Until you’ve been seen by a wild animal you haven’t really been seen.

30 Jan


Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 9.39.49 AMClick here to read this piece as published on BizCommunity.com

First published in the January 2017 issue of Juice Magazine.


Until you’ve been seen by a wild animal you haven’t really been seen.

Forearms outstretched over the gym’s water fountain the way an antsy  antelope does at a waterhole, I asses the predators in my tribe, those chiselled and buff men at the gym who preen and pose and remind me of my diminished stature. The lore of the bush isn’t so removed from the lore of the gym. What the bold and beefy at the gym don’t know is that despite my flabby underarms and saggy tummy skin, I’ve been tracking two of the  most dangerous Big 5 on foot.

Before you think I’m telling fibs, it was under the careful guidance of Royal Malewane’s professional field guide Nik Vounnou and tracker Patrick Moyeni both armed with many years’ experience in the bush, a rifle and an back-up side arm for dangerous game.

JP and I walk in single file behind Nik and Patrick and climb to the top of a termite mound. There is a large herd of buffalo, just a Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 9.40.20 AMfew meters ahead, and a white rhino and her calf.

Qualifications in the bush matter

I worry that the beasts will hear the agitated beating of my heart, made worse by my stifled breathing. This is a first for me. I’ve never been as close to buffalo on foot before. Nik is quietly explaining that from our elevated position we are safe in the event that the buffalo notice us and want to  explore us, rather than the other way around. As the 2012 winner of the FGASA Safari Guide of The Year competition, a holder of a National Diploma in Nature Conservation and a FGASA Level III Professional Field Guide with National and SKS-Birding, we knew we were in good hands even when one of the daggaboys – the name given to the older (and often fiercely tempered) buffalo that cake their horns in mud to protect themselves from the flies and biting ticks spied us as we left our termite mound to continue our journey.

Until you’ve been seen by a wild animal you haven’t really been seen. There is almost a spiritual quality about it, the very antithesis of the social persona we so readily share on Facebook and others. Being seen by an animal is really being seen.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 11.40.41 AMDon’t sniff at the lessons dung can teach us

We find a civet latrine. A number of animals mark their spatial prowess by spraying urine while others return to the same place to defecate. Nik holds up a handful of civet droppings and pushes aside thin white bony bands. “That was a shongololo – a type of millipede that ended life as a civet snack. You can see the calcified exoskeleton”, he points out.

At another site we look deep into a rhino turd. “The black colour is an indication of the oxidised tannins in grass so that belongs to the grass-eating White Rhino. In a lighter coloured stool he pulls apart the compacted leaves to reveal twigs and their 45 degree bite mark. The Black Rhino has jaws at 45 degree angles and finding these angled pieces is a clear indication where they came from.”

October drought leaves carcasses

During our October 2016 visit the area in the Thornybush Private Game Reserve, near Kruger Park’s Orpen Gate, is so dry that about 15 buffalo have died from the lack of nutrition in the plants and grasses.

Scattered scatology

As a guest at a luxury lodge it is hard to see near starving animals, their once majestic frames reduced to skin stretched taut over ribs and spine. On our morning game drive we see a recently dead zebra. When the anti-poaching rangers found it they cut open the belly to make it easier for vultures and other animals to penetrate the innards before they putrified in the heat and poisoned the meat. We take a closer look. While on our walk the day before we came near a buffalo corpse that had the stench of death about it, hanging heavy like too much cheap perfume. By contrast, even close-up, the zebra gave off no scent at all. Nik said it would be okay to feel its skin, if I wanted to. Not yet even cold to the touch, the zebra felt just like it was sleeping rather than dead. Because of the gasses produced by the bacteria that breakdown the cellulose in the herbivore’s diet, the colon dissented out of the animal like a snake creeping out. When Nik touches the bowel it sounds like the tapping on a drum. At another site he points out the scatterings of marble-sized dark-coloured pellets. “What produced these?”, he asked us. Wanting to sound as sleuth-like as possible I suggested an antelope that was defecating on the run which might account for the spread-out nature of the droppings. “No”, he said, “these were from a giraffe and it was simply from the great height that they were dropped which produced the spray effect.”

That night, at one of Royal Malewane’s bush dinners cooked under the stars, we talked about the elephants that have to keep eating as they absorb very little at a time and I ask about the damage the elephants cause by killing the trees from which they strip the cambium bark.  “There is no emotion or malice in nature”, he remarks, “yes, the tree dies but something else lives because of it. The poorly digested elephant dung provides nutrition for beetles and insects. Returning to the zebra cadaver some hours later it appears as if meticulous pathologists have been at work. Not only is there little trace of the innards but all the soft meat has already been eaten away. As punishing as the drought is for some, other predators such as Royal Malewane’s seven lionesses we spy are fat and glossed as a result of the easy pickings.

