Lions, elephants, cheetahs and other untold numbers of teeming wildlife wandering in their natural habitats in terrain unlike any other on the planet. This is the reality of experiencing the adventure, excitement and, indeed, prestige, of an elite, private African safari led by guides brimming with knowledge about this vast land and its wildlife. “Safari” is a Swahili word for journey and what better way of detaching from the stress of life, immersing yourself in a world of newness and surrendering to nature’s rhythmic realities, than by going on a journey where the unpredictable is as vast as the predictable?
Black Panther Safaris, founded by Suzanne Eason, who makes her home in Greenwich, Connecticut and Fred Mushendwa, a native and resident of Africa, both have a firm belief that giving back is an essential component to any successful endeavor and Black Panther Safaris does give back in monumental ways. But first, let’s delve into how this unparalleled safari company came into being.
Suzanne, an avid animal lover and conservationist, said the pivot point for her happened about years ago when she met Kenneth R. Hopson, the man who would become her husband in 2004. The couple ultimately moved from Manhattan to Greenwich, Connecticut where they had two girls, got involved in their local church and became very involved in the community and they were also involved in helping financially to build a school on Masai land in Tanzania.
“I was always involved in doing something for other people and making them see things in a different light – seeing something transformative, seeing something beautiful and how life should be led,” Suzanne said, but added she left corporate America – where she spent years building companies and brands for Fortune 500 companies – after 9/11 and swore she would never go back.
The family’s life in this idyllic part of the country was busy and brilliant – until the fateful day in 2016 when Suzanne received a phone call from Kenneth’s office telling her he had suffered a heart attack from which he ultimately passed away.
“It was just a huge, gaping chasm of pain and we fell into a kind of pit where I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at the time,” Suzanne said, adding her mother passed away 18 months after Kenneth.
Suzanne said she did a lot of soul searching trying to decide what she and her two young daughters were going to do when she saw an ad in her church bulletin for an opportunity to go to Tanzania.
“Without really thinking it through, I just said ‘yes’,” Suzanne said. “I was hesitant, of course, because I’d never been to Africa. I’d been to many other places and lived all over. I went to school in Switzerland, speak a few languages and I love it, so there I was, so well-travelled, but scared of going to Africa, but death makes you brave and my husband was in every decision I made moving forward.”
And so she and her two children, then aged 10 and seven, made the 14-hour trip and what Suzanne saw and experienced in Tanzania changed her life.
On the first day there, they visited a secondary school “out in the middle of nowhere,” Suzanne said, where students were both Masai boys and girls from about the ages of 12 to 18. The uniformed students were singing and dancing and where, unfortunately, she lost her cell phone in the outhouse toilet, which she saw as some kind of sign. With nothing to be done about the phone, Suzanne and her daughters traveled with the group to the elementary school to which she and Kenneth donated funds to build.
“We then went on to have this magical, magical safari in some very beautiful places that were just ‘wow’ and I knew that one day I would return,” Suzanne said, adding she had no clue how, all the while meeting wonderful people and spending time talking with the guides – one of whom was Fred, who would later become her business partner.
“He was just so magical and cheerful and he had been a guide for 30 years working for his uncle’s company, but he always wanted to go out and have his own business,” Suzanne said of Fred, adding she felt at peace being out of a realm where people were apologetic to her about the loss of her husband or skirting the issue of his death all together, being in probate, selling cars and being exhausted all the time and suddenly here, she wasn’t.
Suzanne decided to commit funds to the high school she and her children visited to build a math and science lab in honor of Kenneth, but she wanted to go back to help in the design and building of the stem lab and that’s exactly what she did. While there she went on another safari and as fate would have it, Fred was one of the guides.
“On the last day of constructing the stem lab, a young girl was standing on the back of our safari vehicle and this was the ‘why’ of what became so embedded in what I decided I wanted to do,” Suzanne said. “She was crying, she was disheveled, she was wearing a uniform that was kind of loosely hanging on her and she was alone, it was the first day of school.
“Ultimately, I found out her father had sold her to be married and she did not want to be married and I hugged her which is very, very unusual; Masai do not have a physical world, they don’t hold hands, they don’t hug, they don’t say I love you. They’re very noble people.”
Suzanne later found out the girl, Inoti, was only 14 years old, so it was truly a line in the sand for her. It was then Suzanne made a decision.
“Right then and there I made a commitment that I was never going to let that happen again,” she said. “I knew that whatever it was I would be doing, that I was going to support these girls because they are getting swallowed by this culture that wants to perpetuate young marriage.”
Incidentally, Inoti was able to stay in school thanks to one of the group members – a veteran at helping the Masai – who paid for her yearly tuition. Because Suzanne was not knowledgeable about the culture, she wasn’t quick enough to do that, much to her dismay.
On another safari she and Fred talked about how he wanted to branch out and start his own company and the conversation continued over the course of about eight days.
“I said to him, ‘what about a safari company?’ but it was so on a whim,” she said. But it made sense since Fred knew a lot about safaris and she knew a lot about brand building.
Since her family – including her late mother who was a well-educated avid fan of comic books – are fans of action and fantasy movies like Black Panther, she suggested the name to Fred who was all for it. So, Suzanne did a search and BlackPantherSafaris.com was purchased on a sunny day in January.
“It was just idle conversation at first, but that’s really how it all started,” Suzanne said. “Since that moment, it has just been this grit-filled, persistent climb to create a high luxury company that has luxury trucks where we encase people for transformative safari travel.
“It has been my learning and going to these places, discovering a new set of people, understanding what I really like and don’t like about the East African savannahs and recognizing what my clientele wants.”
Suzanne said having a business partner who is also a guide who knows where to go, how long it’s going to take and what people want to see, is a godsend for Black Panther Safaris.
