With such a successful career in racing, what brought you to founding the Onçafari project?
I’ve always had two passions in life, racing and wildlife. My dad took me to Africa for the first time when I was 12 years old, to Tanzania in the Serengeti. Living in the back of a truck, we spent three weeks driving around the Serengeti, camping every night and only having showers when we found waterfalls. It was a great experience, so I fell in love with wildlife then, at the same time I started my racing career, which I did for almost 20 years and never really had the time to get really involved in wildlife because of that. I have tried to go back to Africa every year since, but it was only quick trips on safari.
When I decided to retire from racing, I wanted to work with wildlife. I had no idea how I could do that, I’m not a biologist, scientist or anything for that matter, so I decided to travel around the world to see all the big mammals in the wild, from giant pandas in China, polar bears in Canada, gorillas in Uganda, tigers in India, I’ve found a way to see them.
What I discovered was that ecotourism was responsible for saving many of them because with ecotourism the animals can have an economic value, you empower the local community, I thought it was a great way of helping Brazilian wildlife. Brazil is the most biodiverse country in the world but we’re quite behind Africa with regards to ecotourism. For example, nobody goes to Africa to see a zebra, I mean you might see them but it’s not the reason you go there. So, the idea was that people needed to see jaguars in Brazil for ecotourism to work and that’s how Onçafari started by making it possible to see them in the wild.