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  • Writer's pictureJolene Botha

The Bushtracks Bird: David, Goliath and the Zambezi

Amidst the thousand-plus mammal species in Africa, and the more than two thousand African bird species, why did Bushtracks adopt the Goliath heron to adorn its logo?

The answer dates back to the Africa travel company’s earliest days in the late 1980’s in a London flat where two African expats – Bushtracks co-founder David Tett and his brother Nick — brainstormed names for their emerging African safari company. And the result was as distinctively shaped by southern Africa as the brothers are themselves.

Childhood Photo in Africa of David Tett and his Family

Bush + Tracks

David and his three brothers — two of which, Adrian and Nick, are pictured above camping at Mana Pools — were born and raised in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and the word ‘bush,’ was for them an obvious place to start. In southern Africa, the word bushveld is commonly used to loosely describe open, undeveloped land ranging from grassy to mixed woodland. The word derives from the Afrikaans bosveld: bos (bush) plus veld (field). David explains, “You go camping in the bush, farmers clear the bush, sometimes when you want to get out town for a break you say you are just going bush. It has so many meanings, but the bush is where safari happens.”

The word ‘tracks’ was also deliberately chosen. “We started with safaris in Zimbabwe, our home country, which also happens to be one of the best places in Africa for a walking safari. Our first safaris were all about tracking: walking safaris which used specially trained trackers like John Stevens, mobile tents, and armed guides to follow spoor.”

Goliath Heron near Kwazulu Natal - photo by Alamy Ann and Steve Toon

David and Goliath

Satisfied with the new name, the brothers next turned their attention to selecting an animal that illustrated their vision of safari. “We tried everything, elephants, big cats, even my personal favorite the bateleur eagle, and nothing worked,” recalls David. They kept coming back to the Goliath heron, the world’s largest heron, and a beloved icon of their childhoods. “Growing up our hands-down favorite place was Mana Pools. We loved those big river vistas, the big Zambezi River itself, and those enormous herons were so graceful, and so impressive, and such a part of my family safari memories there.”

The Goliath heron’s distinctive coloration consists of chestnut and grey plumage, and its “kwaaark” call can be heard for up to a mile away (2 km) but this regal giant is best known –and named — for its impressive size. At five feet tall (150 cm) and weighing up to 10 pounds (4.4 kg) these often motionless riverine sentries are very symbolic of the Zambezi River system, which is at the heart of southern Africa’s wildlife, and very clearly close to David and his brother’s hearts, as well. The bright-eyed Goliath heron, walking in the river’s shallows or flying low and slow above the wild and beautiful lower Zambezi, was the natural choice for Bushtracks.

A Hands-On Approach

Creating the logo was a hands-on process for David, as is so much of the work behind the safaris he creates today. He sketched the original bird, tracing its silhouette out of an illustration of the Goliath heron in his well-worn copy of Roberts Birds of South Africa.

Goliath Heron illustration by Alamy Oldtime

“Unfortunately, our printer made me squash its long neck, even though they left some plumage and the keen yellow eye,” he laughs, but even thus altered, the Bushtracks Goliath heron stands as a reminder of Bushtracks’ unique beginnings amidst cherished Tett family safaris in the wild, secret places of the Zambezi.

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The first version of this article was posted on 23 Jan 2018 at 12:32 PM.

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