Robin & Jo Pope

Pioneers of tourism in Zambia & Malawi

Robin & Jo Pope

Born in Zambia, Robin Pope’s childhood instilled him with a great love of the African bush and dreams of great adventures. Those dreams certainly did come true and the proof is in the story of Robin Pope Safaris..

Arriving as a caterer at Robin's safari camp, Tena Tena, Jo Holmes (ne Pope) stepped onto the scene in 1988 and changed Robin’s life forever. An organiser, and undaunted by the challenges that lay ahead, Jo became the driving force behind the business and the perfect complement to Robin in building RPS - a legend in Zambian tourism and a formidable team.

Flashback to Zambia in the early 1960s... a small boy named Robin, playing in the bush, running free with a fishing rod and binoculars. From small acorns, mighty oaks grow... from those carefree days an award-winning company rooted in responsible, sustainable tourism, has flourished.

Robin began work in 1975 with Zambia Safaris, and set to developing his bush knowledge and guiding skills. Keen to create his own company, his dream came true in 1985 with the creation of Robin Pope Safaris - Tena Tena Camp opened for business the following year.

In 1988, Robin's life changed forever with the arrival of Jo Holmes (whom he later married in 1991) who came to cater at Tena Tena for the season. The next three years saw a huge growth for Robin's safari operation; creating the now hugely-successful Mobile Walking Safaris, and opening of Nkwali Camp.

The next decade built on that early success with a new camp at Nsefu, then Luangwa Bush Camping (combining comfort with camping out in the heart of the bush) and finally the Luangwa Safari House.

The seed of the idea to create a lightweight mobile walking safari operation was planted in Robin’s mind many years earlier while he was on safari in Kenya with a company that ran a luxury mobile tented safari tour. Guests would travel through a number of Kenyan national parks while camping in comfort. One day in 1987, whilst flying over the Mupamadzi river valley, Robin decided that this would be an incredible area in which to start developing his own walking safaris. With South Luangwa’s diverse vegetation and wildlife, it was the ideal location and in 1990, the now hugely-successful mobile walking safaris were launched.

Another novel concept was that of Safari Houses, the first being Luangwa Safari House - designed with families and groups of friends in mind this concept gained momentum within the industry, and is today, a common offering across the continent - a private bush home away from home.


In 1988 a young lady arrived at Robin Pope Safaris to take charge of the catering at Tena Tena Camp in the remote Nsefu area of South Luangwa. Here she was in her element, her bossy nature serving to help organise and expand Robin's safari business. She organised Robin too - right up the aisle, or should I say to the base of a giant fig tree, where they were married in 1991.

For over twenty years Jo worked alongside Robin but always found the time to raise funds to help a school in a local village. The school desperately needed attention and Jo worked hard to improve Kawaza School beyond all recognition. But that was not good enough for Jo Pope. She went on to support another school, Nsefu Basic and then build two community schools at Katapila and Kapita. And she didn't limit herself to building either; funds were also found to train and pay teachers, to sponsor vulnerable children and help the villagers start their own tourism project.

In 2008, twenty years after arriving in South Luangwa Jo wondered if the global recession could have an adverse impact on all these neighbours. By the following year she was sure that it would. There were fewer tourists visiting South Luangwa and some lodges were cutting back on staff. Visitors had less to spend and donations to conservation and community projects were falling.

How would the community survive these hard times? Jo was better placed than most to find an answer.

She set about rallying the lodge owners to come together for a co-ordinated approach to running the many individual projects in the area. She argued that as one body they could achieve more than the sum of their whole. The new initiative would be a registered charity and have managers for the day to day aspects of all the projects, releasing the lodges to do what they do best - raise funds.

And so, in September 2009, Project Luangwa was born.

The Kawaza Scool Fund (KSF) is aimed at raising the education standard in the Nsefu Chiefdom, Zambia by building schools, supplying teachers and education materials, sponsoring children through secondary and tertiary education. KSF is now part of a charity with a wider remit - Project Luangwa.

Courtesey: Project Luangwa

PROFLIGHT - Jo was also the instigator in starting the regional carrier, Proflight. Initially, to secure a reliable means of delivering guests to the RPS camps in South Luangwa, but has now become the default domestic carrier in Zambia. She remains a director.



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