Barongi Blog

The Thunder & Roar of Africa’s True Wilderness…

Special Message From Rick
June 17, 2024

We still have a few spaces left for the exclusive African Safari to Zimbabwe and Zambia that I am leading in May 2025. If you are interested we have set up a Zoom Call for next Wednesday, June 26 at 7:00 PM EDT, 6:00 Central, 5:00 Mountain and 4:00 Pacific.

This will be an opportunity to learn more about this fantastic wildlife experience from me (Rick Barongi) and the tour company Classic Escapes. Keep reading to learn more details about the trip and see the itinerary.

Topic: Zimbabwe and Zambia Travel Night with Classic Escapes
Time: Jun 26, 2024 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us06web.zoom.us/j/83738838350?pwd=WXvbjmkDM2PBM1hkhLeqoSFWcOlfpt.1

Meeting ID: 837 3883 8350
Passcode: 212257

Join us for the adventure of a lifetime with Rick Barongi, a seasoned explorer and wildlife photographer with over 50 expeditions to Africa under his belt.

From May 26 to June 9, 2025, Rick will lead an exclusive luxury safari through Zambia and Zimbabwe, showcasing the beauty of their national parks. This unique opportunity is limited to a small group of travelers, promising an intimate and unforgettable experience in some of Africa’s most stunning landscapes.

From May 26 to June 9, 2025, Rick will lead an exclusive luxury safari through Zambia and Zimbabwe, showcasing the beauty of their national parks. This unique opportunity is limited to a small group of travelers, promising an intimate and unforgettable experience in some of Africa’s most stunning landscapes.

A special invitation from Rick…

You can go on a safari to Africa with hundreds of tour companies and for more or less money, but my safaris are more informative, inspiring and fun. When you combine 50 years of adventures in Africa with incredible destinations and first-hand stories, you are able to add a personal touch quite unlike most other trips.

Imagine a tower of giraffes moving across a golden savanna silhouetted against the red-rimmed African sunset, or a family of elephants drinking and playing at a waterhole. All this and so much more are waiting for you, if you join me on this adventure of a lifetime.

Africa has changed my life and I promise it will change yours too! The wildlife spectacles and local people will grab hold of a piece of your heart and never let go. Don’t miss this chance to create memories that will last a lifetime, while also supporting the conservation efforts of Longneck Manor.

Rick

What sets this safari apart?
It’s not just about spotting wildlife; it’s about experiencing it in a way that few ever do. You’ll have the opportunity to meet conservation heroes who are making a real difference in protecting Africa’s wildlife. Plus, you’ll enjoy exclusive wildlife encounters and photographic opportunities that will leave you in awe.

This trip is exclusively for adult couples who are looking for a luxurious and unforgettable adventure. We’ll be staying in the finest lodges and luxury tented camps, where you’ll experience service and cuisine that rivals the Four Seasons.

  • All game drives, charter flights, meals and accommodations are included in the price of $19,995 per person.
  • Charter flights between all luxury camps, allow for maximum wildlife experiences.
  • Private game drives in 4×4 open vehicles with expert drivers and guides.
  • All luxury lodges and camps are strategically located in scenic enclaves that guarantee a constant parade of wildlife from your private viewing decks. Private plunge pools and open air showers are included in several of the accommodations.
  • An expert African guide will accompany Rick throughout the safari.
  • The group will be limited to only eight couples, so an advanced deposit is required.

Price per person is $19,995 (not including international air fare) To secure your spot, deposits must be received by May 31, 2024

For any questions or to reserve your spot, contact Rick at rbarongi@gmail.com.

Travel dates are May 26 – June 9, 2025

Don’t miss this opportunity to experience the best that Africa has to offer.
Join us on this exclusive safari and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Sample content here.

If you are passionate about animals (both pets and wildlife) and want to learn how to help save them in their natural habitats, then I invite you to read my Blog.   This first one gives you a glimpse of why I ended up in the zoo and conservation world.

At age 69, I’m embarking on the riskiest adventure of my career, investing heavily in a business model that is more mission-driven than profit-making.  I consider Longneck Manor as the right thing to do at the right time.

