Brian first learned an appreciation and respect for the outdoors in his rural eastern Kansas hometown of Paxico (population 162). Before graduating from Kansas State University, he spent a year as an international exchange student at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. During his time at the University of Dar, Brian played on their national championship basketball team where his teammates gave him the Swahili name "Mzungu Mrefu." The name arises from the fact that wherever the team played Tanzanians could be heard asking, "Mzungu Mrefu ni nani?" Who's the tall white guy? In parts of Africa, the name has stuck.

“Mzungu Mrefu” complemented his bushlore with booklore as a Marshall Scholar at the London School of Economics in the United Kingdom, earning a Ph.D. in International Relations. It is Brian's philosophy that while it is important to understand where a black rhino "fits" in an ecosystem in relation to a dung beetle, it is equally important to understand the political and economic forces that can compel individuals either to protect or harm these animals and their habitats.

Brian has been leading safaris in Africa since 1998. When not leading safaris, he often spends extended periods on the continent conducting research and scouting new adventures. He speaks Swahili, basic Arabic, and just enough of a couple other African languages to get into trouble. When not in Africa, Brian is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwest Missouri State University. Articles of his have appeared in The Journal of Contemporary African Studies and The International Journal, among others, and he is author of the book The United States, South Africa & Africa: Of Grand Foreign Policy Aims and Modest Means. He and Karen, his “First Wife” (a term of respect in many polygamous African cultures, albeit in this case, Karen will be Brian’s only wife for life), currently live in their “Cowabunga Bushcamp” in Clarinda, Iowa USA.


For a quarter of a century Gary has explored the majesty that is AFRICA from Kilimanjaro to the Kalahari, from Timbuktu to Zanzibar. In the course of these journeys he has sought the intrinsic qualities of this great continent, its indispensable essence. He has discovered that the soul of Africa lies not in a particular geographical location, but within the richness and diversity of experiences.

On Safari over one hundred- ten times, Gary has slept under the stars in the Kalahari Desert, canoed the Zambezi River, camped on the floor of the Ngorongoro Crater, and trekked gorillas in the Virunga Mountains. His travels have taken him to the inner depths of the Okavango Delta in Botswana; the desolate shores of Lake Turkana in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya; the remote and isolated Skeleton Coast in Namibia; the source of the Nile; and across the Great Rift Valley. In 1989 he celebrated his 50th birthday by climbing Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.

A student of Africana, Gary conveys a true feeling for the land, the animals and the culture of this diverse and complex continent. Much of this passion is captured in his book I’d Rather Be on Safari. Gary’s philosophy while on Safari embraces Africa as the classroom with the animals and people as the teaching aides. His role is to serve as interpreter. Since 1974 Gary has led hundreds of people on Safari ranging in age from teens to octogenarians.

Notorious for his wit and humor, he is well known in Africa and enjoys a special rapport with African people. Over the years he has become something of a legend. In Swahili-speaking countries he is known as Mzee Shetani; in southern Africa as The Old Dagga Boy. With his extensive knowledge of animals, Gary will enlighten you throughout this Safari. You'll find his enthusiasm contagious while enjoying a great travel and learning adventure.

Eulogy for Mama Makora

Anybody who knows Cowabunga Safaris knows that Nancy G. Cherry was the “Matriarch of Main Camp.” To use Gary’s words, Nancy – a.k.a., Mama Makora -- was the operation’s nerve center. Nancy passed away on Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at the age of 77.

One of Nancy’s most visible contributions to Cowabunga Safaris – indeed, one of her greatest joys – was to interact with safari alumni, visitors and curious passers-by. In her capacity as Cowabunga’s Administrative Officer, Nancy was always the consummate professional.

It is with a smile we remember moments where Mama Makora was willing – just – to let go of her professional reserve. As many know, Nancy was seemingly always aware of manners. Yet, this well-dressed, well-spoken representative for Cowabunga Safaris had little hesitation exclaiming “HAKI YA MUNGU!” when consternated with Gary or Brian, or when faced with an unexpected eventually. Translated into English from Swahili, “Haki ya Mungu” roughly has the meaning “For the love of God.” In Swahili culture, in some social circles, using the phrase “Haki ya Mungu” can be the equivalent of screaming a four-letter expletive. We recall how, while on safari, various African friends first would stop in their tracks and then be brought to laughter after Nancy used the phrase. It just wasn't to be expected from such a proper lady.

Nancy’s first safari was to Kenya in 1974. She was fond of saying after she drank the water she became a safari junkie, returning to the continent whenever possible. All told she went on nearly 30 safaris.

Nancy’s long-standing involvement in conservation and education began in 1964 when she was asked to join the Friends of the Topeka Zoo Board. She started the Zoo Docent Program in 1967 and after it was off and running she became Editor of the Zoo magazine, which won several awards over the years. Nancy was also Special Events Coordinator for the Zoo. All of this was as a volunteer.

After 26 years at the Topeka Zoo, she left and volunteered at Cowabunga Safaris as its Administrative Officer. For nearly two decades she "guarded" the central office (affectionately known as “Main Camp”) in Topeka, Kansas, researched and wrote itineraries, handled faxes and mail, answered countless phone calls with a friendly “Jambo, Cowabunga Safaris,” and generally kept Gary, the self-declared “President for Life” of Cowabunga Safaris, organized.

Memorial contributions in Nancy’s name may be made to Friends of the Topeka Zoo, 635 SW Gage, Topeka, KS 66606, or the Topeka Jazz Workshop, PO Box 452, Topeka, KS 66601, or the Shawnee County Historical Society, PO Box 2201, Topeka, KS 66601.

In many African cultures, one’s ancestors serve as guides in this world from the next. Nancy’s spirit lives on. We hope all who knew her will listen for her continued guidance on how to live, how to love, and how to laugh. Safari njema, Mama Makora. Safari njema.

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