• Darran Bruessow

    NAME ::: Darran Buressow        COUNTRY ::: Malawi

    Introduction

    I was born in Cape Town. My mother came here from Malawi in 1948, my father in 1953. They were married in Malawi but were evacuated during the independence period, and I was born in Cape Town by default. I came back here when I was 4 years old in 1965 and spent most of the rest of my life working here and in various other countries. I am almost 50 years old.

    I started out after university as an engineer and ran away from the lot and worked since that time in the bush. I had had some experience prior to going to the university with wildlife, collecting eggs and catching crocodile eggs and crocodiles. And I made a career out of catching crocodiles and eggs, and then diversified from that into ostrich farm and game ranching, environmental impact assessments, hotel management in a lot of the East African national parks, and then from there settled to Zanzibar where I semi-retired for 6 years. Towards the end of 1998 I left Zanzibar and came back to Malawi and started to look for places in Malawi to develop a lodge or lodges. This was the first project that came my way. So I started building in the end of 1999, built up a lodge there, and until last year I ran Tingany Hills Lodge. We were terminated, it was the end of our concession period and we started this lodge, Bris ?????, and have been here for about a year now. The plan is to expand this place and develop this place for the next year or two, and then I will be moving on to building other projects that I have had to suspend because of the new built,  and I will be moving back to develop another lodge, and my house is actually where I’m going to retire. Other than that most of my work has been in areas where crocodiles have been either numerous or available for capture and extraction for farms, crocodile ranches. Most of my work was in east and central Africa. And I worked interviewer: Sudan, Chad and other pleas for smaller projects.

    My alzheimers is going to kick in just now. I started working with snakes when I was about 6 years old and collecting snakes. My brother and his friends were very enthusiastic about catching snakes but they never bothered to look after them, so they were all dumped with me. And I ended up to house them, feed them, clean them, water them and look after them generally, and then developed an interest  out from there. And from that I basically branched out into looking after a variety of different animals over the years. As a child I used to travel down to an area called the Patamanga Gorge in southern Malawi where there is the most extraordinary white water massive, a thundering massive water pours through a gorge. A spectacular country. In the early seventies and sixties there was a lot of elephants and big game in that area. That was my biannual safari to the bush. I first started to go down there when I was 10 years old. My first visit there was also my first introduction to elephants at close quarters on foot. That’s one of the aspects that makes a person understand the ability to deal with large game is the experience of having being charged by an elephant and having no way to run. The only option I had at the time was to stand still and deal with it. Behind my back was the roaring river and the tallest tree to climb was about the size of a broomstick and there was no option of running, so I had to stand. And the elephant got to me within abut 5 meters, stopped, ripped up a few shrubberies, turned around and ran away. From that day on I’ve had the confidence that I’d be able to deal with animals up close and nasty so you can build a confidence in dealing with large game in Africa with the understanding that you know that you can handle situations like that. It has saved me many a time over the years. I have been charged by elephants, buffalo and a number of smaller animals, and there are different ways of dealing with the situations, but once you know you are not going to freeze or run you are fairly confident that you can extract yourself from those situations.

