&Beyond, Africa’s leading luxury safari operator, is influencing better guiding practices in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, India, where it operates four exceptional jungle safari lodges in partnership with Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces.
The company’s permanent naturalist training school which operates near Kanha National Park has, to date, fully trained 30 Indian naturalists who are employed at the lodges. Taj Safaris is the only operator in India to train its own naturalists; have specially designed Tata 4×4 safari vehicles; and employ female rangers – much like &Beyond did in Africa almost 20 years ago.
Set up in 2006 by &Beyond’s Head Trainer, Graham Vercueil, together with Taj Safaris then Chief Naturalist and Trainer, Sarath Champati, the training school draws on &Beyond’s vast experience gained in Africa. A similar three phase course, focusing on wildlife and guiding techniques, was developed to train the naturalists to offer guests a world-class interpretive wildlife experience in the Indian jungle.
Since it began, six sets of trainees have qualified and gone on to become excellent naturalists at Taj Safaris’ lodges. Leading by example, the naturalists have already set the benchmark for driving in the parks and have also been invited to informally train and mentor Indian park guides, who in turn police other visitor’s behaviour. As part of giving back, they also regularly conduct conservation lessons for children from neighbouring communities.
In Africa, &Beyond is renowned for having some of most highly trained and knowledgeable guides and rangers. Exceptional guiding technique vastly improves the guest experience as they learn about ecology, birds, trees, animals, insects and conservation. The Indian jungle also offers an array of fascinating wildlife encounters and is a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Banjaar Tola Tented Camp’s Head Naturalist, Ratna Singh, who was also the country’s first female naturalist, says, “It’s amazing to see African and Indian guides using the same skills among different habitats and animals, with the same success. Our training is definitely what sets the Taj Safaris experience apart and delights our guests.”
In addition to influencing India’s guiding standards, &Beyond collaborated with Indian authorities to conclude the first relocation of 19 gaurs (bison) from Kanha National Park to Bandhavgarh to reverse extinction. The company’s core ethic of ‘Care of the Land. Care of the Wildlife. Care of the People’ is clearly being demonstrated on two continents.