Peter Allison is not brave. Despite this, he has been stalked by lions, chased by elephants, and courted by rhinos.
At the age of 19 he tossed a coin between South America and Africa. Africa won. Within a few months his passion for wildlife was rewarded with work as a safari guide for lodges in South Africa and Botswana.
The tales of his African misadventures have been collected in two books – Whatever You Do, Don’t Run and Don’t Look Behind You. I am thrilled that despite Peter’s travel schedule and the fact that he had just returned to Africa from Australia and was “dragging my eyeballs along jet lag’s dusty trail,” Peter agreed to answer some questions.
Q: I loved your books. They were ‘couldn’t put them down’ kind of reads. Whatever You Do, Don’t Run is on my favorite Africa Books list. Who, and or what, inspired your love of wildlife?
Labrador retrievers. I was practically raised by two of them, and I think any child that has them in their life and doesn’t grow up loving animals will probably go on to be a serial killer. Or a dentist!
Q: What is your favorite animal and why?
Elephants! Along with baboons they are probably the most entertaining animals to watch and I always see some new behavior. Lions on the other hand are usually asleep when you see them.
Q: What is the most dangerous wildlife encounter you’ve had in the bush?
I’ve had encounters with everything from lion to leopard to buffalo and elephant, but the most frightened I’ve been was with an animal I never saw. Late at night by the light of a paraffin lantern I went to my tent to fetch a book. When I came back outside the tent I noticed my footprints in the dust coming towards my room. Over the top of them were lion tracks, so she must have been right behind me. On closer inspection I could see marks where her belly fur had scraped the ground. She’d been stalking me.
Q: Where is your favorite place on the planet and why?
I love The Okavango Delta in Botswana with all my heart. I’ve lived on five continents but when I’m in the Delta I feel more at home than I do anywhere else in the world.
Q: It’s one of my favorite places as well. I love to go there, and I love helping tourists plan safari’s there. Who were your favorite types of tourists?
Bird-watchers always see the best game because they’re looking for such small detail. They’re the ones who will spot a leopard by the flick of the cat’s tail.
How my birder father will love that you said that. I wrote a story about being with my dad on safari; he wanted to see birds while I was focused on mammals.
Q: I know you have two books worth of crazy tourist stories but what was the craziest situation?
These two are not in my books. Members of a women’s rugby team had quite a few gin and tonics and asked to ‘scrum’ against me. My mantra may be ‘whatever you do, don’t run’, but in that instance I decided the best defense was absence, and skedaddled.
Another was a guest who was taking Larium (a potent anti-malarial) mixed with other medications – a poor cocktail. After several attempts we lured him down from the thatched roof of our camp, where he had aimed streams of urine at us while declaring he could beat up an elephant.
Ok, those are pretty crazy. How did living in the African bush for almost 10 years inform your life, change you, etc.?
Just being in Africa forced me to review my petty complaints. When I observed the conditions many Africans lived in I realized I was still part of a very lucky few. Living in the bush gave me the best lesson of all though – that I need to work with animals. If not, I go bonkers.
What would you tell someone who dreams of working as a safari guide in Africa. How can they turn their dream into a reality?
I get this question a lot! Times have changed since I began in the bush (half a lifetime ago this year), and these days the industry is (thankfully) more regulated and guides have stricter training than working in the bar for six months, then grabbing a land rover, rifle, and startled tourists, and heading into the bush.
Reputable organizations such as Eco-training in South Africa and Botswana run guide-accrediting courses. After graduating, the wanna-be guide can tackle the greatest challenge of their career – getting a visa!
The stories in your books are told with a self-deprecating sense of humor that reminds me of another one of my favorite laugh out loud books, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Where did you get your sense of humor?
Hmm, I’ve never really thought about that. Perhaps it began as a way of reacting to a world that seemed skewed towards cruelty. Given the choice I would far prefer a chortle to snorting into tissues. People I work with would probably say I got my humor from the gutter.
Many years later Peter finally made it to South America, to seek out the continent’s best, weirdest, and wildest adventures, and to chase the elusive jaguar. The result is his most recent publication, How to Walk a Puma.
Currently Peter works for Wilderness Safaris, based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Thank you so much Peter for taking the time, dragging eyeballs and all, to be interviewed. Check out all three of Peter’s books, and find out Peter’s reading recommendations in the Africa Books section at AfricaInside.org.
- Subscribe to our newsletter.