    Snakes are predators with no legs. It’s quite unique. And I mean the variety that we have out here in Africa is so amazing, such a variety in colors and patterns and textures and what they feed on. It’s a world of knowledge that at that time very few people had available to them. The diversities of environment that they live in, that incredible range of species that they predate themselves. They are quite extraordinary animals. And for a reptile very able hunters. And curiosity demands that you search for more information. And there wasn’t much to be had in those days. You learned from experience, from what you actually saw in catching the environments that they lived in.  And you defected what they primarily fed on.  Also I was with my brother’s friends, who was very well informed about these things. It was an enhancing environment where you could actually learn without having to go to the book. There weren’t very many books that could tell you anything those species. A challenge was it more than anything else.  At that time I was living in a town, and there isn’t a great deal of other wildlife in urban areas. So reptiles were one of the forms of nature that were available to be caught within the urban sector. So that is probably what drew me to the snakes to start with because they were there. Over the years all kinds of animals were dumped on my lab fork me to look after, birds, monkeys, squirrels, you name it, orphaned animals too.  So where there were other animals brought in they were just as interesting in many ways. So over the years  the diversity of species broadened out.  As an adult working with wildlife you have access to much larger beasts. Which is as fascinating as the smaller creatures. It wasn’t just reptiles. I think it was the situation where reptiles were at hand and locally available. I have a love for mammals and birds as well as for reptiles. And initially crocodile farming was the one wildlife utilization that was established, something that I know something about. And again it was at a very early time, when not many people understood the needs of crocodiles. Having knowledge and a background with other reptiles it was easy to switch over to the crocodiles and work with them and understand how they needed to be taken care of. But again, there was a demand for the word at that time, there was a need for crocodiles in captivity. There was a move from hunting the crocodiles to breeding them to ensure the long term conservation in the wild. And it was a better idea to breed them in captivity. And then you could leave the ones in the wild to their own devices rather than disturb them all the time. That’s where the work with using my life came from. And then there was a spill over to a lot of other fields where there was a market for a product in demand.  The right place at the right time with the right knowledge in the sense that  started the whole work in my life.

    I try to think aloud one occasion. That’s a tough one being asked on demand to spit forth a story. … Probably the most interesting situations to me was on the Tana river in Kenya where I was in a boat with my crew of  three catching crocodiles. And we had a 3-4 meter crocodile pulled up against the side of the boat under a bank of the Tana river. We were trying to pull the crocodile into the boat. And next thing we had a full grown hippo coming straight over the top of the bank into the boat. We had to abandon the boat, it broke in two, and we lost the crocodile, and we had to walk 80 kilometers back to the camp. That was probably the most extreme situation with working with wild life that I can think of. Certainly when we talk about crocodiles we have had a lot of other interesting situations as you are likely to. They can be quite an aggressive animal.

    Oh yes. that was when I was working in a national park in Zimbabwe years before independence. It was a situation in Corangosa. They had experienced terrible floods through the villages just outside the park. And a lot of people were washed into the major stream, and we’d been out from before dawn rescuing people in the river into the boat. And we just got back to the shoreline. The women we were getting to was pretty much drowning, and before we could get to her, a crocodile actually came up under her and carried her on its back to the shore, released her on the shore, turned around and got back into the river again.

    I’ve seen something like that since then, but this was the first time, and it was quite an extraordinary situation, where the arch predator  of the African rivers rescues a human being. This gives an amazing insight to the complexity of the crocodile. It’s not at all just a predator, there is more to it than meets the eye.

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    What is most important to you?

    I get a lot of satisfaction out of the things that I’ve created, I mean the projects that I’ve built throughout Africa that was tourist and wildlife related. They were generally for other people and using other people’s money and still very satisfying to see the completion of these projects. I would say as I move through life that it is much more challenging when you are doing it for yourself. I’ve built 4 projects for myself over the last 15 years. The construction and creation of something, the vision in a sense that you can walk into an unused space and create something that fits the environment, suits the location and serves a purpose whether that be for tourism more or less. The chances to getting there to the final product is very satisfying. And again the other side of it is working with the people from the communities, bringing people out of the communities into your arena and  teaching them how to do a job, go for a task that is meaningful for them and rewarding to them. And also over 12 years with 30-40 staff here we have taken people through the various stages. They started out as laborers, moved into the lodge, learnt a trade within the lodge and then grown within the family of the lodge. It’s extraordinary to actually see how people have grown into being confident with tourists, being confident with what they are doing from having no previous education and no previous knowledge of the task at hand. That is also very satisfying.

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    What has influenced you the most in your life?

