Zambia’s Legendary Guides: Samuel Simunji Simunji

Cultures & Communities

Graham Simmonds


Samuel, fondly known as Sam, has been guiding in Kafue National Park for over a decade; indeed, he is now entering his thirteenth year here. These days he is found at Busanga Bush Camp, in the northern Busanga Plains.

Sam is a stocky man with a stocky smile. I ask him about his name, and why Simunji is repeated as his second name and surname. I joke, saying this must surely mean he has the knowledge of two men! He chuckles and a broad grin etches across his face. He explains that in his culture it is tradition for the first-born son to carry the family surname as well as their first name. But in Sam’s case his name is a tribute to an uncle, from his mother’s side, who passed away before Sam could meet him.

Sam hails from a conservation background – he grew up admiring his father who worked for Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife, in their anti-poaching team. He has always loved the bush but his career didn’t start out in guiding… Sam first worked as a qualified Land Rover mechanic in Lower Zambezi National Park. Here he would ask the camp guides if he could join their game drives and he quickly picked up on their bush wisdom. He had also learnt a lot in school, and from reading the books of his hero Sir David Attenborough. His time in the park influenced his decision to become a qualified guide, and he soon found himself behind the wheel with happy guests seated close by!

Sam has an amazing breadth of knowledge that covers astronomy, trees, grasses and animals – large and small – as well as their behaviour. His patience and love of wild areas is evident in everything he says, none more so then when we rounded a corner and ‘bumped into’ a small breeding herd of elephant. The elephant in the Busanga Plains are calm but don’t like to be surprised (a reaction that stems from many years of hunting and poaching).

Sam immediately cut the engine and let the matriarch go about her protective routine, letting the smaller ones huddle together, keeping her huge frame between us and her family. Head shake and head raised high, a mock charge followed. Sam was unmoved. He could read we were in a safe position and that she was just letting us know we shouldn’t come closer. After the herd had retreated to the thickets, Sam mentioned he would start the engine again and move slowly. He explained that the mother would try and charge again, but instead of speeding away (our natural instinct), we should stop the vehicle. The hope is that by stopping the vehicle, the elephant would realise, over time, that our presence is not something to fear. Most important to Sam was that by doing this, we would help reduce her stress. If another car startled them in the future, the matriarch wouldn’t be inclined to charge immediately. True to his word as he started the engine and rolled forward, and out she came again – he switched off and we sat for a moment until she relaxed. The next time the engine started, she was unperturbed.

I could write endless chapters on the amazing experiences that Sam provides for each and every guest, but I believe you would be best served by meeting Sam in person and absorbing his passion for the beautiful Busanga Plains – the Plains of Plenty!

Written by Graham Simmonds

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