Jake Grieves Cook has been involved in the Kenyan tourism industry for more than 35 years. He founded Porini Safari Camps back in 1989, is a former Chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board and is a passionate advocate of sustainable and responsible tourism. These camps operate under a unique community conservancy concept to allow the Maasai to benefit from wildlife conservation and ecotourism.
What is it that you do exactly?
I run a safari company in Kenya and we operate four safari camps in wildlife conservancies where visitors can go out with our Maasai guides in 4×4 safari vehicles to seek out all the wildlife for which Kenya is so famous. We work closely with the Maasai community to establish game reserves belonging to the local people and to conserve the wildlife habitat. This provides a great experience for the visitors staying at our camps and generates an income for the Maasai people so that they get benefits from protecting the wildlife and conserving the land as habitat for the big game animals.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I enjoy seeing what was previously over-grazed and degraded habitat recover, with the vegetation re-generating and wildlife numbers increasing. This week I was at our Porini Amboseli Camp in Selenkay Conservancy and the area was teeming with wildlife. Our guests at camp saw lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants as well as large numbers of plains animals like giraffes, zebras, elands and others. When we first set up the Selenkay Conservancy in 1997 they had not seen an elephant in the area for over 20 years and now they are always to be found, especially near the waterholes. It is very rewarding to play a part in helping to conserve Africa’s endangered wild animals.
What would you say are the 3 best places you’ve ever stayed?
I have had the chance to travel in many parts of the world, to America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, India, Far East and Australia as well as here in Africa. For me, nothing beats the experience of staying in the unspoilt wilds of Africa, off the beaten track away from mass-market tourism and getting close to nature to see the spectacular wildlife in its natural setting. My favourite place is Porini Mara Camp in the Ol Kinyei Conservancy in Kenya’s Masai Mara where you can see all the big cats without seeing any other tourists. Away from Africa I love visiting Istanbul in Turkey which has an incredibly rich and opulent history going back over a thousand years and where you can visit some fascinating sites such as the Blue Mosque, the Agia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. The third place that I would recommend is Udaipur in India – we stayed in a hotel that was once a Maharajah’s Palace and it was like stepping back into a forgotten era of luxury and grandeur.
What’s been your most memorable dining experience to date?
I love Chinese cuisine and some of the best Chinese restaurants are in Hong Kong. My most memorable dining experience was being taken by friends in Hong Kong to a Chinese “Emperor’s banquet” at a leading restaurant where there was an amazing succession of delicacies to get through. The original Manchu Emperor’s banquet consisted of 108 different dishes and lasted for 3 days but nowadays many restaurants feature their own version of the Emperor’s banquet and, even though not in the same league as the original, they still have a huge variety of different dishes being place before the diners. Although our experience was only about 12 dishes during the course of dinner, it was still an extraordinary array. Just make sure that they don’t feature shark fin soup as this dish should be banned because of the devastation to shark populations worldwide but the better Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong seem to be getting the message that they don’t need to wipe out sharks to produce culinary masterpieces.
Have you rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, either through your work or your travels?
Working in the safari business in East Africa brings you come into contact with many well known people as a safari is something that appeals to the rich and famous! I have hosted Sir Richard Branson at our camps as he supports the wildlife conservation projects that we are involved in. I have taken Henry Cooper, the British boxing champion, on safari – he out-threw the Maasai in a spear-throwing competition! I’ve also met Candice Bergen, David Niven and Sean Connery on safari as well as other sportsmen, writers and TV presenters. David Attenborough is staying at one of our camps very soon but that’s a secret at the moment so I can’t say more…
What currently ranks highest on your travel wish list?
Going to Rwanda to see the gorillas is something that I haven’t done yet…
Thank you for taking part in our interview, Jake. And I don’t think there’s any shame in being out-thrown by a man who once threw a punch that knocked down Muhammad Ali!