    Well that’s a good one. My father obviously has got a lot to say about that. A very creative man, he is an architect. I think he always wanted me to be an architect, but I was never going to step into his shoes after I had moved out of the nest. He is probably what I find more inspiring that anything else. He always encouraged me to do whatever I wanted, and that’s an aspect of a parent that’s not very common in the world to allow your  kids to play with dangerous animals.  Most parents would freak. He just accepted it as it was and encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do in that line. I probably put it down to my father. He was the inspirational aspect of allowing me to make my own way in life.

    My mother used to panic about everything I used to do in life.  So most of the time I never told her what I was about to to. I left her the status of inertia  most of the time and disappeared in the bush and telling her afterwards I was going to the lake. When I was doing the army I was joining the national parks. That was a great vacuum in my life where she never knew where I was. I would phone from there and say: Hey Mom, I’m okay, see you soon” and pull the plug. And seeing her soon probably meant some time in the next three years. But as long as she knew I was alive occasionally that was that was what kept her happy. So she never really knew what I was about, because I knew she would just freak.  She knows most of it now because she has been told the stories but she didn’t at the time.

    Well, I’m still alive, I still have all my fingers, so there is nothing she can really say about it. She just finds it a little bit extraordinary that all those years she never knew exactly what I was doing. She’s getting on in life. So high drama doesn’t really fuss her too much.

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    What has been an important turning point in your life?

    I think the most sort of critical turning point was developing and understanding that, when I was at the university studying civil engineer – civil engineer is a job that demands team work, it’s also an understanding that when you are going to work you are actually  going to work in a company environment. Through the work I had to do in the vacations to fulfill the necessity for fulfilling a degree, I came to realize that I wasn’t technically a team man that could work for other people. I can work in a team, but I couldn’t work under somebody that I didn’t respect or didn’t really want to work for. Especially in a job that I didn’t like. I have to say that civil engineering – yes we love the things that they build – but they are the most boring people on the planet. And boring people never inspired me. So since I ran away from university after the third year in full knowledge that I was never technically going to be a civil engineer. I was going to, if I needed it, use my civil engineering skills for my own projects that I was in charge of. Leaving university was a decision taken primarily because I knew that it was a trap, a self set trap that I was walking into and I would be stuck with a job working in an environment that I didn’t want to work in.  So what I actually wanted to do was to go my own way and make my own decisions and own mistakes. Over time that has been a lot more rewarding having done that than having to go with a preconceived program that a lot of parents have for their children. Step into a job and stay in it till you are 65 and drop dead.

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    What makes you happy?

    Having a group of friends around me is something that is really fun.

    Being out in the bush, that fantastic environment, again  I cannot be in a car, I need to be walking, I need to be close to nature. That’s something that puts a smile on my face, close up to the elephants. And if you can do all of this with a good group of friends around you, that’s fun.  The adventure of life is to try to create a livelihood. Building up lodges is fun, but its the building that’s fun, the challenge of trying to do things quite often in impossible short periods of time, that’s a challenge I always get a kick out of.  Living in the African bush can be quite a lonely experience. There is not a lot of people out there that understand the nature and the wild. There is not a lot of people to start with, and when you have a comfortable place in the bush, and you can welcome your friends into it that’s probabley the best kick of the lot.

    I don’t know. I think I’m still working towards that end. I can’t say I’m particularly proud of myself  in any particularly way. What I do is for the satisfaction of the moment in a sense. Reflecting backwards is not something that I do in life. I tend to get satisfaction out of the moment. The challenge is that you have to deal with everything. After 50 years in Africa you learn  to understand patience and the fact that we pretty much all live for the moment. The here and the now is where we live. Reflections forwards and backwards is not something that you particularly do. If you had to you would probably freak out knowing what you had to worry about in the future. If you had to reflect on what happened to you in the past you would never move on to the future, because you would freak out. Nobody knows in Africa what’s around the corner. An example of that is after years of developing a lodge in a national park and one day being told to close up and leave and pack up and take your stuff and yourself away. It’s quite dramatic, not just for myself, but for the 40 odd members of the staff it must have been a catastrophe. There future had been destroyed completely. You cannot look to far into the future in Africa, ever. You never know what’s around the next bend. You’d better be a little fatalistic about everything you knew, but if all things go well, all things end well. But there is no prediction that it can be that way.