I retired from the Houston Zoo in 2015 having spent over 45 years working in zoological parks (Jungle Habitat, Zoo Miami, San Diego Zoo, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and the last 15 years in Houston).  I prefer to call them parks, as the word ‘zoo’ has gotten such a bad rap these days… more on that later. As a zoo-based zoologist (notice that, there is no ‘zoo’ in pronouncing zo·ol·o·gist or /zōˈäləjəst/).  I have worked with and observed some amazing animals… and now it’s pay-back time, time for me to do something more significant for wildlife conservation.  

I don’t believe our lives have a single moment of epiphany but rather are a series of experiences and lucky encounters that shape our futures.   No one person or experience dictates all the disappointments and successes of our lives. I regard mistakes as learning experiences and successes as knowing and working with the right people.   Suffice to say I have learned a lot over my career!

When I was 21 my biggest disappointment was not being accepted by the Cornell Veterinary College after graduating that same university in 1974.  Little did I realize at the time, a different future, one working with wild animals, lay ahead. So instead of searching for an apartment in Ithaca, New York, I packed my bags and bought a one-way ticket to Nairobi, Kenya.  

The most significant experience of my life was this first five-month trip to East Africa in 1974.  I have since returned to the African continent more than 50 times to work on conservation projects and lead photographic safaris. In Kenya they often call me Bwana Ba-rong-gee and are surprised when they see a ‘Mzungu’ (Swahili for white person) coming out of the airport.  Perhaps the name Barongi is less Italian than African?

Fast-forward to the present and it’s easy to see why this New York City kid is building a wildlife ranch with overnight lodging in the Texas Hill Country.   Some believe I’m doing it for myself, which is only partly true. I certainly will enjoy working and playing with zoo-born giraffe and rhinos, but there is definitely a higher purpose that drives me to this vision.  Having observed the impact these live animals have on the hundreds and thousands of guests who have accompanied me on zoo and safari tours. I’m convinced that this human-animal connection is the most effective way to get people to care about nature.

My first visit to the Bronx Zoo, a second grade field trip, left a lasting impression on me.   I was too young to notice the small cages and sterile exhibits but was fascinated by the animals themselves.  Even the great Bronx Zoo was not such a great place for most wild animals back in 1959 but we should not judge the past by present standards.  I look at it differently…. if the Bronx Zoo never existed I probably would have taken a job driving a Good Humor ice cream truck on Long Island. Having an inordinate affinity for ice cream also inspired this early dream.

Another significant early school outing was a trip to the American Museum of Natural History.   Life-like dioramas in the Akeley Hall of African Mammals ignited my lifetime fascination with Stanley’s Dark continent.   A jumbo-sized post card – a male silverback mountain gorilla beating his chest in a emerald forest with the snow-capped Virunga Mountains in the background – is among my most cherished keepsakes.    Seeing these incredible animals face-to-face in 1974 motivated me more than ever to help to save them from extinction.

I still believe that these early childhood school trips open up young minds and hearts to a much a much larger and incredible world.  To be sure, living creatures were either captured or killed for the purposes of education and recreation, practices that served a purpose at the time but are no longer required to engender concern and promote support for wildlife conservation.  I’m not defending past practices, but also understand that people living 60 years ago didn’t have the same values, knowledge and options that we have today. If back then I had been able to look at zoos with today’s insights I most likely would have chosen a different path.

I am an unabashed champion for good zoos, ones that actively support wildlife conservation that saves animals in the wild.  Unfortunately, even today, there are many more bad zoos than good zoos.

Let me end the first Barongi Blog with one of my favorite quotes “ Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” (Dr. Seuss, The Lorax).  Hopefully, my personal stories about people and wildlife will inspire you to care more about our planet and all its inhabitants.

Please let me hear from you and what you would like to hear more of, or less of, in my future messages… and if you are ever in Fredricksburg, TX. you are always welcome to visit me and Drifter, my yellow lab and Goodwill Ambassador.

Thank You and Enjoy,

Rick, Heather, Courtney, Monica, Leah,  Samantha, Samantha 2, Jeff, Reed, Noel, Kelly, Valkyrie, Shelby, Chloe, Drifter & Boone (the labs)

Meet my pal Drifter, a four-year-old yellow Labrador retriever.   His pedigree name is Classic Hill Country Drifter but we call him the “Drift Man” or “Luigi” if you are my Brazilian friend, Pati Medici.  He is the official ambassador and ranch dog for Longneck Manor.

