Life on the Edge


Tristan Voorspuy was a larger-than-life character. His obituary in the Daily Telegraph talked of:

“a free-spirited alpha male.  His greatest contribution was as a conservationist and safari guide, but he was always an engaging companion with great charm mixed with outrageous behaviour and glorious political incorrectness.  Aged 61, born on 26th March 1955, he was shot dead on 5th March 2017 while surveying damage on Sosian, his ranch in Kenya.  Tristan devoted much of his energy to conserving the wildlife, and with it, he thought, the future of his adopted nation and its peoples; he was best known beyond Africa as the intrepid guide of mounted safaris that offered his clients exhilarating encounters with big game at close range.”

Tristan had settled in Kenya in 1983 after riding a motorcycle from London to Cape Town. (Later he flew a light aircraft out from Britain, spare fuel piled in cans on the seats.)  His adventurous spirit soon found a berth with Tony Church, who was pioneering safaris on horseback rather than in vehicles. Voorspuy felt the added vulnerability gave a better sense of man’s place in the order of things.

In 1990, he and his wife Cindy set up their own company, Offbeat Safaris. Soon after, they moved into Deloraine, built in 1920 by Lord Francis Scott and one of Kenya’s great houses. They rented it from the Rift Valley Development Trust, Voorspuy keeping it going by combining farming with making it the base for his safaris.  Exciting and unpredictable as these were, much of their appeal lay in Voorspuy’s charisma. He was bold and utterly fearless, never carrying a rifle when out riding, only a hunting whip or sjambok. Though he hated displays of swagger, stories of his close shaves were legion and not always legendary.  He would think nothing of swimming a pony across the Mara river as crocodiles sunned themselves on the banks.  At least once he charged a lion that strayed too close to an elderly guest who had paused to admire a flower.  His manner was often abrupt, and he would not hesitate to tick off clients who talked too much or asked silly questions.  Yet he was generous, and his knowledge of African wildlife was almost unrivalled.

The obit continues:

“For many, the highlight of their trip was when, whisky glass in hand, sitting by the camp fire, he would recite The Man from Snowy River or all 75 stanzas of The Fox’s Prophecy, reportedly memorised on exercise in Germany.  In 1999, he put together a consortium to buy Sosian, a 24,000-acre ranch in Laikipia, north-west of Mount Kenya. The land had been overgrazed, there were goats in the lodge house and no game. Under his management, it was transformed into one Kenya’s finest nature reserves, with more than 6,000 elephant and 250 lions.  The venture was not a money-spinner, but for all his outward cynicism, Voorspuy felt a patriotic commitment to the country of which he had become a citizen. Its challenges, he felt, such as population growth, were those which would soon face the rest of the world. He was aware of the hazards of his way of life, but asked why he did not opt for a more sedate one answered: ‘Because I dig the bush’.”

Life on the Edge, Tristan Voorspuy’s Fatal Love of Africa, published by Quiller, is written by his friend Adrian Dangar. Adrian has travelled extensively throughout Africa, South America and Asia on numerous writing and travel assignments, and is a regular contributor to Country Life, The Field Magazine and Horse & Hound. Adrian’s book covers Tristan’s colourful life in a series of tales which are eventually cut dead by Tristan’s murder.

From Quiller:

Once described by Joanna Lumley as “the man with no fear”, Tristan Voorspuy spent his life living up to the legend. From his epic Cairo to Cape Town motorbike ride, to extraordinary wildlife encounters and many death-defying light aircraft near misses, Life on the Edge tells the extraordinary story of an adventurer and horseman determined to live life to the full. This was a life defined by a love of Africa, often shared with appreciative clients on offbeat riding safaris, famous for lifechanging adventures and innumerable close shaves with dangerous big game. But Life on the Edge is also the story of compassion, conservation and, ultimately, tragedy. In the last two decades of his life, Voorspuy helped transform the overgrazed and drought blighted Sosian Ranch in Northern Kenya into a celebrated game reserve, acclaimed tourist destination and successful cattle ranch.

This book is well worth a read.

Life on the Edge, Tristan Voorspuy’s Fatal Love of Africa, published by Quiller,  can be purchased here.