Deb Tittle in conversation with Rothschild Safaris
RS: How did a girl born in the North East of England end up in the South Luangwa?
DT: It is a very long story that really needs a grown-up beverage and a fire to do it justice but in short, it began with watching Tarzan when I was four years old. I just wanted to live with those big animals but it would take a lot of years before I fully realized that you can chase your dreams no matter what your background is.
RS: Did you have any pets growing up?
DT: I really had no connection to animals at home. I did have a tortoise. But then, of course, British people love wildlife documentaries and they kept my fascination alive.
RS: Can you remember the first time you came out to Africa?
DT: Oh yes, I had no qualifications but looked for jobs abroad and decided to apply as an Overland truck driver. It seemed like all you needed was an HGV license and I thought well, anyone can learn to drive a truck so that is what I did in Britain and then I earned some money driving trucks in the UK until I could get myself to Africa. It was everything I thought it would be. I remember my first giraffe which I saw from the train out of Nairobi at three o’clock in the morning with only the moonlight and it all felt exactly right.
RS: How long did you drive the Overland trucks?
DT: About three and a half years. I started out with Exodus and then swopped to Dragoman as they had power steering. They sent me to South America which was a big move and a fantastic experience but I always wanted to be back in Africa. Still, the experience on the Overland truck was frustrating as you never really got to know the place properly – you were really in a bubble traveling in those vehicles. I couldn’t wait to get into an area like a National Park and get a proper understanding of the continent.
RS: Did South America not turn your head?
DT: No. Not enough elephants.
RS: Female guides are not the norm. Did you get any pushback being a woman wanting to guide?
DT: No, not really. There were one or two qualified female guides but it was rare and there were no women working in walking Safaris. I did feel in my heart that I probably had to do better than counterparts. There was no pressure from anyone else but I thought if something went wrong on a walk I would get ‘It happened because she is a woman’ rather than ‘Oh how unlucky’ This feeling stuck with me for the first few years. I had this need to do my job so well that no-one could argue about my ability.
RS: Why Zambia?
DT: I met a couple of guides in Zambia who weren’t African by birth and I had naively not realized that someone who wasn’t born here could do this job. So I thought in Zambia I could do it.
I lived in Kenya and I lived in Zimbabwe but they were both more of a closed shop. Then I sent a fax to a guy in the Valley. There was only one fax and it wasn’t in his camp but he would visit the camp with the fax socially fairly often. He never got the fax but someone else happened to walk past the fax as I sent it and he decided ‘Well, I need her’. So I started work on a mobile safari doing everything except guiding as the guide was already in place.
Eventually Mum sent me out a pair of binoculars.
RS: What did your parents think of you working in the wilderness?
DT: I was lucky enough to have an extraordinary mother who just realised there was something a little different out here and she supported me right through my Overlanding days (when things could be quite hairy – but as long as I only told her the stories afterward it was fine) She traveled a lot as a young girl and she wanted me to have the opportunity to experience it. One of the nicest moments was during my days as a rooky guide in Kaingu when my mum came out and during one of our siesta times she turned to me and just said ‘this is where you belong’
RS: Did your mum love Africa?
DT: She was fascinated by it all and remembered a lot of the subtleties that you can see when you are out walking. More than anything I think she enjoyed seeing me do something I really loved.
RS: Were people already walking in Zambia when you came out?
DT: People started walking in Zambia in the 1950s and Norman Carr had the wisdom to start the practice of having an armed scout walking in tandem with the guide. It is the law now and it has proven to be the safest way to conduct walking safaris even though it is a last resort. In fact, a rifle is used less in tandem situations as the guide is free to deal only with his job and take care of the people walking.
RS: Have you met Norman Carr?
DT: Yes. He let me live in a little hut near his camp. He was a remarkable and very modest man and it was a big loss to Africa when he passed away in April 1997.
RS: Do you have a favorite animal?
DT: For almost nine years I worked in a sector with three little fly camps that we would walk between. A pride of lion lived there and one of the females I had known as a cub and I was fascinated with her life and the social ups and downs. I’m not one for giving animals names but in terms of just spending time with animals, I would have to pick elephants. They are very special.
RS: Is Zambia home now?
DT: It has been a long time since I have felt anywhere else is home. But it is great getting out to England and then be able to see the Valley again and realize anew what an extraordinary place it is and what fun it is.
RS: Is there anything particular that you wish people knew about Walking Safaris?
DT: I think what is missed by many people is that it is an actual safari and it isn’t at all only about the small things. We track and watch big game. It is absorbing to track big cats on foot. I often have guests tracking right along with me and the experience is so much more than the voyeuristic game drive. You are actually involved in Africa. It engages and heightens all your senses and there is a funny old blend of adrenaline mixed with the real peacefulness of the wilderness when there isn’t the interference of a car engine. Just try it!
RS: Do you host kids?
DT: Not at my camp as it is so remote. From around 12 years on you can consider it, especially if you have a camp booked out by one group or family.
RS: What did you do differently when you started your own camp?
DT: I learned as I went along but the indulgence is keeping the numbers so small. I aim to have only four people in camp at any one time. This means I can be more proactive and involved and there isn’t a trail of people with the last person missing the sighting. It is a very big difference for me to have everyone involved.
RS: Do you have any big plans for the future?
DT: No – this is my future. It is what I want to do. I can walk in an area where there is no vehicles and when we find something there is only us. For me this is what I want to do.
If you have less than four people on your ‘must travel with’ list,
Love having Africa to yourself,
And want to have a guide whose dream is introducing you to the wilderness…
do CONTACT US to walk with Deb at the very remote
Mapazi (it means footstep in Chichewa) Camp in the South Luangwa Valley.