Celebrating Chris Sussens
March 2019 is a very special month for Tshukudu as we look forward to celebrating owner Chris’s 60th birthday on the 27th. We asked Chris to share a little about his life with us for this blog.
If you’ve ever been a guest at Tshukudu, chances are you’ve had the privilege of meeting this self-deprecating man with a gentle voice, twinkling eyes and a mischievous sense of humour. Chris’s passion for wildlife conservation and the bush is evident not only when one enjoys a game drive with him … it is a passion that shines throughout Tshukudu and has made it a place that so many people from different parts of the world choose to come back to again and again.
Born in Zambia on 27 March 1959, Chris is the second son of Ala Kuchcinska and Lolly Sussens.
Chris married Vicky on 1 June 2006 and they have two children, Isabella (10) and Ethan (8).
Chris and Vicky, a formidable team!
Chris also has two adult children from his first marriage, Jess (28) and Matt (26), of whom he is very proud. Jess has two children of her own and Matt has followed in his dad’s footsteps to become an exceptional guide after completing his training at Royal Malewane (where only two guides graduate every two years).
Matt, Chris and Jess
Chris, Isabella, Ethan and Jess
What were some of your earliest childhood memories?
“I spent my early childhood in Livingstone, Zambia. My mother (a Polish refugee after the war in Siberia) met my father (a South African) in Zambia. They started with nothing but built a good life for us in the tourism and hospitality industry. They did so through a lot of hard work and sheer determination.
As kids, we ran freely in the bush, most of the time barefoot. I remember, at the age of 4 or 5, swimming above Victoria Falls in beautiful natural pools on the Zambian side. We led a simple life, but it was lots of fun and my love of nature grew from there.”
When did your family move to Tshukudu?
“We bought Tshukudu on 6 June (my mom’s birthday) 1979. At the time, Tshukudu was a cattle farm that had been very over-grazed. To this day, we’re still working to reinvigorate the soil.”
“We have had so many wonderful and memorable moments at Tshukudu. In the early days, when we still brought animals in for rehabilitation, we had a friendly giraffe who loved to hang out by the pool. He fell in the water twice and getting him out was a sight to behold!
Another time, long before we had guests at the lodge, a sales rep came to visit. He parked his Golf under the tree near the main building, oblivious to the fact that we had a curious lion (rescued from a railway line after his mother had been killed by a train) who loved greeting new arrivals … let’s just say salespeople usually have the gift of the gab, but this one lost his voice! The lion clambered on the tiny car to say a warm ‘hello!’, then retreated sullenly when he saw our guest was not that happy to meet him. We had that lion for over 20 years, having raised him from a cub.”
What makes Tshukudu so special?
“All the orphaned or rescued wild animals at Tshukudu roam freely but have a uniquely symbiotic relationship with humans.”
Chris feeding Shumba
“From a blind hyena in the early days to elephants rescued after a culling in the Kruger, and of course our amazing cheetahs (orphaned after their mother was killed by a lioness), the animals have all found a safe haven where they can live in their natural habitat without humans being a threat.”
Chris and Scruffy, the blind Hyena
Two of our Ellies
Any advice for someone keen to become a guide or run a lodge in the bush?
“I studied animal science, but I truly believe that – above all else – a passion for animals and a genuine curiosity about the miracles of nature is a prerequisite for guiding and successfully running a lodge. My family and I all share that passion, and we feel privileged to share Tshukudu with our guests.”
Chris sharing his love of conservation
Makorokoto Chris and congratulations on your 60th birthday! In June this year, the Sussens will be celebrating 40 years at Tshukudu and we look forward to sharing some amazing insights about this family’s history.