Calvin Cottar Interview
SAFARI Q&A: Calvin Cottar
Calvin Cottar explains what it's like to be part of the original safari family and why conservation is an everyday reality in Kenya
By: SANDY CUNNINGHAM
Always on the prowl for the greatest stories and tall tales of legendary adventurers, we now delve deep into the storied past of the first family of safari; the Cottar Family. Originally from Oklahoma, Charles Cottar moved to Kenya in 1909 after reading Teddy Roosevelt’s book Game Trails of Africa. He started his own outfitting business called Cottars Safari Service, and the rest is history. Five generations later, his great grandson Calvin Cottar is raising a family in the bush to continue the tradition. From taking Roosevelt on a donkey to an encounter with a charging elephant with legendary photographer Peter Beard, the Cottar family continues to have some of the wildest exploits on the African continent. Life in the bush is the ultimate adventure, especially with these guys. Who better to tell about it than Calvin himself?
When guests consider a trip to Africa, the choice can be overwhelming. Why Kenya? Why Cottars?
For me the answer to this question is simple. We were the very first safari camp registered in Kenya, the birthplace of the concept of safari itself. We come from an honest hard working family, and we have the good values that try to honor our staff and partners in the area we work. Some of our staff is still working with us after 40-plus years; and we have guests still coming back 20, 30, and even 70 times on safari! This is the safari legacy I have been handed, and I am honored to be able to look after it and hand it on to the next generation should they wish to follow in my footsteps.
"We were the very first safari camp registered in Kenya, the birthplace of the concept of safari itself."
Some of your family's grand adventures have been written down for generations to come in Bartle Bull's book, Safari: A Chronicle of Adventure. Tell us one of your favorite tales from the pages.
Safari: A Chronicle of Adventure is so full of wonderful stories about Africa, where do I start? I suppose the one that most impacted me was in the very last pages where Chas Cottar, my great grandfather, sets up one of those old wind-up cameras and gets his son Mike (my grandfather) to go around a thicket and beat a rhino towards him to capture an action shot. Well the rhino bore down on him without missing a beat—and gored him badly. Mike offered to cover him from the sun with a canvas tarp but he refused, saying he wanted to see the azure African sky before he passed away.
"If the Cottars are the Kennedys of the East African safari industry, Calvin is Bobby Jr., embracing his background as a tool, not a birthright."
–David Herndon, Travel & Leisure, August 2001
Favorite story to share around an African campfire?
I suppose there are so many stories and perspectives, and this depends how late we stay up talking around the campfire! But I would say I go from the extremes of deep philosophy and explaining how Africa is our ancestral home and how we tap into our cellular or genetic memory; to how Africa brings the truth and the best qualities in people to the fore; and finally I talk about the complexities and solutions to saving our incredible wildlife heritage.
“Africa is our ancestral home, and we tap into our cellular or genetic memory [when on safari.]
When guests return home, what will they remember the most vividly about Cottars?
The truth of the place, the authentic feel, the friendliness of our amazing staff and the Maasai people, the way our guides are intellectually equal and emotionally aware of every guests needs. They’ll also remember how a walk or game drive at Cottars is so different from anywhere else as we make all efforts to slow down our guests to the pace of things in Africa—while also having them in position and ready for the split second action!
I would also hope that the success of the Mara conservancies concept would be appreciated and more widely known, and emulated everywhere else in Africa.
Learn more about Calvin Cottar's camp on the Journal.
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