If you’re not familiar with the Micato One for One Commitment, the concept is simple. For every safari sold, Micato pays the fees required to send an African child to school—a child who would otherwise stay home due to extreme poverty.
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The meerkat is easily the cutest creature within the 6,100 square miles of Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. In the dry season this may not be saying much, but when the rains bring large herds of wildebeest and zebra and their accompanying predators, the sight of two meerkats hugging each other (which they do just because they like to) might still consume the majority of your camera film.
Not only do meerkats hug, they also babysit for each other, feed sick members of their colony, groom their mates as part of courtship, and purr and trill to communicate. The appeal of meerkats, then, is not solely dependent on their tininess (1.5 pounds), soft fur, large eyes and penchant for standing on their hind legs to peer around the desert. We like them because they are cute. But we are drawn to them because they are kind to each other.
The meerkat’s sense of community extends, of course, to guarding the colony from predators. Meerkats post sentinels who bark as a warning when they sense danger. They’re quick on the draw, as a tiny meerkat is an easy snack for an eagle or a jackal. Gaining a meerkat’s trust is a difficult feat.
How to Habituate Your Average Meerkat
In fact, in order to study the meerkats, the researchers at Jack’s Camp have to go through a long habituation process, convincing the meerkats to accept humans as simply “part of the scenery.” Researchers don’t offer them food because they don’t want the meerkats to become dependent. Instead, they hang around the meerkat colony constantly, establishing human beings as safe company. It can take up to six years to fully habituate an entire colony—the length of the average wild meerkat’s life.
Once habituated, the meerkats simply treat humans as handy elevated vantage points for spying predators. If you’re sitting near a colony of habituated meerkats, be prepared for the day’s appointed sentry to scamper up your arm, stand on its hind legs on your shoulder, and perform an anxious scan of the horizon. Once satisfied, the meerkat will saunter back to its family, ignoring your presence.
Don’t be hurt; after all, meerkats are celebrities. A computer-animated meerkat in a smoking jacket was the star of the UK’s popular Compare the Market commercial. A nature documentary called The Meerkats was narrated by Paul Newman—the last film he worked on before he passed away. Meerkats even have their own “soap” on Animal Planet, Meerkat Manor.
And THAT is the power of cute.
Micato makes it possible for our guests to see Africa by helicopter, balloon or plane. Or by safari vehicle, mountain bike, elephant, camel, horse, or train. But what about from inside a lion’s mouth, you say? Well, that’s a luxury game drive we haven’t quite perfected yet.
But if you’re now curious about what a safari from the point of view of a lion’s mouth might be like, watch this three-minute video below, or here.
This bizarre but pleasurable video was brought to our attention by our friends at Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve, where gifted photographer Roger de la Harpe was shooting photos for his book about African lions. We don’t want to completely spoil the video, but let’s just say a patrolling lioness chanced upon a video camera Roger set up to capture raw footage and found it rather savory.
On a more serious note, de la Harpe is doing more than assembling a jaw-dropping picture book. His Lion Project aims to raise awareness about the dwindling African lion population as well as raise funds to help with lion conservation. Likewise, Tswalu itself is largely a conservation area for the Kalahari’s species and savannahs.
Along those same lines, Micato partners with several organizations working to protect the creatures, habitats, and cultures of the places where we run luxury safaris, and we bring our guests to see these efforts whenever we can. To Roger de la Harpe, Tswalu Kalahari Game Reserve, as well as our partners committed to conservation, we would like to say a heartfelt “Asante Sana!”
As for the answer to that age-old riddle, when do you let a lioness use your camera? Whenever she wants, of course.
Through the Micato-AmericaShare School Sponsorship Programme, we match orphaned and vulnerable Kenyan children with generous Micato travellers and friends who sponsor them to attend boarding school and often form a strong—even lifelong—bond.
This video tells the heartwarming success stories of four of the children in our Sponsorship Programme. An education is the only way out of the slum for these children, and too often an unattainable dream for single or double orphans.
Justus was a young boy living in the Mukuru slum in Kenya. At age 9, both of his parents and one of his four siblings had already died. He was living with an aunt and could not read, write, or even speak Swahili or English—he could only communicate in his tribal language. Prospects for Justus were grim; with no education, there appeared to be no way for him to break the cycle of poverty and create a better life for himself.
Then he became a part of Micato-AmericaShare’s School Sponsorship Programme.
And just like that, everything changed. (You can see just how much in the video above.)
Through the programme, we match orphaned and vulnerable children with generous Micato travellers and friends who sponsor them to attend boarding school (over 300 students are currently receiving an education). Over six years in the programme, Justus has absolutely thrived. He’s doing so well that he is now attending one of Kenya’s top educational institutions, Alliance High School—a school so selective that only 1 in 2,500 applicants is accepted.
Justus recently got a chance to fulfill a dream of his: travelling to the United States. Micato flew Justus to Las Vegas this summer to tell his story to 500 top travel agents at our Annual Breakfast Event at Travel Mart. The speech is both heartwarming and inspiring; you can see it in the video above.
In addition to bringing tears to the eyes of many people on that morning in August, Justus was able to see two very special people on his trip to the U.S.: his sponsor, Jena Gardner, and his hero, Dr. Ben Carson.
Justus has been sponsored by Jena (the dynamic founder of JG Blackbook of Travel) since he started in the programme over six years ago. He is immensely grateful to have her in his life—he knows that without her help he would not be where he is today. His deep affection for her is evident in his speech.
Dr. Ben Carson is a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, author of the books Think Big and Take the Risk and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Dr. Carson grew up poor in Detroit, and Justus was inspired by his enormous success despite an impoverished upbringing. Knowing that Justus was coming to America, we sent an email to Dr. Carson…and serendipitously, he was to be in New York the same weekend! The two met and talked for a while, and Justus was afforded something very unique: a chance to ask questions of his hero. When they parted, Justus embraced Dr. Carson in gratitude for a special moment in his life.
It is already a remarkable story… and it has only just begun. Of course, no one conveys Justus’s story better than he does. Enjoy the video above, and remember: this is a 16 year old boy speaking in his second language!