The COVID_19 pandemic has greatly affected the tourism industly majority of practitioners switching to other ventures to sustain their families, Zarek a gold rated proffesional guide has taken this period to share his skills and knowledge with aspiring and practising guides, with Level 2” qualification with the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA), and a “Level 3 Track & Sign” qualification with Cybertracker, a non-profit network for wildlife trackers. These widely-recognized qualifications have provided him with useful tools to interpret the signs and behaviours of wildlife he encounters on safari. Zarek takes nature interpretation to new heights and has so much to share with everyone.
Tell us about yourself, where you grew up? I was born and grew up in Nairobi where my father is a veterinarian and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to travel around Kenya, on safari, since I was 2 years old. So I suppose my love of animals and being on safari has its roots in my upbringing. We never had enough money to stay in fancy lodges or hotels, so we would always cram our family of 5 into a tent or a KWS banda and get up close and personal with various wildlife. When I was 11, I joined the birdwatching club at my school, where we would take field trips around Nairobi, and other parts of Kenya, furthering my interest in wildlife and ecology. My science and geography teachers in school definitely had a big part to play in my love for the natural world.
How did you end up becoming a guide? Was it your first career? I studied Engineering Drafting in university, but after graduating, quickly realized I didn’t want to spend my life in an office in front of a computer. I looked online and found some field guide courses in South Africa, so I signed up and went to SA for a 1 month intensive, hands-on field guide course. After that 1 month, I felt like my head was about to explode with so much new, interesting information. I realized that guiding was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and came back to begin applying for jobs and sat for the KPSGA Bronze exam. Getting a job as a guide wasn’t easy, and I ended up working as an assistant camp manager, an operations & logistics manager, and relief manager for a few camps in the Mara and Laikipia. From there I continued working in operations, but with the opportunity to do some guiding for a tour company based in Limuru. I’ve slowly transitioned into full-time guiding and guide training over the last few years.
Whats your favourite topic on natural history? That’s a tough question! I love biodiversity in general, and I’m happiest when I can observe a wide variety of species around me, whether I’m at home or on safari. If I had to pick just one, it would probably be Arachnids – Spiders and Scorpions are my specialty and probably what I get most excited about.
Zarek Cockar Safaris, what’s it all about? I operate as a freelance guide, working for other guides or safari companies, leading my own privately guided safaris, and conducting safari guide skills development courses for camps & lodges across East Africa. A privately guided safari is the best way to see Africa’s wild places, away from the crowds, with a knowledgeable guide who has helped you design your itinerary from the start. A private guide is a host, an ambassador, an interpreter of the natural world, and a logistician ensuring a trip runs smoothly from start to finish. You can find out more on http://zarekcockarsafaris.com
Tell us about your webinar training and are you planning to have one any time soon? Once Kenya was hit by COVID-19 I found myself out of work with lots of time on my hands! I have been developing various parts of a syllabus for Kenyan guides for a few years, but it’s all been quite disorganized. Now I finally had some time to start putting it together. As a Gold member of the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association and a certified Trainer and Assessor for the African Field Guides Association, I decided to start making lectures available for free to KPSGA members online to help the members build their skills and knowledge while they have so much free time. This has been my small way of helping my colleagues during this difficult period, and I have had a very positive response so far. I have covered 4 topics so far: Birds, Insects, Taxonomy & Scientific Names, and Reptiles. While I organized and hosted the reptiles lecture, it was actually taught by Stephen Spawls, a well-known authority on East African reptiles, and the author of several leading books on the subject. Over the next several months, I hope to continue providing between 5-10 additional lectures on various topics from ‘Guiding Ethics & Etiquette’ to ‘Mammal Behaviour’. You can access a PDF with full details here: https://www.zarekcockarsafaris.com/post/online-safari-guide-lectures
While these lectures are offered free to KPSGA members, they are also available, at Kshs 750/- per person to non-members. Over the last 4 lectures, approximately 30% of the participants have been non-members. I would also be very open to sharing these lectures with school teachers and technical institutes should there be sufficient interest.
If you have saved links to your previous ones please share. Please sign up here for access to previous lectures: https://forms.gle/exwSatr3aqk91mh3A
Word of advice for upcoming guides?
Humility: Never think of yourself as being too good for any kind or work or better than your colleagues. Be prepared to get your hands dirty when times get tough, and to help out when others are in need.
Persevere: There will be times that you’ll feel stressed or desperate, but push through, remain confident, and always do your absolute best.
Develop: Never get complacent and rest on your laurels. Always strive to grow your skills repertoire – bush knowledge, interpersonal skills, time-management, driving skills, official qualifications, etc.
Mentorship: Find a mentor who can guide you, encourage you, teach you, and provide a role model.
Ethics: Figure out where your morals and ethics lie, write them down, and continuously refer back to them to ensure you’re not losing sight of who you are and what you believe is right.
The older I get, and the farther I travel around the world, the more I am drawn back to East Africa’s wilderness areas. My curiosity continues to deepen and drive my growing understanding for nature and all its intricacies. Join me on a journey of discovery to reveal charismatic wildlife, ancient cultures, and spectacular landscapes. Together we’ll design the trip of a lifetime, where no destination is out of reach, and no dream too big. Zarek Cockar.
“For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive. In this century he has to realize that in order to survive he has to protect it.” Jacques-Yves Cousteau Here we celebrate the unsung wildlife heroes in the grassroots doing remarkable work to conserve our wildlife heritage, Get to learn about wildlife from a ranger/ ecologist in Kenya a freelance eco-traveler, experience the diverse cultures and African heritage from the natives and take an adventure to new destinations to learn about rare attractions that are hardly talked about and to top it all up some of the best wildlife photographs that will make you reconnect to your wild side appreciate everything around us and fall in love with the natural world, because “It is not enough to love the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it.” Edward Abbey
Our wildlife, our responsibility. When it comes to standing up for our wildlife it’s better to be outspoken than unspoken.