Along with his wife, Gillian, Joe Charleson manages Natural Habitat Safaris from Kenya, where he divides his time between Nairobi, Leleshwa Camp and guiding safaris in the bush. Joe loves to explore new areas and search out unique experiences which, when combined with a sense of fun and adventure, guarantee an amazing safari.
Joe was born in 1975 in northern England and at the age of 10 moved with his parents to Kenya, where his lifetime of adventuring in Africa began. Joe’s father soon had the family out on camping trips exploring many unfamiliar corners of the map—the more remote the better—and in such settings, Joe’s passion for nature and wilderness was nurtured.
After schooling in Kenya, Joe returned to England to attend Bristol University, graduating in 1997 with a degree in Biological Sciences that has supported his deep interest in wildlife and its conservation. Joe captured a coveted position as a resident guide at prestigious Jack’s Camp in Botswana, cutting his professional teeth in the arid, inhospitable Makgadigadi Salt Pans on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. With his family still in Kenya, he returned ‘home’ to continue a career as a professional safari guide and manager at Cottars 1920s Camp in the Maasai Mara game reserve, where he met his wife Gillian.
Soon Joe established his own company offering professional safari guiding services, and shortly thereafter he and Gillian established Leleshwa Camp, an intimate private tented camp on the edge of the Maasai Mara. Owning a camp provided invaluable experience in developing his skills as a guide, leading trips, acting as a host and revealing the natural wonders of Africa to guests. In the process, Joe got to know the local Maasai community, living side by side in a remote part of the Mara ecosystem untouched by tourism. Joe took an active role working with the community leadership to establish the Siana Conservation Area, and continues to work with the community as a whole to ensure that this important wilderness areas is protected and that all community members see the benefits of tourism on their land.
Observant by character and interested by nature, Joe is an accomplished photographer whose passion for photography has steadily grown alongside his guiding career. It helps that he finds himself continually immersed in Africa’s best locations surrounded by the endless possibilities for extraordinary wildlife sightings. Joe draws upon his biologist’s training and intimate knowledge of animal behavior and, with his keen eye honed to the slighest movement, he knows how to get his guests in just the right position for that perfect shot. When it comes to photographing in the wilds of East Africa, Joe is the man you want by your side in the safari vehicle.
In 2009 Joe and Gillian welcomed their son, Kian, opening up an opportunity for Joe to watch a son of his own grow up in the bush, sharing his parents’ passion. Family life has added a new dimension to Joe’s safari experiences, with a deeper appreciation for the joy of learning about Africa, its remarkable wildlife and fascinating people, and sharing this knowledge with people of all ages.
2012 marked the next big step in the evolution of Joe’s safari-based career path, with the advent of his and Gillian’s partnership with Natural Habitat Safaris. From the boardroom to the bush, Joe’s drive and committment to everything he undertakes is unprecedented, but you can't take the bush out of the boy, and Joe's number-one focus remains his passion for guiding and sharing East Africa’s unique environments and wildlife with his guests.