Elephants, Botswana

Meet the Expert: Lex Hes

Zegrahm Expeditions|August 4, 2020|Blog Post

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Where are you from and where have you lived?

I was born and grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa. After a stint in the military, I moved to the Greater Kruger National Park where I lived for 15 years, working as a safari guide, camp manager, wildlife film-maker, and wildlife manager. I met my wife, Lynn, there and our twin children were born there. In the early nineties, we moved to the town of Nelspruit, not far from Kruger and I began to work as a free-lance guide before joining the Zegrahm team in about 1994.    

Lex Hes

Tell us about yourself—what path led you to becoming a Zegrahm Leader?    

I did the photography and writing for two books on wildlife while I was living in the Kruger area and when I left Kruger I started working on more books about wildlife as well as doing free-lance guiding. This led to a call from a large African safari operator telling me about an expedition company called Zegrahm who was looking for a safari leader. I met two of the founders and accepted their offer to lead the company’s first safaris into Botswana. 

What other jobs, positions or credentials do you have? 

I own my own bespoke safari company and was instrumental in the growth of a pioneer safari guide training company which became the largest in Africa. 

What other fields are you passionate about? 

I am passionate about the natural world and the protection of wild places. I love nothing more than getting out into the wilderness, be it in the wild country around my home, or in the great wildernesses of Africa where I can spend time observing, discovering, and learning about the natural world. In particular I am passionate about the interconnectedness of the world’s ecosystems. My second passion is naturephotography. I love the challenge of trying to capture the essence of the natural world and using my photographs to tell people more about our planet. 

Do you have any awards, publications, appearances documentaries etc.? 

I’ve published five books on the wildlife of Africa as well as numerous articles in magazines published around the world. Many, many years ago I was the star of a little-known and not very good wildlife documentary called Winged Safari in which I followed European white storks on their migration route from South Africa to Europe. You may want to avoid watching it or alternatively watch it if you want a good laugh. In the time of 16mm film I was cameraman for a wildlife documentary film production company making films about wildlife in the Greater Kruger National Park.      

What organizations are you a part of? 

I am a member of Birdlife Africa and The Botanical Society of Southern Africa. 

What excites you (or what do you enjoy) about working for Zegrahm? 

The really exciting part of working for Zegrahm is their willingness to explore new off-the-beaten track destinations which allows me, as someone passionate about wilderness, to share new wild places with the guests that I meet. And that is the second extremely enjoyable thing about working for Zegrahm, the wonderful people who have been with me on safari all over Africa, many of whom have become great friends. 

Elephant

What is your favorite Zegrahm memory? 

There are so many, but one stands out. One of our most popular safaris has been the “Back to Africa” trip, now called “Southern Africa’s Diversity,” which visits Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia in the southern African summer months. Being the rainy season, this trip sometimes has little problems such as flights being delayed or diverted because of storm systems or flooded runways or even flooded camps leading to last minute changes. 

On this particular occasion, we were told a day before departure that our camp in Zambia had been flooded by heavy local rains and could no longer be used. The guests were already in the air on their way to meet me in Johannesburg and were of course unaware that we had this little problem. Fortunately for us, we were able to find the perfect camp to replace the Zambian camp. The only problem was that it was in Zimbabwe, a country that was going through a lot of political turmoil at the time. In fact, that’s probably why the camp was available! At my briefing on our first night together I announced the fact that we no longer had a camp to go to in Zambia, but that everything was fine, because we had found the ideal replacement…I then prepared myself for disappointed looks on the faces of the guests before I said…in Zimbabwe. To my pleasant surprise everyone in the group gave huge smiles and big thumbs up. Many had never been to Zimbabwe and this is so typical of our intrepid Zegrahm guests: always prepared to take on new adventures. 

Our visit to the camp in Hwange National Park coincided with a total eclipse of the moon which also happened to be the last night of the entire 18-day safari. We had brought an astronomer with us to enhance the experience. The camp was elevated on wooden boardwalks and had a small swimming pool, no more than six feet wide, sunken into the wooden deck on the front of the camp where it overlooked an open clearing and a waterhole some 900 feet away. Every day we saw lots of animals coming to drink at the waterhole including massive herds of elephants. 

On the night of the eclipse the unsteadiness of the wooden decks necessitated us taking the telescope down to the ground in front of the camp to observe the stars and the moon as it rose in the east. We were just starting to learn about the stars from our astronomer friend when, in the moonlight, we saw a herd of about 60 elephants drifting silently across the clearing to drink from the waterhole. It was a truly amazing sight, so we stopped our star-gazing and watched in awe as the elephants milled around the waterhole drinking and splashing and bathing. 

When they finished their activities, the elephants began to move away from the waterhole. Away from the waterhole yes, but not away from us, as they all en-masse proceeded straight towards where we were standing on the ground below the deck! We had to make a quick getaway, gathering up the telescope and tripod and moving quickly up to the safety of the deck just as the elephants loomed into view. We had all just got onto the deck next to the swimming pool when the first elephant arrived at the edge of the deck, stopped and put her trunk over the edge of the deck into the pool and began to drink. Within seconds, the rest of the herd arrived and we sat there in stunned silence as a herd of 60 elephants drank from our swimming pool just six feet across the water from us, their ghostly shapes pale gray in the moonlight. 

There was nothing but the sound of water being sucked up into their trunks and gurgling sounds as they sprayed the water down into their throats. An elephant will drink anything from 20 to 100 litres of water when they come to drink and there was an almost immediate drop in water-level of the pool as they drank. Before long the water level dropped below the reach of the smaller elephants who had to reach up to and over the edge of the deck to get at the water and they began sucking more and more air and less and less water!

After a good 15 minutes or so, the elephants slaked their thirst and began to move away just as the shadow of the earth began to move across the moon’s surface! 

What non-for-profits or causes do you support or feel strongly about?

The NGO that I think does the most incredible work for conservation in Africa is African Parks Network which works with cash-strapped governments to help re-establish and manage important conservation areas throughout the continent. Ultimately, once these parks have been reset so to speak, they become great destinations for Zegrahm clients. Parks under the Management of African Parks Network include: Virunga National Park in the DRC, Liuwa Plains in Zambia, Zakouma in Chad, Akagera in Rwanda, Majete in Malawi, Odzala in Congo and 12 others. 

What are your top three countries or regions in the world to explore?

Botswana, Antarctica, and Central African Rainforest. 

What’s left on your explorer’s bucket list/where do you still want to go that you haven’t been yet? Why there?

Although I’ve spent 18 months living in the sub-Antarctic, I haven’t yet been to mainland Antarctica. An iconic remote destination that couldn’t be more different to what I know. 

Botswana

What does being a part of the Zegrahm family mean to you? 

The biggest part of being in the Zegrahm family is having the opportunity to travel to remote wilderness and share these places with wonderful people.

 Who is the Zegrahm Explorer/Traveler?  

The Zegrahm explorer is a person with a great sense of adventure and thirst for knowledge, someone who is prepared to be a pioneer visitor to remote wilderness. 

Social Handles:  Instagram: @lexhesphotography

 Want to go on safari with Lex? Join him in 2021 on Luxury Botswana Safari, Iconic Africa: Kenya & Zimbabwe with Victoria Falls, Ultimate Ethiopia and Remote Tanzania.

 Leopard on safari