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    What have been the biggest struggles in your life?

    Biggest struggles in one’s life … I don’t know that I can actually say that I can identify any single aspect of my life that’s been the biggest struggle. There is the smaller things, doubts and one’s own abilities … being able to do what you’ve set out to do. But I don’t know that I’ve ever really had the biggest struggle. i’m not going to say that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I’ve been lucky through life. I’ve been lucky to be able to find the opportunities, and extraordinary opportunities to do what I’ve done. Lucky in the ability to survive some of the most amazing places out there, the incredibly harsh environments. Wildlife, dealing with wildlife and severe situations. I don’t see anything as a struggle. I’d  rather look at life as being an adventure that you’ve got to find a way through, try to keep a positive viewpoint to see that there is something good at the end of the tunnel rather than seeing it as being a constant struggle to get to the end of your life. It’s an adventure to get there. So interviewer: don’t know about struggles.  It’s day to day events. Building a new lodge, you set out with odds stacked against you, and you achieve what you do just by keeping a positive attitude about your life. I know that many other people wouldn’t try to start a lodge in the bush without 250.000 quite sure in there pockets, which I think is about 1.500 $. And no sure income to get business started, a lot of people would see that as a struggle. I always see that as a challenge. No I don’t know that I ever had struggles.

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    What would you change in your life, if you could change something?

    I don’t think so. Changing anything in my life is not … it’s a bit like taking the needle out of the groove of the record. I’m not a fatalist, and I don’t believe that everything is preordained in life. We all have our options in life, and we make our decisions, and sometimes they are wrong. But if one was to change it you wouldn’t get the lesson you learned through making that mistake, so to change something? No I don’t think so. I think the errors I’ve made in life have had the end result of making a better person out of me, out of learning what I emotionally feel about my environment,the people around me and everything that has to do with my life. It all comes out of a series of learning experiences, some of which include tragic errors sometimes. But without that in life I think people don’t have then depth of understanding of what makes life whole. You don’t develop then sympathy towards the unfortunate if you haven’t lived within the environment with the less fortunate. I don’t know there was anything I would really want to change.  It would have been nice to have a partner in my life, but again at the same time I have a lot of friends and my own family is my partners in life in a sense. My staff here are pretty much my children. Having a larger family of my own doesn’t really bother me any more. It’s something that I thought of for a while, but not any longer. Anyway now I’m too old.

    The four leggings yes, that part of the family, it has to be said, they are close to the heart. There are very special animals out in the bush. Three years I’ve had animals that I’ve reared myself. And they became very special pets, almost like children, but there are wild animals out there that brings me their babies every other year. There is an elephant that allows me to touch her children, and my little hyena, Chirombo, a very special animal. SO I have surrogate children, that I have adopted over the years.  They have to go back to the bush and their environment. They are quite special.  As with a lot of friendships in this part of the world, people seem to be transient in Africa, much the same as wildlife.  Comes and goes and moves on. But never disappears altogether.  They are always in the back of your mind. All those friends of yours out there, like all those animals of yours out there. You wish the best for them, but you learn in Africa not to wish too much for there company, because that would break you into peaces very quickly. The constant change of faces and places that tends to happen.

    When I first moved from the lodge in the national park to the new lodge that I have built here. Within a week of having moved here the elephants, about a hundred elephants, 7 or 8 herds, followed us to the new site. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, I was used to having the elephants around the lodge on a regular basis, over ten or eleven years I’d developed something of a relationship with the herds of elephants of the south, walking with the herds, talking to the elephants, it sounds a bit crazy, but they eventually understand the tone of your voice and get used to you being around, and used to you being non threatening.  But as I said all the elephants suddenly came up to the new place. And the villagers around us had never ever seen a phenomenon like it with 115 elephants  all gathered in one mass, and from that day on they were called Darren’s children go Darren’s cows.

    So now the elephants are my cows.

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