Author Boyd Varty Speaks at Safari Sarasota

The Giving Coast


“The tracks of the lions led along the bank and then they turned and cut down into the river. In that moment I could feel myself more in the feeling than in the rational expression of it. I was totally in tune with those animals. Now, along the upper bank the terrain is fairly open, as you cut down into the river it gets thick and reeded. There are tunnels where hippos have made their way to the central channel of the river. Down there it’s dark and it’s scary and you can’t hear anything and you might find a sleeping buffalo, and there are lions in there. And we all paused, and we looked at each other.”

The audience in the Ringling College auditorium is utterly silent with rapt attention. The storyteller, Boyd Varty, author of “The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life”, has spent almost half an hour taking his audience on a detail-rich journey into the South African bush veldt on his family’s land, the Londolozi Game Reserve. We’ve learned how to tell from a lion’s paw prints if it is fat and happy, or being cautious and careful. And we are hearing now how Varty’s life-long love of the African wilds has informed the way he sees all of life’s challenges. At this point in the story, he and his fellow trackers are hot on the trail of a pride of four lions, a male and three females. To continue the track, they will have to follow the trail into the lions’ territory.

“I’ve come to believe that anyone who decides to make big change in their life-you're going to arrive at this moment," says Varty. "You're going to ask yourself, how committed am I really? How much do I really want to do this? Because it’s going to scare you.”

Varty is in Sarasota to share his passion for the animals of his native South Africa, and to raise money for the The All Heart Fund and The Good Work Foundation of South Africa, a charity that brings modern educational opportunities to rural, South African students with limited access to schooling otherwise. Five schools are already up and running, and there are more to come. 

It’s a local, tragic story that brought this great cause to life. In 2011, a young Sarasota girl named Leanna Knopik traveled with her family to the Londolozi Game Reserve owned by the Varty family. Leanna fell in love with the place and the people, telling her parents she wanted to return someday as a volunteer. Unfortunately, less than a year later, while traveling between her home in Florida and a church mission camp in West Virginia, she contracted a rare viral infection that attacked her heart. Leanna would eventually succumb to the terrible illness, but her parents, Beth and Steve Knopik have made sure that her dream of bringing help to rural communities in South Africa is still being realized to this day.

Michael Klauber, of Michael’s On East, has been instrumental in supporting the cause, organizing a three day fundraising effort called Safari Sarasota that included speaking engagements with Varty and an interactive dinner at Michael’s On East yesterday and a “bush dinner” under the stars at Selby Gardens and more this coming weekend.

If you want to learn more, get involved, catch the end of Varty’s Sarasota tour, or consider taking a safari yourself, a good place to start is

Pictured: Boyd Varty speaking at the Ringling College of Art and Design

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