Montclair resident pursues passion, leads safari tours to Zambia

OAKLAND — Montclair resident Tom Bennigson has always had a love for wildlife and the outdoors.

But as an attorney, he found he rarely got the chance to do anything with animals at his day job, and that’s when, on a vacation to the Bahamas to swim with the dolphins, he decided he wanted to start leading wildlife tours as a fun side hobby.

“Just throughout my life, this has been something compelling to me,” Bennigson said. “Even as a little kid, I’d get my parents to take me to the zoo, and all the zookeepers knew me. I wanted to be a zookeeper when I grew up.”

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While he said his life didn’t end up going that way — he’s an attorney and co-founder at the Public Good Law Center and said he loves his day job — he always did want to pursue his childhood love of wildlife. That’s why, in 2012, he began leading independent safari tours to Zambia and decided to call it Open Heart Safari.

“If people really show up for it, it’s a deeply moving experience to stare face to face with wild elephants or buffalo, groups of antelope,” Bennigson said.

He and his wife also try to give people on the tour an opportunity to better understand the country of Zambia by taking visits to local communities and nonprofits, and by also conducting meditation and mindfulness sessions, led by Bennigson’s wife.

“We go in and try to cultivate a spirit of reverence and invite that in the group and do small quantities of meditation and other mindfulness practices,” he added.

Since then, he’s taken groups of about 10 people to Zambia annually and people who have gone have said the trip inspired a much deeper appreciation for the country than a more commercial tour.

“It wasn’t a kind of bubble trip, by which I mean you go from here to a Hilton hotel and somewhere in Zambia and you’re taken as a group out to look for animals and there’s no personal connection,” Barbara Shulgole, a participant in 2015 said. “The other thing that made it so extraordinary is that it was not solely a safari. Tom has a commitment to the people of Zambia, so we met with people who were trying to make people’s lives better in Zambia.”

Shulgole said that though she

Source:: East Bay – Lifestyle

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