Drifter was born on April 25, 2017 at Classic Labs kennels in Chappell Hill, TX.   Most Lab connoisseurs around Houston know Linda Weld and her first class breeding compound near Brenham, TX (the home of another favorite of mine, Blue Bell ice cream).  

I was fortunate to have my pick from five adorable male puppies.  It is not easy picking a puppy but after three visits over several weeks I decided on personality over size and picked the pup that seemed most alert, even at 6 weeks. He had a certain head tilt, like he was listening very closely to my voice.  I had help from my friend from Houston, Diane Kendall (also known as The Other Diane or TOD) who came with me for all three visits and helped me choose his peripatetic sounding name.

True to his name Drifter traveled quite a bit during his first year, mostly between Houston and Fredericksburg but also a few long road trips to Sarasota (where my significant other Diane Ledder resides).  One time I flew him from Houston to Tampa, which is the closest airport that flies pets nonstop.  He handled the flight just fine but it was quite expensive and labor intensive.  We now travel by land where he has the entire back seat of my Honda Ridgeline pickup. 

Like most Labs he’s very friendly but not the rambunctious puppy that’s constantly jumping on people and sniffing (often in places not politically correct).  He is always by my side unless I have guests, which he treats as new life-long friends.  He makes a habit of lying across your feet when you are standing or sitting so you always have to careful when taking that first step.

He enjoys his 140-acre ranch, going on long walks and swimming almost every day.  He doesn’t chase cows or deer, preferring just to watch them.  Not sure if he’s smart or just a bit cautious when it comes to critters bigger than him.  He has had some adventures with armadillos and a run-in with a skunk but heck it is the Texas Hill Country.  Boys will be boys. 

Drifter obviously is special because he’s my dog.  Still others admit that he does have a very charismatic personality and is quite the handsome guy.  He still tilts his head and is a good listener and watchdog.  He loves meeting other dogs but also is quick to determine which one’s are friendly and which one’s are not.  His favorite store is the Dogologie pet supply store on Main Street, Fredericksburg where he gets a free treat every time he visits. 

While Longneck Manor will feature giraffes and rhinos I am sure that Drifter and his future Lab family will also make a lasting impression on our guests.  I love working with large African animals, but they can’t live in your house or sleep at the foot of (or more often on) your bed.   In my opinion you can never have enough Labs, as long as you have a big enough ranch and bed!

Fact:  I have Visited Africa Over 50 Times, but my First Trip Changed my Life   

Africa…. This wild and mysterious continent with its amazing creatures and bold explorers, such as Sir Richard Burton, Dr. David Livingstone, Paul Du Chaillu, and my personal favorite, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, has always enchanted me.  Seeing the incredible life-like dioramas by Carl Akeley in the African Hall of Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History sealed the deal.  I made up my mind after a second grade field trip that Africa was going to be part of my destiny.

My first trip was the longest, and a life changing experience.  I had just graduated Cornell in 1974 and right after a summer job at a New Jersey drive-through safari park I boarded a Pan Am plane to Nairobi via London in early September.  I was 22 years old, on my own, with about $1,500 in Traveler’s checks.  I had no plan and no place to stay in Nairobi.  I did however, have a letter of introduction to Joy Adamson the author of Born Free.  She lived just outside of Nairobi (more on that later).

After a day at the London Zoo, lunch with some friendly zookeepers and an overnight stay, I settled into my seat for the nine-hour flight to Kenya.  I recall looking out over the vast Sahara desert, then the green forests and blue lakes of East Africa, and noting those in the journal that I kept for the entire trip. I had no idea what was to happen next but my dream was coming true and I was trembling with anticipation.

Stepping onto the tarmac of Jomo Kenyatta Airport I was greeted by a smiling airport worker and a big “Jambo”, the Swahili word for hello.  I had taken a crash course in Swahili my last semester at Cornell so knew a little of the official language.  Turns out that most everyone spoke English after 68 years of colonial rule by the British, which ended with independence in 1963. 

Nairobi in 1974 was still a pretty safe city (as opposed to today) if you knew your way around.  Fortunately, my New York City upbringing instilled a “street smarts” that served me well.  After a few days in a small hotel someone told me that the YMCA, on the north end of the City was the best bargain for a long-term stay.  For $100 a month I got a double room, three meals a day, afternoon tea and free laundry service.  This was my home base for the next four months and where I made many new friends. 

