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Lahaina author to bring women on ‘Soul Safari’ to Africa”

By Staff | Mar 11, 2010

Bonnie Nelson visited an orphanage for cheetahs in Nairobi during a trip to Africa in 2008.

LAHAINA — Lahaina author Bonnie Nelson, an advocate for endangered cheetahs and helping East Africa cope with its many challenges, announced plans to bring what she calls the “Soul of Africa” to her companions on a special safari — the experience of a lifetime.

“Travelers who long for authenticity, adventure and exclusivity will have an opportunity to find all of this and more,” said Nelson, an unlikely tour guide.

The Lahaina resident’s first visit to Africa in 2006 led her to write “The Cheetah Portal,” an audio book describing her life-changing experience inspired by the wild animals in the game reserves of Kenya and Tanzania. 

Open to 12 women only, “Soul Safari” is scheduled for Spring 2011. The trek, being coordinated by Nelson and African Travel Inc., will include close up encounters with elephants, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, monkeys, cheetahs and hundreds of other species in Kenya’s game parks.

Designed by Nelson to acquaint travelers with the animals and “with the children of Kenya and the beauty of the place,” the safari will include discussions with key scientists working to preserve the land and the animals, humanitarians who head organizations dedicated to conservation and natives who have become Nelson’s friends over the last several years.

“My intention is to spread the joy and wonders I have experienced in my travels to those who join this trip. I want the women joining me not only to experience the elegance of African travel as it has been for decades, but also to share the soul of the country that I have found in the villages and the people,” said Nelson.   

“When my audio book won recognition as a ‘World Changing Book’ in the Nautilus competition, I knew what I needed to do with the rest of my life,” she continued. That mission is “to change the world.”

Nelson, 50, gave up a career as vice president of finance for Lahaina Galleries to devote herself to saving endangered animals and connecting children of different cultures to appreciate and help conserve nature.

“It’s the children who ultimately will need to save the planet. That’s why it’s so important to reach out to them and tap into their uninhibited creativity and enthusiasm for animals and nature and life,” she said.   

Nelson has struck friendships and alliances with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, Action for Cheetahs-Kenya, Cheetah Outreach Trust, Ewaso Lion Project, African Travel and many other organizations.

She created a “Cheetah Alliance” website to provide a portal for children and others to enjoy the world of animals and learn about them.

She also befriended African natives and helped them develop businesses.

Nelson, who is not a wealthy philanthropist, does all of her work for no pay.

“My passion is raising awareness,” she said. “I don’t have dollars to give, but I have talents to share.”

Her safari, however, is not free. Participants will need to cover their own costs — $12,500, not including airfare — for luxury accommodations on safari, gourmet meals and handling the cost of the conservationists that will teach the group at several of the camps they will visit. 

Slated for April 30 to May 20, 2011, the trip includes 21 days on safari in Kenya at five-star accommodations at these base locations: Finch Hatton Camp (modeled after Denys Finch-Hatton’s decadence in the bush) located in the Tsavo Reserve; Samburu at the exclusive Sasaab Lodge with visits to the Save the Elephant Camp and the Ewaso Lions Project, along with conservation talks by some of the world’s most knowledgeable scientists in Africa; and the Masai Mara Reserve and Lake Elementaita Lodge, where travelers will visit with the children of Wana Duma. 

The group will also spend three days in the newly formed Action for Cheetahs-Kenya (ACK) encampment in the rural outback of Salama with scientist Mary Wykstra and Daktari Kariuki, a Kenya Wildlife Service veterinarian.

They are tracking the elusive cats to learn their travel patterns in a quest to save them from extinction. Travelers will go out on actual game counts and cheetah tracking expeditions with scouts who are Masaai tribesmen.

Cheetahs are the fastest animals on Earth. There are only an estimated 12,000 left in the wild. ACK supports programs to establish beehives and plant trees in the deforested region known as Salama.

Although 2011 seems very distant, Nelson explained that because this trip is multifaceted and requires a significant time commitment on the part of the travelers, it’s important to start early.  

“Anticipation is part of the value,” she said. “My ‘dream team’ will be women who are interested in animal conservation and working with children on animal and conservation endeavors, and who know — as I did — that they can make a difference to our planet. I’d like a mixture of ages; five women 50-plus and five who are in their twenties or even younger.”

Nelson added, “Ideally, one of the women will be a videographer, so the wonders of this trip and the wisdom of the natives and scientists we meet can be later shared with millions of others.”

To learn more about Nelson and her 2011 safari, go to www.cheetahalliance.com and click on “Groups” or call (808) 281-7792. To access chapters of “The Cheetah Portal,” go to the website and click on YouTube.