For some a visit to a luxury game lodge is about the pampering relaxation that comes with it. For me it is about the education I get from having private time and space to learn from arguably the best qualified field guides in the land. The privilege that comes from a stay at Royal Malewane (part of The Royal Portfolio) is not only the exquisite cuisine and bespoke luxury but the opportunity to see and be seen eye to eye with the beasts of the wild. That’s what comes from being at the top of the food chain, for now.



November 14 weight-loss session

5 Sep

Before & After

Before & After

After maintaining his 70kg weight loss for three years now, PR man Brian Berkman shares the tools that helped him lose weight and keep it off on Monday, November 14 at noon at Richard’s Supper Stage & Bistro in Sea Point. Information and bookings at Quicket or by clicking http://qkt.io/zJ535o.

“The decision to package a how-to talk comes from a high demand from people who also want to change: I lost weight and took back my life from the brink of invasive and costly surgery but I also gave myself the opportunity to live a life free from constant pain which I had told myself was normal,” he says. “My goal in presenting this talk is so that others who also feel dissatisfied with their life can be motivated and given the tools to change as well as a few easy yet fabulous recipes with which to entertain friends.”

The two hour interactive session, held at Richard’s Supper Stage & Bistro in Sea Point on Monday, November 14 at 12 noon includes coffee/tea and a low-carb snack. Bookings, at R250 per person, are via Quicket: Click this link http://qkt.io/zJ535o or search for Brian Berkman weight loss.

Along Asia’s Tracks

3 Jun

Premier Magazine, June 2016

Premier Magazine, June 2016

The Eastern & Oriental Express journey from Singapore to Bangkok is one of the most romantic, comfortable yet sad rail journeys of our time. Read about our experience on board in the June issue of Premier Magazine.

Visiting Singapore

2 Jun

Refined Magazine, June 2016

Refined Magazine, June 2016

We loved our stay in Singapore for many reasons not least of which was our location at the exceptional Mandarin Oriental on Marina Bay. Read about our experience there in the current issue of Refined Magazine.

Benchmarking PR fees

21 May

Brian-BerkmanAnswering how long a piece of string is seems simpler than knowing the average hourly rate for public relations by a consultancy.
Many PR professionals bill a time-based fee which reflects how long a job should take to complete. Rightly, in my opinion, the more skilled and connected the professional, the faster it should take in practice. The difference between the actual time and the billed time is the reward.
Some bill based on achieved coverage, either as a percentage of the dreaded Advertising Value Equivalent or per piece of coverage based on top, second or third tier media placement. Others follow a menu of outputs combined with inputs billing more if the CEO makes the call that generates the coverage than if a junior staffer does.

Most will ask for a retainer – a set monthly or yearly fee that will cover a shopping list of agreed upon services. Not only does the method allow for fairly accurate budgeting but it also means that the PR professional can plan a calendar of events not available to those working on an ad hoc basis.

Although I have recently been asked to quote on a tender-style
job where I’m sure the contract will go to the lowest price, more than 20 years industry experience tells me that PR professionals are rarely appointed without first being short-listed, recommended by one’s peer group or, in most cases, I suspect, being a friend of a friend. Relationship is the currency.
In these cases I think fees matter far less than the PR industry thinks. If you’re at a braai and hear the host being jostled about not being able to open a magazine without his ugly mug appearing in it, then you’ll want the same publicist, irrespective of cost.
Like all purchases, deciding with whom to partner on the PR front is an emotional decision and not a financial one. It is essential to find someone you can trust. After all, deciding who you will let manage your reputation and steer you away from dangerous controversy must be based on more than a tip from someone you meet at a kid’s school outing.
So, now that we agree that PR support is not as price sensitive as once imagined it raises the question how someone smart selects their communications professional?

Selecting from award winners is a good place to start as long as you know there are many, myself included, who have never entered awards and others who, with the financial backing of international agency groups, enter many awards in many different categories. So with the number of awards not the indication of excellence previously thought what happens next?
Although anyone with a brain knows public relations is much more than media liaison, only the brainless will suggest that media liaison is not an essential part of the communications mix. If I were to appoint a PR professional I would ask media for a recommendation. It is they, after all, who receive the PR output firsthand. Ask media in your target market who they recommend as a professional who sends print-ready and accurate information. Ask who submits suitable images that are correctly captioned and ask, most knowingly, who responds to queries quickly and understands the nature of deadlines.
I was recently asked to benchmark my fees by a client and found the exercise challenging as reference points are not widely available. To change this I’ve decided to dedicate a PR-Net, a peer network for the communications industry that I run, meeting to this very topic.