My first order of business was to meet Joy Adamson and get her advice on working for a wildlife veterinarian.  I was invited to Ms. Adamson’s house in Lake Naivasha for lunch, about 65 miles northwest of Nairobi.  I was told that the local buses were the best and cheapest way to go.  Turns out it was cheap but not without its consequences.  This was my first introduction to Matatu’s, private minibuses that pick up anyone and anything until people are hanging out from all sides.  They also make frequent stops and pile luggage and livestock on the top of the bus.   I seemed to be a source of curiosity and amusement as I was the only white person on the bus. 

After a four-hour bus ride I finally arrived in the town of Lake Naivasha at noon.  When I asked at the local post office where Joy Adamson lived, I was told it was another 10 miles along a dirt road to the shores of the lake.  I attempted to hitch-hike but the cars were few and far between and no one wanted to pick up this mazungu (white person) dressed in a yellow polo shirt and blue bell-bottom pants.    Then a little African man on a bike stopped.  He motioned for me to get on the bike and pedal while he sat on the handlebars proudly displaying a gleaming white smile.

My new self-appointed navigator directed me to a turnoff where a small crowd of people and vehicles were congregated around another group of people with lights and cameras.  As I approached the crowd a lady in a safari outfit greeted me and politely asked what I was doing here.  “I am looking for Joy Adamson, do you know where she is”?   The lady gave me a strange look but replied that Ms. Adamson would be here this afternoon as she had a lunch appointment.   When I told her I was that lunch appointment and was terribly late her expression turned to pity as she realized just exactly how much trouble I was in for when the guest of honor arrived.

I had unwittingly popped in on the set of a BBC TV series about Joy and George Adamson, based on the book and movie, Born Free.   The lady that first spoke to me, Eva Montley, was one of the producers and introduced me to some of the people on the set including Gary Collins, the actor who played George Adamson.  She then gave me some very strategic advice…”when Joy Adamson arrives stay out of her sight and wait until I introduce you.”

So I waited on the sidelines practicing what I would say when I met the most famous lion lady of Africa.  When Joy did arrive she was greeted warmly by the entire movie set and then sat down to discuss the script with the directors and actors.   She was not what I expected, looking much older than the actress that played her in the Academy Award-winning film.  I also detected a heavy German accent.  She was actually Austrian and her given name was Friederike Viktoria Gessner.  She was given the nickname “Joy” by her first husband.

Finally, after about an hour I was waved over by Eva so she could introduce me.  When Joy found out I was the impetuous young man who stood her up, she immediately cut off my feeble apology in mid-sentence and walked away.  I was devastated, having screwed up my best chance to get her advice and recommendations for working with wildlife in Kenya.  Eva, having witnessed the brief interaction, turned to me and said, “Don’t worry, she’ll calm down and be back”.

Eva was right!  As the crew were breaking down the set and calling it a day Joy looked at me and motioned me over.   She was still speaking with Gary Collins, which helped to break the tension.  Both of them were very nice and listened to why I had come to Africa.  Joy quipped, “You must meet Dr. Paul Sayer, the veterinarian who saved my Elsa”.  

Elsa was an orphaned female lion cub that Joy bottled-raised and eventually reintroduced into the wild with the help of her husband George Adamson.  Turns out he was the wildlife expert but Joy was an excellent storyteller.  Her book about Elsa, “Born Free”, was published in 1960 and spent 13 weeks on top of the New York Times Best Seller List.

I found out later that Dr. Sayer was the senior professor at the Veterinary College in Kabete, a division of the University of Nairobi.  The University staff was on strike so classes were cancelled.  This created an opportunity for me to spend more time with him.  He was kind enough to allow me to tag along for five days each week as he treated animals, both domestic and wild, for the entire time I was in Nairobi.

Joy – we were now on a first name basis – had made this possible.  After our conversation she drove me back to Naivasha and wished me well.  I was able to get a ride back to Nairobi from some tourists who had rented a car but all I could think about was what an amazing roller coaster of a day I just had and imagining all that was to lie ahead.

Joy, Gary Collins and Me.

