Born to explore: Steve carries on the family legacy as a tour guide

At home in the wild: Steve James, a seasoned guide, enjoys sharing his expertise on nature tours. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • His passion for wild animals and nature is hereditary too, his dad is a legendary tour guide, growing up James would see his interaction with the tourists and watch him teach them and share his knowledge with the guests, and he fell in love with that.

In a safari truck just a few meters from a huge black rhino, Steve James is taking a selfie video with the herbivorous beast known to charge at a slight disturbance, but James is in his element and unworried, he has been a safari tour guide for a decade now. Still in his early 30s, James has proved beyond a shroud of a doubt that he was born to be in the wild.

Early mornings just after the rains James walks to a trail of footprints left by the wild animals, upon quick inspection, he immediately could tell that the prints belonged to hyenas, he could even tell the size of the animal that left the imprint. A digital creator as well, he shares his insights and knowledge with thousands of his followers on social media.

By the age of 24, James had already been entrusted by the tour company he was working with to drive guests and give them a tour of the national parks. Back then he was stationed in Ruaha National Park working with Tatanca Africa safari and tours in the southern part of Tanzania. He would later join Lemala Camps and lodges of which he has been for the last eight years.

If James’ father had it his way, he would have been a lawyer, but one fateful trip to Serengeti changed his trajectory in life. He woke up in the morning in the middle of the national park to a serene view of the landscape against this backdrop he saw antelopes and zebras peacefully feeding and James knew this was the view he would like to wake up to for the rest of his life.

His passion for wild animals and nature is hereditary too, his dad is a legendary tour guide, growing up James would see his interaction with the tourists and watch him teach them and share his knowledge with the guests, and he fell in love with that.

So right after high school, he went to the tour guiding college. “It was easy for me because I was always studying animal behaviour growing up,” he said.

His dad was against the idea of his son following his footsteps, and after a little discord, finally, his dad threw in the towel and let his son pursue his passion.

Years later his dad is proud to see his son as an accomplished tour guide, on the few occasions they have met in the wild, each with his own group of guests, James would give a courtesy call to his dad when he sees a group of animals, so that he can bring his guests to the location.

“I came upon a pride of lions, and my dad didn’t know where they were, so I called him over the walkie-talkie,” Steve remembered: “I call him James when we are working, although he preferred I call him dad” he added.

Steve proved to his dad that he was serious about his profession in wildlife, his dad became even prouder when Steve started wildlife photography and launched his YouTube channel.

Steve was privileged to be trained by the company he works for, knowing that most guides are never trained by their employers, he started the YouTube channel so that he could share his knowledge with other guides.

Having graduated at the top of his class, Steve’s knowledge extends further than just the animals on four legs, he has studied about the most dangerous snakes and strangely he became fascinated by pythons and cobras, he confidently handles the snakes in the wild knowing which ones are venomous and which are not.

As a survival expert, Steve has a few hacks for tourists who seek adventure in Tanzania’s wild, first, he insists on proper gear, good durable boots if you are in the wild or going hiking, and he advises a tourist to listen to what their guide tells them when they in the national park or within close proximity with the animals.

“If you don’t listen to your guide, you might end up running your safari or worse, put your life in danger” he warns.

Years in the wilderness have taught Steve not to take a moment close to the animals negligently. Each animal reacts differently upon meeting a human, Steve cautions. With Open-vehicle safaris, the animals are even more accessible, hence it takes a lot of experience and obedience to the tour guide's instructions to have an enjoyable safari.

Steve says never shout at animals, you can be excited but if I instruct you to keep quiet, you should do that, he said. And he is absolutely against taking selfies with your head out of the car, a tendency that tourists have during a safari.

Steve had to earn his respect as a tour guide, looking back ten years ago as a 24-year-old guide, the guests he was leading couldn't believe that a young boy was giving them instructions on what to do.

The seven doctors traveling from New York City looked at the small-structured guide and they were in doubt and asked him challenging questions just to see how much he knew, to their amazement they were shocked by his level of competency.

When they got to the camp, the doctors came clean and admitted to having their doubts and they didn’t even think he was able to drive the big safari truck let alone be so knowledgeable about animals and the wild.

He had even saved them from an elephant situation with calmness and ease. They even asked to go back for another tour.

Steve has a son of his own, and he is not pressured to think if he too will follow in his footsteps. But he is completely ready to support him in whatever he would like to do in his life. “I won’t be like my dad, in the beginning when he stressed out about my choice of profession,” he said.

If he wants to become a guide one day I will support him in every means I can” he concluded. There is an early indication of what he loves, his son watched National Geographic and his dad’s safari YouTube videos, “I think he might be a guide one day” Steve laughed.