Details about the Cape Town meeting on Thursday, May 26 at 11am are at www.pr-net.co.za.


Our stay at Mandarin Oriental Bangkok

18 May

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 8.12.51 AMThe highlight of our recent South-East Asia visit was a stay at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok – quite possibly the best hotel I have ever stayed at.

Read about our experience here:

Hike Leopard’s Kloof

20 Mar

There are so few opportunities to be in unspoilt nature within the safety of a pristinely kept Botanical Garden such as the Leopard’s Kloof Hike at Harold Porter Gardens, Betty’s Bay affords and there is absolutely no reason why you can’t enjoy  it, too.

Give yourself an hour each way. While some of the steps onto rocks and around gnarled roots of trees can be tricky, it isn’t difficult to do. In fact, if you approach all the ladders on all fours you will not only clamber up and down with ease but you will be taking greater care than those foolhardy types who walk rather than climb down the ladders.

Here is a three-minute video I made of our hike this morning. I hope it shows you how easily it can be done and how extraordinarily beautiful it is.


Banting Snacking

17 Mar

Kale Crisps by Earthshine.

Kale Crisps by Earthshine.

When people hear about my weight-loss success following the #LCHF or #Banting diet they always ask about my missing carbs. The truth is I don’t miss them.

What I miss is the freedom of just eating what I want to eat without thinking carefully about what’s in it.

Recreational eating is where I struggle the most: there are times when, against my better judgement, I just want something to nosh. Not out of hunger but simply because that’s what I feel like at the time.

Caesar's Salad with chicken at Tasha's.

Caesar’s Salad with chicken at Tasha’s.

My go-to snack of choice are roasted, salted nuts. I manage to avoid peanuts which means that not only is it a costly collection of almonds, walnuts, cashews, Brazilians etc but I’m never satisfied with just a few at a time. When the nut hunger arrives it is usually only placated after eating far, far too many of them.

My friend Natalie Reid started a raw food business some years ago and was in touch about her Earthshine Kale Crisps. Kale, I’m sure you know, is a superfood and I use it as the basis for my green smoothie – kale, celery, broccoli, avocado and ginger which gets me going in more ways than one. A 35g bag of Kale Crisps has, according to Natalie, 250g kale which has been dehydrated. She’s added vegan flavouring to give it a cheesy taste which tastes just the way I remember Sour Cream and Chives Pringle chips tasting.

Although most restaurants nowadays offer low-carb items we frequently head to Tasha’s for the best, imho, Caesar Salad. I add chicken and leave the croutons and always ask for my poached egg to be soft.

Pulp is another regular spot and I love their pesto chicken salad – I leave the carrots and tomatoes out and drench it in the supplied olive oil. On days when the psychological hunger needs to be fed, I order the HUGE Village Table Salad from Ocean Basket. This is one dish that takes me 30-minutes of active eating to finish and then I’m truly stuffed on the collection of olives, feta, cucumber, onions and tomatoes. At R70 it is brilliant value, in my opinion.

I was also thrilled to find Beluga still offering half-priced sushi – even the rice-free kind!

Rice-free sushi at Beluga

Rice-free sushi at Beluga

Me and Banting in the media.

19 Dec

Here are links to recent coverage about #Banting and #LCHF diet and my success with it.

Click here to read the article in The Cape Argus or here to read the feature in The Premier Magazine, December 2015 issue.  As ever, the health writer I follow most closely is Marika Sboros. While all her writing about Banting is exemplary this piece tells my story too.

The December 2015 issue of Premier Magazine is about Banting.

The December 2015 issue of Premier Magazine is about Banting.

Marika Sboros on Banting

Marika Sboros on Banting

Banting made the front page lead of The Cape Argus

Banting made the front page lead of The Cape Argus

PR-Net Trade #Luxury Edition

29 Oct

I am in partnership with Publicity SA’s Andrea Desfarges in PR-Net Trade where we connect brands with media in a high-level networking exhibition. Our most recent one with brands in the luxury industry was held at The President Hotel in Bantry Bay.

Veteran hotelier Nick Seewer, currently at The Pepper Club Hotel and Spa and former managing director of Orient-Express (now Belmond) shared his insights on what defines luxury.

Andrew Brown of Camera Ready took these images: