By JamieRose Briones and Aaron Gjellstad, directors at Luxury Frontiers and former general managers of Abu Camp
We had the honor of working with Paul during our time at Abu Camp, his prized elephant sanctuary and safari lodge in Botswana. Our interactions with him were limited, but the time we spent together had a deep and lasting impact on us. We learned a lesson that is inspiring as it is indispensable — that conservation and hospitality can be beautifully interwoven. Together, they can heighten travel experiences and shed light on pressing conservation issues, with the ultimate goal of making these worthwhile causes self-sustainable. Paul demonstrated a remarkable ability to turn some of his passions into sustainable philanthropic ventures like Abu Camp.
From the moment he took ownership of the camp, he was dedicated to taking the world-renowned lodge to the next level. He elevated the guest experience by tapping the team at Wilderness Safaris to manage operations and Elephants Without Borders to advance the elephant experience and program. What’s more, he threw his every tool and resource toward the projects and causes he cared about — most notably, elephant conservation.
Paul protected Abu Concession’s 400,000+ acres in the Okavango Delta, a veritable elephant sanctuary, promoting research and leveraging cutting-edge technology to protect the majestic species. He was a key donor to Elephant Without Borders, an organization dedicated to elephant conservation, whose research station is situated on the concession. But his conservation efforts went far beyond the Abu Concession and even, Botswana: He was also behind the Great Elephant Census, the first pan-African survey of savanna elephants. And Paul was directly involved in anti-poaching initiatives at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya and the Singita Grumeti Reserve in Tanzania, among other projects in Africa.
Even when he wasn’t at Abu, the camp, it seemed, was never far from his mind. We’ll never forget the time we saw him in Seattle — while we were on vacation, seemingly a world away — and he asked, “Have you seen the new baby?” He was referring, of course, to a newly arrived baby elephant orphan at Abu. He immediately pulled up his laptop and started scrolling through photos of the new addition, his face lighting up with joy.
The care he had for his staff was just as powerfully felt. One of our most cherished memories is when Paul brought with him the first cut of the Netflix documentary Naledi. Paul had commissioned the film — the heartwarming tale about a baby elephant born into and suddenly orphaned at Abu’s elephant conservancy — and was now excited to share the film “movie-night” style. He had wanted the first screening to be a true celebration for everyone who had participated or even starred in the project. We will never forget that night: all of us huddled together under the stars, passing popcorn, and watching the story — Naledi’s story, our story — play out on the big screen.
Even in our own little world at Abu Camp, Paul had a community that respected him and was transformed by him. Paul’s life was much too short, but his contributions to philanthropy, conservation, and hospitality will surely inspire many generations to come.