Life in the wilderness – Q&A with Annelies at Drumbeat Safaris

August 10th 2018  |   Botswana, Interviews, Wildlife Safaris, Travel, Countries, Experiences, Miscellaneous  |  by   Charlotte Opperman
Drumbeat Safaris lion pride Annelies Zonjee-James

Mobile safaris are wonderful if you want to get off the beaten track. Focusing on superb wildlife and awe-inspiring landscapes, they cover everything from game drives and bush walks to canoeing and scenic flights. We’ve worked with Annelies Zonjee-James at Drumbeat Safaris for many years and thought it would be fun to find out what it’s like to host these magical safaris in Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve. She chatted to Alice about her life in the bush:

Alice – How did you start working with mobile safaris?
Annelies – When I was 20 my then boyfriend, Johan, and I left The Netherlands and backpacked for 10 months through Africa. We fell totally in love with it, so sold our belongings back home, borrowed some money to get us started and booked one way tickets to Tanzania. We spent two years as camp managers in the Serengeti and Tarangire and then moved to Botswana to manage a camp for the same company. It was here that we discovered mobile safaris and realised exactly what we were passionate about.

We started Drumbeat Safaris in 1996 and were guiding our first guests through the Botswana wilderness in 1998. I became the sole owner in 2008 and run the office, plan the itineraries and organise the safaris. But most important of all, I go out on each safari, driving the back-up vehicle and hosting our guests in camp. I definitely did not come all the way to Africa to sit in an office.

Drumbeat Safaris - Annelies Zonjee-James

Annelies on safari. ‘The vehicle had been properly stuck, so I’d just been digging in the heat of the day. Shows my job is not always glamorous!’

Where’s your favourite place to safari?
I absolutely love the Bodumatau area of Moremi. The camp site is situated at a magical, remote spot and we rarely see other vehicles when we are there. The wildlife can also be amazing – we’ve had a leopard or wild dogs in our camp on several occasions.

What’s been your most challenging mobile camp site?
Our mobile camp is basic but comfortable. The whole lot needs to fit into a car and trailer, so packing is an art form at which Jimmy is an expert. Most challenging is setting up in the rainy season, as the camp site can turn from completely dry into a lake within the hour – as happened last year when we started our dinner dry but within half an hour of the heavens opening we were sitting up to our ankles in water. The mess tent was obviously not in the right place. Next morning we moved our tent and problem solved.

Who is your best guide?
I honestly can’t tell you. They all are different and have their own qualities… but they are all super guides who love to share their knowledge and passion for the bush with our guests.

Drumbeat Safaris Wildlife spotting on a game drive Annelies Zonjee-James

Wildlife spotting on a game drive

What’s your best family safari anecdote?
There are quite a few, from waking one morning to prepare breakfast and hearing a 15 year old boy call, ‘there is a lion next to my tent,’ or the family helping to collect firewood that somehow picked up a dried out piece of elephant trunk – when that was thrown on the fire the smell was absolutely horrific. But the one I remember so clearly was camping in Savuti when Jimmy showed the kids a cute mouse he’d found in the kitchen. We all thought it was lovely and when we let it go it ran around a bit, digging in the sand. Next, this hornbill appeared, snatched up the mouse and sat in the tree right next to us, mouse in its beak. I looked at the kids, not sure how they would react, and then the youngest one shouted excited, ‘we had a kill in camp!’

What’s your most extravagant cooking achievement?
Onalenna, the Drumbeat chef, cooks up the most amazing meals on an open fire and in our Dutch oven. She is a star bread maker and besides more local dishes, she loves to surprise our guests with the perfect pizza or banoffee pie. Recent visitors said her food was better than at the hotels in Victoria Falls.

What’s your favourite safari memory?
One early morning game drive in May we came across three lion brothers. In their prime, in the perfect crisp winter morning light, they were absolutely stunning. Then they started to roar, all three of them. The most amazing sound and experience ever.

What is your most unusual animal sighting?
That must be the leopard with her cub… although some guests have also seen rhino on game drives. I have not been so lucky yet.

Drumbeat Safaris Leopard near camp Annelies Zonjee-James

Leopard near camp

An animal sighting that you will never tire of?
Elephants. They are always doing something and I could watch them for hours.

What’s the strangest guest request you’ve had?
I guess that’s whether it’s ok to go out for a jog. Jimmy, Onalenna and I like to stay fit, so we often do a 30-40 minute bootcamp-style class in the afternoon when the guests are on their game drive. We are happy to bring this forward so our guests can join us, which has happened quite a few times now. You should see the faces of passengers on other vehicles on the rare occasions they pass our camp during our work-out.

What piece of kit could not survive without?
Apart from my toothbrush, I think the answer would be our fridge. Nothing is better than a cold beer or a chilled glass of wine at the end of a hot day.

Bucket list travel spot?
There are so many places I would like to see… but my husband just wants to go to our place on the lake in Zimbabwe to go fishing. And to be honest, who needs to travel when you work in such an amazing environment as I do.

Recent client feedback

Bowker family safari to Botswana, Zambia & Mozambique

“An utterly perfect first experience of safari for Paul, Bella and Charlie. The Drumbeat team could not have been more helpful or knowledgeable. We arrived at our first camp late afternoon to find two elephants bathing in the water pool right by our camp. Sightings of animals over our three days with them were exceptional, culminating in finding wild dog with cubs in their den on our last drive on the way to Khwai airport. The thrill of lying in our beds at night and listening to the animals was thrilling, but we always felt utterly safe in the hands of the Drumbeat team.” 

What next?

We would be delighted to help you plan a holiday, or answer any questions about mobile safaris. Our team of experts have travelled widely throughout Africa. They can offer expert advice on every type of safari from family and beach holidays to riding and primate safaris.  If you would like to talk to someone who has been there and done it, please just send us an email or give us a call.

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