By ANDREA C. TURNER
After spending a long career in the insurance industry, Peter Balunek decided to pursue a bucket list item he’d always dreamed of: going on an African safari.
In 2014, he did just that by traveling to Kenya – and it changed his life.
While on safari, he’d heard of an elephant named Satao, a tusker, meaning that the animal’s tusks hung down nearly to the ground — each one weighing in excess of 100 pounds. This elephant had been hunted by a local poacher who likely would receive financial gain from selling the tusks on the global market.
Satao had lived for almost 50 years, surviving shifts in population, loss of habitat, flood and drought, avoiding lions, and decades of political and social unrest. But unfortunately, he could not survive the poison dart from the poacher.
Coincidentally, Balunek learned that Satao had been born the same year as him, which struck an emotional cord. Sadly, there are only 20 or so of these animals left on the planet, most of which reside in the Tsavo Conservation Area in Kenya. These animals have knowledge and experience which is irreplaceable to their herd.
After seeing the decomposing body of this rare creature, Balunek was determined to do something to help the species survive. “I realized in that moment that I wanted to do something, to make a difference. And while I didn’t know what that was at the time, I decided to do what I could,” said Balunek. “My research showed the best thing I could do to help create awareness of the threats facing the world’s wildlife was to get people over there to experience it for themselves,” he added.
After his first visit, he felt comfortable in the environment, more knowledgeable about the geography, and had developed relationships with local guides, predominantly from the Maasai tribe. His first venture leading a safari began by bringing two friends to Kenya. He started by taking acquaintances and family members, then the circle of safari-goers grew. Most of his clients are from Northeast Ohio, and have some connection to Balunek and his wife Molly Balunek, a wealth advisor in Pepper Pike.
In the nine years since, he has hosted countless safaris, all with a socially conscious mindset learning about the wildlife and their habitats, but also the local culture and economy of the people living in the area — all while offering a luxury experience for guests. As a wildlife ambassador, he discovered how to make a real difference in the lives of the animals under threat of extinction.
“In some small way, my guests would become ambassadors for these animals.”
While he’s guided safaris in India to see the rare snow leopards, Balunek now focuses much of the safari travel business in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda, countries that have diverse wildlife, ranging from elephants, lions, leopards, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, hyenas, gazelles, water buffalo, rare birds, etc.
Those interested in taking a safari should plan in advance for their trip, ideally nine to 18 months in advance, but exceptions can be made for smaller groups. While Balunek is not a travel agent, he helps with flight planning if necessary. Guests can expect to pay a minimum of $1,000/day to travel to East Africa, and a minimum of $2,000/day to South Africa. Separate from airfare, each adventure is all-inclusive including meals, accommodations, tips for guides, and transportation of internal flights with private aircraft and safari vehicles. A 30 percent deposit is due upon booking the safari, with the balance due 90 days prior. Travel insurance is recommended for all guests. Although not required, the CDC recommends vaccines for hepatitis A&B, typhoid, malaria, and yellow fever for guests traveling to these countries.
A typical trip lasts 10 days, up to two weeks. Because the English language is taught in many African countries, there is no significant language barrier. The equatorial climate ranges from 55-85 degrees Fahrenheit. South African temperatures can range from 32-110 degrees.
Guests predominantly stay in custom-built tents with canvas walls, mosquito nets, running water, flush toilets and showers. The cuisine is typically international, yet Continental-style meals. All dietary restrictions can be accommodated with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. Wines and other alcoholic beverages are provided upon request. Guests can also request winery tours if traveling to South Africa.
Balunek prides himself on meeting the desires of guests, whether its traveling to specific locations to learn about local community conservation, creating multi-generational family picnic gatherings with local people, or renewing wedding vows.
An avid photographer, Balunek typically leads safari-goers on game drives five to six times per year. He educates visitors on what it takes to protect the animals. Guests have visited research stations, learned about local culture and nonprofit organizations, and better understand conservation efforts that work symbiotically with local people.
He said, “Many Americans want to help, and I help them create a once-in-a-lifetime adventure whereby they can often teach their children and grandchildren traveling with them about the importance of philanthropy — giving back.”
The late Ann Farmer, a retired nurse, and her husband Harry Farmer of Hudson traveled to Kenya and helped support and build a school in Talek, Kenya through The Satao Wildlife Foundation, predominantly for Maasai children.
Guests typically travel by vehicle, but can also walk, bike, travel by horseback or camel, even helicopter or air balloon. Balunek makes accommodations for most reasonable requests.
For those interested in a Family Philanthropic Adventure, Peter’s Safaris can identify community conservation projects where families can make an immediate and direct impact through medical brigades, improving water and sanitation, food and nutrition, animal rescue and orphanages, education, park rangers and law enforcement, and non-government organizations. Projects are funded through the Satao Wildlife Foundation.
Trips for 2023 are fully booked, but for more information or to book a tour next year, contact Balunek at 440.287.7782 or peter@PetersSafaris.com
Peter’s Safaris offers socially conscious luxury safaris
By ANDREA C. TURNER