Roualeyn de Haas’ Dutch-African name is such a mouthful that it’s easier for Southerners just to call him “Rou” (rhymes with “you”).
Born in Zimbabwe and raised in South Africa, de Haas came to the United States about 20 years ago. For several years, the self-described “gearhead” imported equipment for off-road vehicles. Then he served for seven years as a senior sales manager at the South Carolina Aquarium. In 2021, he joined the Historic Charleston Foundation as director of marketing.
And while his current job provides great variety through coordinating communications, marketing and public relations for the preservation-focused foundation, it’s de Haas’ side-gig that allows him to keep a connection with his African boyhood. How? He coordinates and plans high-end luxury safaris using contacts gleaned from relationships developed through the years since college in South Africa.
“I’ve always been in conservation and now I’m in preservation,” he said recently, sharing coffee in the kitchen of his West Ashley ranch home off Orange Grove Road. “I am familiar with the language — and the urgency — of protecting things” here in Charleston and in Africa among wildlife.
Going on safari
As an organizer of high-end safaris, de Haas coordinates 10-day trips for individuals and groups to spend in the African bush to take photographs of animals like lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos and the African or Cape buffalo. These, he says, are the “Big Five” that most people want to make sure they view in the wild.
As a safari organizer, he arranges and sometimes goes on trips that generally include travels to private reserves adjacent to massive national parks.
“I only do private reserves,” he said, explaining that in national parks, vehicles can’t go off-road. But animals, he noted, often don’t use roads. They just go wherever they want. So if you’re spending a bunch of money to see animals in the wild, you need to be able to follow them to where they’re going, which generally ends up being near a watering hole.
“We want people to photograph the Big Five because that’s the ‘wow factor,’ ” he said. “But there’s so much more — the primates, antelopes, and little things to see, like the aardvarks and meerkats. Hyenas have one of the most interesting social structures you’ll learn about.”
Typical safaris arranged by Pioneer Africa Exclusive Safaris include arranged travel to three private game reserves, including two nights along the Zambezi River at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe for a visit to Victoria Falls, three nights to the Okavango Delta in Botswana and three nights adjacent to South Africa’s Kruger National Forest, a 7,500 square-mile protected area that’s the size of the state of New Jersey. At the front and back ends of the trip are stops at Johannesburg, South Africa.
The typical day on safari
De Haas outlines the typical day on safari, an ambitious and not inexpensive venture.
“People don’t realize how tiring a day of safari is — how tired they can get,” he said. “You’re in the fresh air and sun and have excitement with the animals coming and going. By 10 in the evening, they’re tired.”
Travelers generally stay in high-end camps, not tents, in private reserves. Typically there are about a dozen structures that hold two people each.
Those on safari wake up early and eat a light breakfast. They then head to trucks from around 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., when they return for a brunch, followed by a siesta. In mid-afternoon, they return to vehicles and stay out until 7 p.m. or sunset to take advantage of views. (Animals often head to water sites at dawn and dusk.) They return to the camp for a late dinner and retire for the night, only to do it again the next day.
“Because animals tend to congregate along water, you get to see [in Zambia] crocodiles, hyenas, elephants and tons of bird life.”
On a recent trip, de Haas took more than 3,000 photos, some of which are displayed with this story.
Back in Charleston
When not at work at the Historic Charleston Foundation, de Haas keeps busy with raising his son and feeding self-admitted addictions to various “gear” — equipment related to Land Rovers and outdoor activities such as biking, photography, hiking, camping and traveling. He’s got one 2006 Land Rover that he uses daily and a 1973 one that he’s restoring slowly in a garage crammed with vehicle parts.
De Haas also keeps ties with South Africa by chairing Project Rhino Charleston. It raises money to fund anti-poaching efforts in Africa. Among its past accomplishments was establishment in 2016 of an anti-poaching base camp in South Africa that is a place to train people to fight rhino poaching.
It’s just one way he’s trying to make an impact. But he encourages everyone to do what they can to improve their communities or the world.
“It can be overwhelming,” de Haas admitted. “So you look at what you can control and when you can have impact.
“That’s how I feel about conservation. If you look at the big picture and what’s at stake, it would be easy to think we have no hope. But if everybody does something regularly, like raising money for rhinos, you’re having an impact.”
THE LOWDOWN ON ROUALEYN DE HAAS
Birthplace: Gweru, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Education: Business management degree from Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, South Africa.
Current profession: Director of marketing, Historic Charleston Foundation; Owner, Pioneer Africa Exclusive Safaris.
Past professions of interest: Safari guide in southern Africa; Importer of off-road vehicle products.
Family: Son, Elliot.
Pets: Shumba, Golden Retriever, 12.
Something people would be surprised to learn about you: Broke my neck at 22 in a motorcycle accident. Paralyzed from the neck down for 2 1/2 months.
Favorite thing to do outside of work: Be on safari, drive my car, tinker.
Your passion: Land Rovers; photography; and gear. “I’m a gearhead.”
Books on bedside table: The Land Rover Story, by Dave Phillips; Overkill: The Race to Save Africa’s Wildlife, by James Clarke.
Favorite foods to eat: Pizza, Mexican, Indian, Bobotie [a South African ground beef casserole].
Favorite food to cook: Steak and traditional meals from South Africa.
Favorite cocktail or beverage: “I don’t drink much but vodka and ginger ale. Or tequila.”
Five foods you always need in your refrigerator: Cheese, milk, grapes, eggs, apples.
Three people (alive or dead) you’d like to dine with: Keanu Reeves, Steve McQueen and David Attenborough.
Something that you have too much of at home: Laundry
Hobbies: “My cars — 1973 Land Rover Series lll, 1997 Porsche Boxster, 2006 Land Rover LR3; photography, camping, mountain biking, karate.”
Guilty pleasures: Chocolate, baked goods and procrastination.
Describe your best day in 50 words or less: “Day drives with my son. Top down cruising a country road. Stopping for lunch and ice cream and playing our favorite music. End with a sunset and pizza at the beach.”
Pet peeve: “Bad driving, especially no turn signals and driving in the turning lane. Inconsiderate people.”
Philosophy: “1. In order to fill the cup, you must first empty it — Zen Proverb; 2. Don’t be a dick.”
Your advice for someone new to Charleston: “Take a tour; learn about your city. Join a meetup group.”
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