Benson Siyawareva is one of Africa’s top-rated professional safari guides. He is licensed as a Full Professional Guide in Botswana with the Botswana Department of Wildlife and in Zimbabwe with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife.
With many years of experience, an encyclopaedic knowledge of the wilderness and an unwavering passion and enthusiasm for wildlife and conservation, Benson is the ideal guide to accompany your safari. He knows where to find the animals you have come so far to see, and interprets the language and the signs of the wild, adding immeasurably to your enjoyment. Benson is also great company – with his cheerful, relaxed nature and excellent sense of humour you can look forward to an adventure of a lifetime.
Benson’s worldwide reputation in the industry led him to be named as one of “The Best 15 Safari Guides” in the Condé Nast Traveller magazine. He also made an appearance on American live television, as the Pro-Guide on the Today Show Where in the World is Matt Lauer? Benson is also featured in the authoritative book Licensed to Guide, written by Susie Cazenove.
Benson was born close to nature – in fact he couldn’t wait to be born into the wild.
He came into the world on a sunny September morning in 1968, when his mother, who had set out early on the long walk from her village to the clinic at Zaka, had to find a sheltered spot in a hurry.
The clean, dry sand of a small gully in the middle of nowhere was thus Benson’s first bed, and it earned him his childhood nickname – Goronga: ‘of the gully’.
Family life in a traditional village in the remote south-eastern Lowveld of Zimbabwe meant that the surrounding bushveld was a resource, a larder, a teacher and a playground.
Benson was expected to contribute to the pot – this included hunting birds using birdlime or catapults; smaller animals with dogs; collecting edible insects, fruits and plants and even fishing with a spear. His father was a renowned herbalist and as the last-born in a family of six, the child ‘Goronga’ was given extra chores – collecting fresh wild herbs for his Dad whenever there were patients to treat.
It is traditional for young boys to herd the cattle and goats, and so Benson and the other village kids would drive the animals each day to fresh grasslands – on the way collecting fruits, honey, milk, swimming, foraging, climbing trees – all the while looking out for predators. All this gave him an early in-depth knowledge of the local wild fauna and flora. If he had a choice and his life could be rewound, he would gladly do it all again.
At the age of fourteen, Benson had to attend a school in the nearest town. His rural school had been closed due to Zimbabwe’s war of Independence. That was the first time he saw a flush toilet and a television. This was “civilisation” he guessed! He found a place in a military run school, where corporal punishment was the rule of the day and was imposed unstintingly. Because of his rural village background, the teachers believed that he had to be “urbanised” quickly.
The macho thing at that time was to join the school’s Boy Scout Movement, which of course Benson did. In this club, he was given the opportunity to do a lot of camping, wildlife tracking and viewing in one of the nearby National Parks. The seed for his love of animals and conservation of wildlife was sown here.
After completing his ‘A’ Levels, Benson had to put tertiary education on hold: financial pressure and family loyalties forced him initially to work as a temporary teacher, teaching ‘O’ levels. During the school breaks, Benson’s brother, Foster, a professional Hunter/Guide would invite Benson to help out on safaris. Benson disliked the amount of “blood” involved in the hunting trips, much preferring the photographic safaris. Soon Benson had decided where his future lay and – assisted once more by his elder brother, who has always been a role model and inspiration to him – he began the long and challenging process of becoming a qualified professional guide.
Benson trained at a safari lodge in Matusadona National Park, Zimbabwe, and in 1992 qualified as a Zimbabwe Fully Licensed Professional Guide. This is Zimbabwe’s (and probably Africa’s) highest and most respected guiding qualification.
At the beginning of 1997, Benson was approached by Wilderness Safaris. He was to spend the next 8 years with them, initially assisting with the the construction of the 16-bedded Makalolo Plains Camp in Hwange National Park. Once the camp opened he helped guide for a few months, setting up the routes and the standards, before starting construction of the 10 bedded Little Makalolo Camp. Once both camps were completed, Benson alternated in managing each of them, whilst continuing to establish an ever-growing reputation among the visitors as top class guide.
During this time, Benson also helped train guides in other regions. After one of these many coaching sessions he decided it was time to gain additional experience outside Zimbabwe and he joined Okavango Wilderness Safaris in Botswana in 2001 as a Guide trainer and coordinator. He soon realised that he missed the interaction with guests, and he took over management of the small, luxury Savuti Bush Camp in the Linyanti, home to the famous Elephants of the Savuti. Here he added his own professional touches to the camp. It was Benson who created the now famous walk-in hide called the “Woodpile” at the waterhole, giving guests the breathtaking experience of being close to the elephants as they drink.
Benson has always believed that each of his guests should experience a unique and personal wilderness experience which will leave them enriched. His desire to be true to what he believed led him to establish Ngoko Safaris in 2005. He now leads safaris throughout Southern Africa and sometimes to East Africa.
Apart from Benson’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the wilderness – he will constantly point out an unnoticed bird or animal, identify it and tell you some interesting facts or story about it – his most endearing features are his cheerful nature and sense of humour. Benson is a wonderful and colourful character, befriending the guests who respond in kind. His many repeat clients attest to this.
Benson is passionate about the wilderness and much of his spare time is spent in the bush, in particular travelling through other African countries in a quest to learn more about their ecosystems and endemic wildlife. He regularly travels to the UK and USA but soon finds he yearns to be back in the bush.