Chobe Legends – Ishmael Mogamisi

Sep 23, 2016 | Chobe Legends

ThisIsChobe team was fortunate to spend time with one of Chobe’s most renowned guides and much loved characters – Ishmael Mogamisi. Born in the beautiful village of Kachikau in the Chobe Enclave, Ishmael is one of Botswana’s most experienced guides – a true Chobe legend. 

Looking up excitedly every time an aircraft flew by, as a young boy, Ishmael Mogamisi – or Ish as we know him in the region – dreamt of one day being a pilot. In an attempt to get closer to the aircraft he so dearly dreamt of flying Ish started his working career as the official security guard at the original Chobe Airstrip. In those days the airstrip was close to Mowana Safari lodge and there wasn’t an awful lot to do between flights so he would spend his days sleeping soundly in his makeshift hammock (an old wheelbarrow) under the shade of a “Mowana” – a baobab tree. When planes were due to land or take off Ish would leap into action and hurry down the runway chasing bushbuck and waterbuck from the landing strip.

Through his time at the airstrip, Ish befriended the pilots who would regularly bring VIP guests on safari to Chobe in their private aircraft. He was beside himself with excitement when he managed to convince a pilot to take him into the sky for the first time in a small Cessna 207. Talking to him about that day you can still see the glint of elation in his eyes as he recounts the story from 30 years ago.

In those days there was no avgas station in Chobe so pilots would take Ish for short trips to refuel at Katima Mulilo and Victoria Falls, teaching him the basics of flying on several short trips. 

Fast forward a few years and his hard work and tenacity paid off – Ishmael was sponsored a scholarship by Chobe Game Lodge at a local flying school. The scholarship agreement meant he must work at the lodge as an assistant guide in his spare time. Having grown up in the region his knowledge of Chobe and its rich diversity of wildlife was incredible. As he looks back on his first days as a young guide apprentice, he remembers how he did most of the talking while the qualified guides sat quietly doing the driving. The art of guiding seemed to come naturally to him.  

Even before he had a drivers license, Ish earned his PPL (Professional Pilots Licence) and was officially qualified to fly. However, it was clear from the onset that Ish was born to guide! His infectious sense of humour, knowledge of the environment and absolute love for the region was what paved the way for a future as one of Chobe’s most well-renowned guides. 

Looking back on his youth and how he remembers growing up, it’s not difficult to sense Ish’s nostalgia for what Chobe was back in the 70’s and 80’s. There were just two or three lodges in the area at that stage as the tourism industry in Botswana was in its infancy.

“I can remember seeing palm trees dotted all over the riverfront, huge Jackleberry trees lined the riverfront and water lilies covered large parts of the river,” he reflects. “Years of boat activity and tourism development has seen a considerable change in the area. Most of the palm trees are gone and big trees are few and far between.” 

Ishmael explains, that tourism development in Chobe was more intense than the rest of Botswana. For the large part, tourism development in Botswana has been extremely minimal with a focus on low volume and high value. The Chobe region has, however, been under more pressure. With large numbers of tourists from Victoria Falls (less than 2-hours drive transfer) and visitors from all over the world keen to experience the magic of this highly accessible and incredible Chobe Riverfront, the increase in boats, vehicles and lodge numbers was inevitable. 

However, it’s important to know that the busier area of Chobe is actually only restricted to a small region. Ishamel insists that despite these changes he has witnessed over the years, it is still his favourite place on earth.

When asked what it is about the region, Ish describes his visits home away from the hustle and bustle of Maun where he is currently living. 

“Chobe is my home and I am deeply connected with this place. Leaving my current home in Kasane, it’s a short 2Km drive and I find myself in the heart of one of Africa’s most incredible national parks. It’s the diversity of the parks wildlife coupled with its vast and strikingly beautiful landscape that I love most.

When driving back to Kasane from my hometown of Kachikau on the western side of the park my favourite thing to do is to follow the riverfront road all the way through to the eastern exit near Kasane. In one day your can see thousands of elephant as well as plentiful herds of general game including giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck, etc. Another favourite is to drive the cutlines (boundary roads) to an isolated in land waterhole to relax and watch the afternoon go by.”

Today Ish runs the guiding department of Chobe Holdings (Desert & Delta Safaris & Ker & Downey Botswana). His tales are gripping from confronting lion on foot as a young boy while collecting firewood to his stories of recent years guiding leopard print and Armani cladded Italian honeymooners on an eventful afternoon along the Chobe Riverfront. 

In our short time chatting to Ish it is clear how much he loves the Chobe National Park and for good reason too. He explains the massive tectonic movement that shifted the great rivers that were flowing into Botswana’s ancient lakes millions of years ago which created today’s Chobe river system. The system that ultimately is the life-line which supports this huge concentration of wildlife. A magnificent wilderness area to discover and an equally wonderful individual – Ishmael Mogamisi. 

While he claims not to understand much about what #ThisisChobe is all about – we know he really does and we hope to get more of his funny stories and incredible knowledge about Chobe in future This Is Chobe features. After all – we need to know more behind whatever it is that made him laugh uncontrollably about his Italian honeymooner guests…. 

Thank you to Ishmael Mogamisi for featuring in Chobe Legends. If you know anyone who would like to be featured please get in touch with us so we can arrange a short interview. 

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