area for development you can benefit the park not just in terms of increased park revenues, (which can help further our management efforts), but from the mere presence of tourism operators in areas that have never been developed before and the associated benefits of pushing illegal activities out of these areas. There is little benefit in this instance if camps are placed side by side in high density, plus this would negate the whole essence of the Kafue.
How can the need for greater tourism numbers be balanced with maintaining the park’s essential wilderness aspect? In your opinion what is the maximum number of properties the park can sustain and what type of properties should they be? I.e., lodges, camps, mobile operators etc?
We get this question a lot! Visitors to the Kafue know that one of its major attractions is the fact that you can be here for an entire safari and conceivably never see another tourist. I feel that it would take one hell of an increase in tourist numbers before the wilderness feeling of the Kafue is negated. We get less than 1% of the visitor numbers that the Kruger gets, (and we are slightly larger a park), not saying that we ever want to be as busy as the Kruger of course, but! We are not looking at 50% of the Kruger’s numbers, not even 10%, even a 3 or 4 fold increase in visitors to the Kafue would not touch the sides. Luckily the park is well zoned in its management plan and as such certain areas will never be allowed to be over-developed whilst other areas are earmarked for more intensive development, other areas are strictly special conservation zones where no development of any kind is allowed, as such there will always be wilderness in the Kafue.
How will increased visitor numbers benefit the conservation of Kafue National Park?
If there is ever a park where simply visiting it makes a difference, then the Kafue is it. Where we built our Musekese Camp was known to the wildlife authorities for being a favoured haunt of poachers, that was one of the reasons we wanted to develop that area, (and not pop ourselves next door to someone else who already had roads and infrastructure, etc.). Because people visit us at Musekese it means that the area has a value to be protected and the poachers have upped and left. When we first arrived we would hear the odd gunshot and find the odd snare, it has now been 3 years since the last shot was heard and not 1 snare has been found since. The wildlife has bounced back in great numbers and we now see herds of over 200 Impala! Wildlife wants to proliferate and when we give them the space and protection to do so, they will…
In your opinion, what is the future of safari tourism in Zambia?
Another big question! I think in the short to medium term there is a very positive outlook and I can see the tourism sector in Zambia continuing to grow from strength to strength. If Zambia as a country is able to publicize itself, (the majority of marketing is done by the operators themselves) and play on our country's strengths, from the wonderfully friendly people, political stability to the perfect climate and all the other things that make Zambia stand out from many of it’s regional competitors, then we might see a big increase in visitors, and it will be well deserved and justified.
In the long term we will see how the increasing human population affects our wild areas, but the saving grace of the Kafue is her vast size and as such I feel that we will be one of the most important and significant wildlife areas in Zambia and arguably southern Africa in times to come.
Photo Credits: courtesy and copyright Jeffery and McKeith Safaris.
The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.