The first elephants Beks Ndlovu ever tracked were the herd he found in his mother’s banana grove.
The day he saw them—15 in all—Ndlovu, the founder and CEO of Zimbabwe-based African Bush Camps, was 10 years old. There was a drought that year, and wild animals had begun to creep over from nearby Hwange National Park to ransack gardens in Ndlovu’s village on the periphery of Hwange Town.
“My family and I were banging pots and pans and creating this chaotic noise to chase the elephants out of our garden,” recalls Ndlovu, 41. “When they left, I followed them for over three miles into the middle of the bush and got within 40 yards of the herd. A mother elephant turned around, and I thought she was going to charge. I remember taking off and running until I got home. At that point I thought, ‘Wow, this is quite an adventure.’ ”
Several years later, that first thrilling elephant chase would turn into a career. Today, Hwange National Park is the site of Somalisa, the flagship of African Bush Camps’ 11-camp collection. Founded in 2006, Somalisa gives guests the chance to see the same kinds of vast elephant herds Ndlovu followed in his youth. Ndlovu’s reason for building a camp near his village is clear: He intends to create a mutually beneficial relationship between tourism and the landscape he grew up in. That’s why he launched the African Bush Camps Foundation concurrently with his first safari camp. For every night’s stay, $10 goes toward scholarships for 300 children, skill-building programs and small-business loans for local entrepreneurs, as well as conservation programs and other community projects.
As one of the few black lodge owners in Africa, Ndlovu knows he is a role model. He started at the bottom of the ladder in the safari world, spending his school holidays chopping firewood and extinguishing lanterns. He worked his way up to become a guide for Wilderness Safaris and other companies and eventually started his own private guiding company. Then he founded African Bush Camps. It was a trail he had to blaze on his own: At the time, he didn’t know a single black African who owned a safari company.
“I don’t think people inherently mean to be racist, but there aren’t many black CEOs or safari camp owners, so there’s often a double take when I’m knocking on doors for opportunities,” says Ndlovu. “Thankfully, I came from within the industry, and that opened doors. But being able to deliver consistently is what’s allowed me to organically grow the business.”