Rhino Fact:  There are five living species of rhinos (two African and three Asian), their combined populations in the wild being about 30,000 animals.  If rhinos could attend a soccer or football game they would not even fill half the seats in the stadium.

Not quite sure when I saw my first rhino, but it probably was at the Bronx Zoo in the late 1950’s.  The first time I touched a rhino was when I worked as Ranger Rick at Warner Brothers Jungle Habitat in West Milford, N.J. in the early 70’s.   I was driving in one of the safari themed land rovers that we used to keep the animals from getting too friendly with the visitors and their cars.   Every night we had to get out on foot with some of these gentle white rhinos – but always keeping a vehicle or tree between us and them – as we herded these impressive pachyderms through the wooded enclosure into their barns at the end of each day.  

It was not love at first sight or touch, but more of a fascination about how such a large (5000 pound maximum weight) animal could be so nimble on its feet.  Young rhinos running at full speed (30-35 mph) will have all four feet off the ground in mid-gallop.  They are almost comical to watch as they interact with each other, snorting and sparring with their magnificent horns.  These first encounters were with zoo- born white rhinos, the most social and numerous of all the rhino species, and usually much more subdued than their wild counterparts.

Rhinos in their natural African and Asian habitats can be quite aggressive and flighty….as would you, after so many decades of persecution from great white hunters and poachers with AK-47’s.  Rhinos have poor eyesight, which also accounts for many of the stories of them charging vehicles and people.   A rhino doesn’t look for trouble, unless you’re another adult male intruding on his territory and his females (referred to as cows).

Rhino calves are about as cute as any animal baby you will ever meet.  They have a button for a horn and a head that is way too big for their body.  But it’s their behavior that makes them so endearing.   I have been around newborn rhinos of both African species (white and black) and the Greater One Horned rhino of India and Nepal, and they all have endearing personality traits.  Of course, with a 3000-5000 pound mother backing you up you can afford to be curious and brave. 

Orphaned rhino calves that are bottled raised are even more amazing considering the tragic circumstances that took them away from their mothers.  Once they accept a bottle (which in itself is no easy task) they can become quite gentle and love a good scratch and a mud wallow.  

I will never forget the orphaned rhino facility I visited in Zimbabwe and having three very hungry rhinos running at us to suck down their gallon bottles of milk just like they were chugging beer.  In order for these rhinos to first accept a bottle, the ranch owner had devised a rodeo-like pile of tractor tires that he would climb inside and then stick the nipples between the tires.   Looked sort of like the Michelin Man playing nursemaid to baby tanks on wheels!

So despite their aggressive reputation rhinos can be extremely gentle if given the right amount of TLC and training.  I can remember meeting Anna Mertz (a famous rhino lady) in Africa and listening to her heart warming story about the rhinos she raised, especially how they would come running up to greet her even after they were reintroduced into the wild. 

I have plenty of rhino stories to share, both happy and sad.  Let me end this blog with a tribute to The Rhino Man, Michael Werikhe.  Michael was born in Mombasa, Kenya.   After taking a job cataloging rhino horns and elephant ivory he began his walks for rhino conservation in 1982.  He first walked in Africa then Europe and the United States.  He usually walked alone and carried no money, relying on the goodwill of others to give him shelter and food.  At the time he did more to raise the awareness for the plight of the African rhino than any other living being. 

His nature was very much like that of a rhino, strong-willed yet gentle and unassuming.  He touched the hearts and minds of everyone that had the privilege to know him.   When we had our grand opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998 we invited Michael and his two daughters (Acacia and Kora) to Disney World.  I still remember Roy Disney Jr., Michael and his girls walking the grounds of Conservation Station (now called Rafiki’s Planet Watch).  It was truly a magical experience for all.  Tragically, Michael died the following year in his hometown of Mombasa, from injuries sustained from an assault on the way to work.

Sadly his fate was linked to the violent fate of his beloved rhinos and I can only hope his legacy will endure and his dream for rhinos be fulfilled.  

If you want to help save the rhino check out the website of the International Rhino Foundation: Rhinos.orgDonations for saving rhinos in the wild, or for helping to care for our two rhino boys, can be made to our Longneck Manor Conservation Foundation at www.longneckmanor.com.  All donations are 100% tax deductable.

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