If you have been a guest at Siwandu you will probably have many fond memories of your encounters with Mohamed Muhunyunga. This incredible safari guide with his warm smile and contagious laugh has been a valued member of the Selous Safari Company team for over 26 years.
Mohamed started out as a carpenter in Dar es Salaam, back in 1980. After two years of training and another four years of working he returned to his home town Mloka, a local village located close to the Selous Game Reserve (now Nyerere National Park). Here he shared what he had learnt with his fellow brothers and worked on the family farm.
In 1994, Mohamed joined the Selous Safari Company team at Siwandu as a ‘room attendant’. Here his passion for tourism and wildlife ignited and he soon began studying the local flora and fauna, so he could share his knowledge with the guests he was looking after.
Seeing his amazing positive outlook and potential, Selous Safari Company sponsored him to attend a training course with Mikumi Vocational Education Training Authority. Here he obtained a certificate in Tourist Guiding. With his newly acquired knowledge, Mohamed returned to camp to have in-house training with our Walking Guide at the time, Andrew “Moli” Molinaro until he was ready to take guests out by himself in 2007. Mohamed is now one of our most experienced senior guides.
Today we’d like you to get to know Mohamed better. His story is truly inspiring. Through hard work, determination and his willingness to share his skills and knowledge with others, he makes a difference in the lives of those around him.
We sat down with Mohamed to ask him a few questions.
1. Your family has been living in the Selous Game Reserve area for many years. Tell us a bit more about them.
My parents lived within the boundaries of Selous Game Reserve up until 1963. During this time all people living within the reserve were relocated to villages outside the boundaries of the Game Reserve. My father took my mother, as his second wife and I was born in Zombe, South of the Rufiji River in 1964. My father was a skillful man. He was a very good farmer, carpenter and hunter. He is a well-respected leader in the village and became a councilor. With his carpentry skills he built many wooden canoes from local trees which people used as transport and for fishing. The lands that my father farmed are still owned by our family and farmed to this day. He taught me many things about our natural environment, including the wildlife, tracking and animal behavior. This has helped me greatly in my career as a safari guide.
2. Tell us a bit more about your first position at Selous Safari Company.
I joined the Selous Safari Company team in 1994 as a room steward. It was my responsibility to perfectly prepare the tents for all arriving guests on a daily basis. This included doing the laundry, ironing and some small maintenance jobs. I had learned some carpentry from my father, so it wasn’t long before I was being asked to fix wooden items in camp. I am always happy to help where needed and this is so important when working in a remote safari camp.
3. How did you become a safari guide?
I had a natural love for nature and wildlife, I realized very quickly I had the perfect opportunity to expand my knowledge by learning from the guides in camp. Being in the bush reminded me of the days when I was with my father and it was his influence that helped me get to where I am today. The course at Mikumi was not very difficult, since I had gained immense practical experience from my father as well as new guiding knowledge from the Selous Safari Company in-house training.
4. What do you love most about being a guide?
I love to share my knowledge, culture and personal experiences with our guests. I am proud that I am able to educate them through such a wonderful experience such as this. I really love it when our guests are very inquisitive as it gives me the chance to go into more detail into explaining the wonders of nature. Bird watching is my favourite!
5. What is the most memorable wildlife sighting that you have ever encountered?
I have been fortunate to experience many exciting wildlife sightings and I enjoy every game drive I go out on. One very interesting and unusual sighting (which I don’t think I will get to see again) is coming across a Mozambique Spitting Cobra soon after it had caught a Lilac Breasted Roller (one of the most colourful birds around). The cobra had half swallowed the roller’s head first but because the rollers wings were held outward, the cobra was unable to swallow the bird. It struggled for a while but eventually it regurgitated the bird and moved off. I had never seen anything like this before and I did not realize cobras would hunt and eat birds like rollers.
6. You have a passion for sharing your knowledge with the kids in your community. Please tell us more about this.
Yes, very much so and not only kids but also with other guides too. I share my knowledge with people in the village from the age of 10 up to about 30 years old. I started off by visiting the school and talking to the children about nature. I explained to them why it is important to conserve our wilderness areas in Tanzania and to keep our animals and plants safe. This class became very popular so I approached the local village leaders and convinced them to build a separate classroom where I can conduct my lessons. I also take children on walks around the village teaching them about the trees, wild flowers, birds and other animals we come across. I have learned so much from Moli (previous walking guide at Selous Safari Company) and Brian (Selous Safari Company guide trainer) in the last 20 years. I feel it is very important for me to share some of this knowledge with my local community. Sometimes I have up to 20 or 30 learners in the class which I conduct on my days off. While I am working in Siwandu, I have a friend who helps facilitate the classes but I get a lot of questions daily on my cell phone which I have to answer at night once I am finished with our guests. I love teaching kids and anyone else about our beautiful environment, I believe I can pass on my passion for wildlife and the necessity to conserve it.
7. Your son, Sultan, also now works with Selous Safari Company. He has shown incredible dedication and perseverance in learning the skills needed to become a guide. Can you tell us a bit more about him?
Sultan is my second born child and I am so proud of him. He is very patient and mature for his age (25 years old, born in 1995) and is able to engage with people from all walks of life and all ages in a very professional manner. He worked hard to obtain his O – levels and then came to me and said that he wanted to follow my footsteps to become a safari guide like me. He has always had an interest in wildlife (I suppose my influence rubbed off onto him) so he enrolled at a college in Dar es Salaam and obtained his certificate in tourist guiding. He would still like to get a diploma and maybe even a postgraduate degree one day – that would be great. He is currently on the intern program with Selous Safari Company and has shown his determination to develop as a person and to learn the skills required to become a professional safari guide.
Mohamed, we are extremely proud to have you on the Selous Safari Company team. Thank you for your dedication, enthusiasm and hard work over the years.