“He and I want the people who are going on this journey to feel the transformative powers that we felt. You’re not in this perfectly-run culture, it’s not perfectly timed, part of the experience of traveling to Africa is to have that imperfect journey where things unexpected come up. It’s about the imperfections of the journey that make it really special,” Suzanne said. “It has been so rewarding to be someone totally unlike anywhere else and to bring that experience to clients.”
Fred has been honing his wildlife knowledge as an expert safari guide for more than 25 years. A mechanical engineer, he is also an expert mechanic which really comes in handy. He has a passion and love for his homeland and its wildlife. He spent 20 of these formative years as the lead guide for a well-known safari company in Tanzania. He was the go-to-guide for safaris, schools, and nonprofits. He loves every opportunity to bring guests out, entertaining them, educating them, teaching what he loves or simply passing the time as wildlife scenes come to life.
“I wanted to do more in my life and my career. I have the experience to be my own safari guide from my experience,” Fred said. “I wanted to have my own image as a guide, but strategically you need the flow of people and you need to have a brand and that is not so easy to do. I was waiting for a very long time to get someone to collaborate with in order to start this company.”
Fred said he and Suzanne are on the same page when it comes to giving guests the best safari experiences possible.
“We found that we shared the same interests and the same ideas. She had her own story and I had my own story and we came together to form this company,” Fred said. “We share the same interests in conservation
Guests are constantly stunned by Africa’s beauty. Fred’s extensive knowledge on animal behaviors keeps everyone entertained. He is an excellent storyteller with a gift for suspense and sharp eyes to see what most cannot if you are lucky to go out on his fantastic game drives.
Fred’s other passions are dogs and conservation. He recently started a collaboration with K-9 units to protect Africa’s critically endangered animals. He is especially passionate about helping to protect his spirit animal, genus panther (big cats). Which by the way, is the only animal that roars! So giving big cats a leg up is his personal imperative.
Fred also heads the LionShare Project for Black Panther Safaris which provides funding and support to anti-poaching projects around the country.
Suzanne said the most important thing about going on safari is conquering your fears. It’s often the last journey many people go on or the first journey a family decides to go on when their children are old enough.
“It’s about finding something, it’s about going off the grid as much as you possibly can to the farthest reaches of the earth to experience something that is so rare and idyllic and it’s a rare moment in time where a family can all leave at once and go to a small spot on earth to experience an incredible vista of animal life that they will never see again together, especially if they are a multi-generational family,” Suzanne said.
Once people have committed that an African safari is something they would like to experience, it can be very overwhelming sorting out the details, but at Black Panther Safaris, everything is sorted out for you. You will have the opportunity to step out of your bubble to experience the savage beauty of nature, whether it’s a lion pride or other wildlife.
“You have to be on the ground, you have to be in the culture. You can’t go to an insulated hotel and go out in their open vehicles onto the savannah for a couple of hours and feel that rawness,” Suzanne said. “You have to travel and you better be in a good truck that has incredible mechanics and a really skilled driver and guides to be able to truly experience that – where you have people who have been living there like my partner and my team.”
The company’s creed is safety first. Trucks are equipped with oversized tires and clients know they’re in a safe vehicle.
Suzanne said when guests get into those vehicles (which aren’t equipped with radios) and they’re traveling, they’re vagabonding it, even though they’re going from one beautiful lodge to another. The animals live on the ground and to get a true experience, guests also have to be there. The view and experience from the sky simply isn’t the same.
“You have to have a guide who understands what kind of sound the hyena is making and that a lion has made a kill and the hyenas are taking over,” Suzanne said. “An experienced guide knows what that sound is and they go there. That is the fascination people want. It’s the story people want to tell.”
East Africa also has on its western shores of Lake Victoria – the largest lake in the continent – at its base, the largest concentration of chimpanzees, while on the other side, you have the largest concentrations of the gorillas which is the only place on earth they can be found.
Black Panther Safaris’ itineraries are highly curated. They use the Great Migration to fashion itineraries for guests, depending upon what time of year they would like to visit. The main concentration of animals does follow the Great Migration.
*extra fees apply
When you book a Black Panther Safaris adventure through LVH, you’re helping a Tanzanian girl stay in school, giving her the opportunity to see the world through a more equitable perspective, since Black Panther Safaris has pledged not only to provide incredible safaris to its clients while also providing scholarships with the safari proceeds – one girl at a time.
“When people come on our safaris they will be sending a girl to school,” Suzanne said. “They can also choose to sponsor a girl by contributing to the company’s Legacy Scholarship Program.”
By the way, you will also get honey made by killer bees raised by locals.
“You can expect an excellent African experience on a safari with Black Panther,” Suzanne said. “The guides are also incredibly close to the tribes. Anyone can go to the Serengeti, anyone can stay at the Four Seasons, anyone can go into any of the other national parks. It’s way harder to know the languages and to go into the villages to have an experience with the tribes that are not the canned versions you usually get.”
When you are on a Black Panther safari, you will go off the grid in a safe, beautiful truck and a safe, beautiful lodge.
“This is memory-making, story-telling travel that deals with sight and sound and smell and taste,” Suzanne reiterated. “Every family has a different idea of what they want and my goal on this side of the pond is to try to see to that need just as I listen to clients who want to redesign their homes. I listen to what their desires are, to what their dream is and I try to manifest that dream.”
LVH takes great pride in its associations with great companies like Black Panther Safaris who provide guests with those immeasurable moments we also strive to give them. If you would like to experience a surreal, luxurious African safari, we invite you to reach out to one of our client relations professionals who will begin planning your excursion with Black Panther Safaris. Life is fleeting and we understand you want to spend every moment of your vacation amassing memories and stories that can be passed down to the next generations. It’s all about those priceless, precious and momentous experiences!