Jess Hills

Jess Hills

Jess  joined Aardvark Safaris in 2017 following five years in the tailor made travel industry and a season running Time + Tide Nsolo Bush Camp in Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley. Having started as an admin assistant for a self drive safari company she quickly found herself picking up information about African properties and routes, and developed an overly keen interest in maps. After answering enough questions correctly in a spot quiz one day she was packed off to Zambia to drive from Livingstone to Lilongwe and came back with a confirmed passion for Africa and a new favourite possession; Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa.

Over the following years she has continued to explore Africa, visiting new countries and properties and developing an appreciation for the delicate relationship between tourism and conservation. Her love and knowledge of wildlife, and of birds in particular, has grown with each trip and there is nothing she enjoys more than being out in remote and beautiful scenery watching wildlife or just soaking up the views.

Jess studied Fine Art and Art History at university and enjoys drawing in her free time, using photographs of the wildlife and landscapes she encounters on her travels as her inspiration. At home long walks with her Irish terrier give her the chance to get the binoculars out on an ‘English Safari’, finding as many new British birds as possible.

Having grown up in Lambourn, she started riding at an early age, switching from scruffy ponies to sleek racehorses aged 15. She rides at every opportunity and never passes up the chance to watch wildlife the most exhilarating way, from the back of a horse.

Favourite African experience

My favourite experience in Africa was one morning in South Luangwa when, standing in front of the campfire with a cup of coffee, watching swifts and swallows circling over the lagoon as the sun rose, one of the guides pointed to a bird and identified it as a Bohm’s spinetail. It is a type of swift with a very short tail. It was a moment that made me appreciate the insight that can arrive with years of dedication to a particular subject, allowing you to see things that are invisible to others. This is the essence of what I find so special about being guided on safari.

Favourite animal

I love watching wild dogs, they are such a tight unit and always playing around with each other before the hunt begins. It’s even more special watching these interactions as they are so notoriously difficult to find, moving great distances each day. We followed them for an entire hunt once, and watched at a distance as they failed to catch an impala. They ended the hunt at a hyena den which we had been monitoring and tried to take on the female hyena which was guarding three generations of puppies. She defended herself marvellously. The pack then had a drink at a waterhole and spotted a crocodile enjoying the last of the warmth of the sand. They made a very half hearted attempt to have a go at this one last chance for supper before retiring for the night. We heard reports they ate the next morning, so my concerns for their hunting skills and survival were only short lived.

Favourite three camps

Nsolo bushcamp walking safaris with elephants

Nsolo Bush Camp, South Luanwga, Zambia – I worked as Assistant Bush Camp Manager at Nsolo for the 2017 season, and the experiences I had there were breathtaking on a daily basis. We saw leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo, giraffe, kudu, zebras, warthogs, impala, puku, a Pel’s fishing owl, martial and fish eagles to name a few from the camp itself, and towards the end of the season we had wild dogs coming through camp every few days.

KaingU Safari Lodge, Kafue, Zambia – The Kafue is an enormous expanse of totally untamed wilderness and one of the last remaining areas where you will find traditional safari camps which are owner run, and where you will find passionate guides and a safari where you will not see anyone else all day long. The old tropes about skittish animals and large numbers of tsetse flies are overegged, and my recent visit to KaingU was as magical as the first time I visited in 2013 – lion, elephant, leopard, wild dog all exist here in good numbers, there are over 480 species of birds recorded here, an enormous number, thanks to the incredible diversity of habitat. Floating down the mirror like Kafue River, watching pratincoles hopping about on boulders, is one of the most stunning sights and you really do feel like the original explorers of Africa.

Marataba Safari Lodge outdoor fire pit

Marataba Mountain Lodge, Marakele National Park, South Africa – the first time I spent a night here I almost missed my plane the next morning. The surroundings are some of the most stunning I have seen and the walks from camp were wonderful, we saw white rhino and hyena on foot plus a nest of giant eagle owl chicks. I returned recently with my mum and seeing her see elephants for the first time was one of my favourite moments on safari.

African countries visited

Botwana, Namibia, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya

Tropical islands visited

Zanzibar

On arranging holidays

I count myself incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to Africa multiple times. For many it is the culmination of years of dreaming, and I try never to forget that when putting my client’s trips together. I love to get to know my clients and find that the more time I take to do this at the initial stages of an enquiry, the better my recommendations for them will be. The best thing about this job is putting an itinerary together and hearing the reaction from the client both when they first receive it and then after they come home from their holiday. Hearing the stories and seeing the photos of clients enjoying these trips makes me realise I am doing a job which is bringing people’s dreams to reality, which is a great feeling.