Robin Hanbury-Tenison is the president and joint-founder of Survival International, the NGO that supports tribal peoples. Named by the Sunday Times in 1984 as ‘the greatest explorer of the past 20 years', he has embarked on countless expeditions.
Perhaps the most significant of these was Royal Geographical Society's largest, in which Hanbury-Tenison led a team of 115 scientists into the rainforests of Sarawak, Borneo.
Hanbury-Tenison has a number of firsts to his name. In 1957, he became the first person to travel overland from London to Ceylon – or Sri Lanka as it's now known. The following year he completed the first land crossing of South America at its widest point and in 1964-65 achieved the first river crossing of the same continent, from north to south. Then there are the slightly wackier claims – the first to navigate the Orinoco by hovercraft and the first to cover the length of the Great Wall of China on horseback.
Exploration remains close to his heart. He doesn't take the oft-held view that you can't be an explorer now that the globe has been mapped, saying, "Anyone can and should call themselves an explorer if what they are doing is seeking to understand and change the world in some arduous physical way".
His favourite method is to travel by horse, taking traditional transport, just as his hero Wilfred Thesiger would have done, to deepen the experience. He explains, "On foot with a pack you see nothing but your feet. In a car, you are insulated from the real world. But on a horse, you have an intelligent animal doing all of the work and most of the thinking, leaving you free to look and listen, to communicate with those you meet."
More recently he held the post of Chief Executive with the British Field Sports Society, which became the Countryside Alliance, quipping that the position might make him the ‘most unpopular person in Britain'. However, he was successful in garnering support at the 1997 Hyde Park Rally and again at the 1998 Countryside March, in which 300,000 people protested peacefully – the largest protest of its kind ever at the time.
Unsurprisingly, Hanbury-Tenison has picked up numerous awards for his work and achievements, too long to list here, but among them a Gold Medal from the Royal Geographical Society and an OBE.
Robin Hanbury-Tenison is the author of:
- The Oxford Book of Exploration
- Worlds Within-Reflection in the Sand
- Worlds Apart - An Explorer's Life
- Mulu: The Rainforest
- A Pattern of Peoples
- A Question of Survival
- The Rough and The Smooth
- Spanish Pilgrimage - a Canter to St James
- Fragile Eden - A Ride Through New Zealand
- Chinese Adventure - A Ride Along the Great Wall
- White Horses Over France
- The Seventy Great Journeys in History
- Land of Eagles - Riding Through Europe's Forgotten Country
- The Great Explorers