Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris
With maximum time in nature, we provide countless opportunities to experience wildlife on our trips.
Come eye to eye with a gentle mother humpback and her curious calf in a soft in-water encounter; receive a glance from a critically endangered mountain gorilla as she continues to groom her infant; hear, smell, and see mind-boggling numbers of king penguin colonies congregate on the land! Moments like these give us a sense of community with mesmerizing creatures in their native habitats as we feel their vulnerability and envision hope for their future.
Through choosing top experts in their respective fields to serve as leaders and guides, we offer an abundance of opportunities to learn from your experience on our trips.
For example, in the Antarctic, our team consists of polar specialists, photographers, and naturalists who provide lectures, workshops, and excursions. In South America, our native Chilean guide is a leading ornithologist and author who eagerly shares his expertise about seabirds, marine mammals, and wildflowers. An elemental aspect of every trip, no matter the location or focus, is offering a combination of expertise and opportunity to best enjoy, experience, and learn.
Building on your experience, enhanced and armed by opportunities to learn about wildlife, ecosystems, and conservation, we invite you to play a role in our ultimate mission to protect our natural world.
Our commitment to carbon-neutral travel, our efforts to select leaders who actively engage in conservation practices, and our company’s participation in meaningful projects exemplify our larger priorities. Further, our daily, seemingly small efforts such as eliminating single-use plastic, reducing amounts of water and electricity waste, and using eco-friendly soaps and cleaning supplies model an action-focused mindset and encourage a culture shift to protect our ecosystems.
It All Started With A Couple
In an era when, to most people, “safari” meant hunting big game in Africa, Gail and Doug Cheeseman had a vision of providing in-depth, educational wildlife safaris so others could enjoy, photograph, and learn about various animals and their natural habitats around the world. Both were guides and teachers before they were world travelers. They, above all, loved to share their experiences in nature.
In the 1970s, while raising a young family on a single-income teacher’s salary in California, the opportunity arose to lead summertime nature-based travel tours. Doug had been taking his ecology class on field trips in Monterey Bay when an operator asked him to guide a trip to Baja, Mexico, and then to East Africa, at which point Gail and Doug decided to venture out on their own as guides to form what is now Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris. In 1980, the fledgling company was born of a passion for experiencing nature’s beauty among friends.
From day one, wildlife and habitat conservation, as well as seeking ways we could benefit the ecosystems and the communities we travel to, have been elemental to Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris. Gail and Doug sought to pioneer quality ecological travel with a personal touch and a sense of connection and inclusivity. Doug was a big personality who, when excited, was very loud. Nothing elevated his volume or energy like being in nature and seeing wildlife in its element. His sense of wonder was so genuine and infectious that people couldn’t help but stop at that moment and direct their attention to whatever Doug was witnessing. He then provided such deep knowledge and instructional prowess that everyone was easily enamored by what they joined him in observing. Gail was a teacher and self-taught naturalist (which is essentially what brought the two together as a couple) and simply loved to share her enthusiasm for nature with anyone who was willing to enjoy it with her. Her rapport with people and passion for wildlife facilitated life-enriching safari experiences for those fortunate enough to have traveled with her.
For many years Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris was limited to one or two trips per year during the summer when Doug’s college teaching was not in session. In the 1990s, Doug transitioned to a reduced teaching contract enabling the in-depth Antarctic expeditions that Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris has become famous for. Ted describes Antarctica as the greatest “win” for the company:
“We stand out as having the most experience and in-depth access to touring the southernmost part of the globe. This has also led to a very consistent contribution to conservation in the area that has never wavered and continues to develop and improve in that destination as time goes on.”
In the early days of Cheesemans’, typical family time sometimes took a backseat to keep the company going, but that alternative approach to life led to Ted becoming the biologist and scientist that he is today. In his opinion, Gail and Doug were living the best versions of their lives and inspired him to do so as well. Growing up, Ted followed Darwin/Wallace and dreamed of living his life out in the field doing research. Ted learned the guiding aspect of the business directly from his father, enabling him to identify with travelers who were having first-time experiences. Being able to see these locations vicariously through a traveler’s fresh eyes is the catalyst that continues to galvanize Ted as it did his parents.
Clarity of mission has always been a constant with Cheesemans’, even as the company has evolved with time. The initial slogan was “In-depth, Rigorous Safaris.” In the late ’70s and early ‘80s, travel to most locations was not as “comfortable” as it may be today. Over time, this has changed; and oftentimes, like in the case of East Africa, the lodges that are closest to the action are the most luxurious. Further, Cheesemans’ has had to adapt to the ever-changing travel market. Expectations of a passionate experience must be presented with a polished and professional delivery, clear pre-trip communications, and current and accessible online representation. As technology sped up the pace of communication, Cheesemans’ adjusted. The business has come a long way from handwriting letters and sending a TELEX to local operators and waiting on a return, to using Skype, Zoom, email, WhatsApp, and social media to communicate, often in real-time, with people all over the world. Foundationally, though, today’s Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris operates with the values Gail and Doug instilled into their company. Their sense of commitment, passion, and integrity, fueled by their devotion to wildlife conservation and their inspiration to create world-altering safari experiences, remains essential in the mission and function of the company.