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Ben Rowley

Polar Specialist

I fell in love with the Arctic more than a decade ago and have never looked back! I’ve been back many times since as well as venturing south to Antarctica – equally as incredible and very different! I’ve observed a polar bear family devouring a beluga whale carcass on a beach in northern Svalbard, fur seals fighting for space on the beaches of Deception Island in Antarctica and giant wandering albatross make skimming the ocean look effortless and graceful in equal measure.

I’m lucky enough to be a Polar Specialist here at Natural World Safaris and my job is to help our clients choose the right trip for them to fall in love with the polar regions like I did. I can guarantee you’ll have one of the most special and fulfilling trips of a lifetime. Nature at its absolute rawest.

What is your favourite destination and animal?

Svalbard has such a huge draw for me, wild and rugged landscapes combined with some of the Arctic’s highest concentration of wildlife mean it will always be my favourite destination. As for favourite animal I would have to say walrus. They are huge creatures, both fascinating and entertaining to watch. Their tusks are formidable weapons when it comes to tussling for sleeping space when hauled out on a beach in a group of 40 or more!

What is your most memorable wildlife encounter?

The mother polar bear and her two cubs ripping into the beluga whale carcass in Svalbard tops it for me. It was half past midnight on a sunny, still, misty night in Svalbard and we disembarked the ship into zodiacs to slowly approach the bears on the shoreline. We spent nearly two hours with the engines off in the company of the family of bears, close enough to hear the crunching of their eating and squabbles of the cubs over scraps of meat. Not once did they look up at us, it was a very special evening!

If you could join one NWS safari what would it by and why?

I’ll branch away from polar for this one and head to Africa – Chad to be precise. This is truly remote and unexplored Africa and is as much of an expedition as a safari. Six days in Zakouma National Park in search of lion, elephant, buffalo and exploring the remote wilderness of Chad is exactly the adventure I live for.

Why do I travel?

I love exploring new places, seeing new wildlife and meeting new people. Travel involves all three in bucket loads and brings a fantastic adventure. The world is an incredible place in every dimension!

How do I maintain my connection with the natural world aside from travelling?

I live in the Highlands of Scotland so am very fortunate to have some of the most incredible landscapes and nature on my doorstep. I have two sons aged 9 and 6, and I see it as my role to immerse them in the natural world as much as I have through my life. When I’m not talking about the polar regions, I’m often out on the mountains or in the forests hiking, never far from a trusty pair of binoculars to get a closer view of Scotland’s incredible wildlife!

Out of all the places I’ve visited which surprised me the most?

Probably the Faroe Islands. They looked incredible in every picture and video I’d seen, so I went with high expectations. However that won’t prepare you for the majesty and grandeur of the landscape and weather conditions experienced there. Around every corner of every road or footpath is a view you’ll want to spend time watching and photographing. It’s definitely a place that nature makes you feel very small and insignificant. There’s a lot more wildlife there than I expected too, in particular bird life. Depending on the time of year you visit you can encounter many thousands of nesting seabirds on the cliffs around the archipelago.

What’s the strangest place I’ve visited?

Both Pyramiden and Barentsburg in Svalbard. The former is an abandoned Russian mining town while the latter is operational. In both it feels like stepping back to 1980s Soviet Union and the brutalist Soviet architecture is contrasted by the grand glaciers and rugged peaks of Svalbard.

Which little known creatures turned out to be an unexpected trip highlight?

The sheathbill in Antarctica! These birds have such a cheeky character and for a couple of days we had three of them resident on our ship desperate to get in. They’d tap at the doors and windows and would confidently walk in if you weren’t careful! You’ll rarely hear about them in Antarctic wildlife books or talks but if you come across some you’ll find it easy to spend hours to watch their colourful characters get them into mischief.

Who would I invite on a round the world trip, living or dead, and why?

Ernest Shackleton and Frank Wild. Both men are legends of Antarctic explorations of the early 20th century and their stories, experiences and skills to navigate through the unknown would be both utterly enthralling and useful!