Tom Imrie has – and is – a gentle soul. A warm, loving, paternal member of the Londolozi ranging team and family, Tom is one of the most humble people I have ever met.
Since he would never tell you himself that last week he won the prestigious Safari Guide of the Year competition, I am here to do it for him.
If I’m honest, I didn’t really know what to pen when writing this, as it was initially meant to simply be a tribute to Tom and an announcement of his achievement, but I felt it was an opportunity to say more than that about a man who has been and will continue to be an inspiration to so many.
I’ll say right from the start that nothing I can say will do justice to the type of man Tom is. The many guests that have been introduced to the wonders of the African bush by being in his vehicle or joining him on a walk through the marula crests of Londolozi can attest to the fact that Tom does not simply show you the bush. He takes you on the experience of a lifetime.
The top guides in the industry are well-rounded individuals. This is not an allusion to Tom’s paunch, but to the versatility these men and women must display in order to reach the heights of their profession.
The Safari Guide of the Year competition reflected this in the various categories that the competitors were assessed under; Birding, photography, tracking, shooting, story-telling, game drive and guided walk.
Whilst all categories are important as a guide, ask any ranger worth their salt and they will vehemently agree that the most critical in conducting a meaningful and memorable guest experience are the last three; story-telling, game drive and guided walk. These basically define the role of a guide. Tom walked away with top honours in all three categories (also placing second in the birding, despite claiming to not be an avid birder!) and won the overall competition as a result.
After being drenched with champagne and cheered loudly by the rest of the staff as he arrived back at Londolozi, not once has he mentioned the competition himself. His humility knows no bounds, and he becomes almost a shade embarrassed if you mention it to him. Tom is not in it for the accolades; he is fuelled simply by a deep love of what he does.
Let me tell you a little more about what this quiet, unassuming man is like.
Tom can be found on an evening in Londolozi sharing a quiet beer in the staff village with close friend and tracker Jeremiah Hambana. Tom and Jerry (yes, we find it funny too) are about as good a combination of ranger and tracker as one can ask for as a guest at Londolozi. Their wisdom, both of the bush and of the world at large, are unsurpassed. Tom’s incredible breadth of knowledge allied with Jerry’s traditional Shangaan wisdom and insight provide a wonderful blend of interpretations and descriptions of the natural world around them. I shouldn’t admit this, but I often find myself deliberately not saying much when in the same sighting as Tom’s vehicle, simply so I can listen to his take on what is happening in front of us. If Tom thinks the leopard is doing such-and-such a thing for such-and-such a reason, that’s good enough for me!
Tom and his wife Kate – Londolozi’s current head ranger – live on site at the lodge with their two children, Thomas and Emma. They came to the bush for a change from city life a decade ago, and have embraced Africa’s wilderness and everything it stands for with open hearts. Their door is always open to any of the staff at any time, for whatever the reason, and it is largely through their leadership and the example they set that the Londolozi ranging team is the tight-knit unit that it is.
Tommo, you are an inspiration to all of us at Londolozi. Not just as a ranger but as a human being. Your good humour, kind heart and ever-present voice of reason are appreciated far more than is ever said by everyone you come into contact with. It is truly an honour to have learnt so much from you over these past few years.
It gives me the greatest pleasure to congratulate you, my colleague but more importantly my friend, on your outstanding achievement.
Tom Imrie, the Africa Direct/FGASA Safari guide of the year.
Written by James Tyrrell