Wildlife Safari Practices and Etiquette

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Thomson's Gazelle - one of the most beautiful animals you'll see, but rarely paid much attention on safaris!
Thomson's Gazelle.
Ngorongoro Crater.
1st Jul. 2002

The secret of safariing is to treat each one as a new experience, because they’re all unique. Don’t go with any expectations, otherwise you’re bound to come back disappointed. If you know what you want to see then instruct your driver beforehand otherwise he’ll assume your primary objective is to see the ‘Big Five’ – lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino. We’ve yet to come across a driver who’s interested in gazelle, but Thomies are one of the most beautiful animals in the world!

If you want to get the most from your safari you’ll have to assist in ‘spotting’. The driver has to concentrate on where he’s going in quite rough terrain and this seriously limits what he is able spot. He has the benefit of the ‘bush telegraph’ and experience, but he’ll still miss 50% of what is there. If possible, I tend to stand in the vehicle (or sit on the roof - where it's allowed) whenever we’re out and shout at the driver (literally - as he can’t hear above the engine) when I want him to stop. This can be wearing and you’ll have to protect yourself against the jolts, the sun (hats and sun-block) etc and keep your water levels up. Don’t forget to look behind you, the game is equally likely to appear after you’ve passed it – but keep a regular eye to the front otherwise an acacia thorn will have your eye out! Game can be difficult to spot so don't be disappointed that your elephant turns out to be a termite mound or the lion that turns out to be a paper bag - as happened to one of our friends! The secret is to determine which ones move, so you may have to keep a watch on a suspect for some time before making your claim – or suffer the ribbing of your fellow travellers. That said, it is better to make 20 false calls a day if it leads to a good shot of a cheetah!
Termite mound
        Termite mound!
Elephant's back
Elephant. The Salient,
Aberdares. 9th June, 2003

Whatever you do try not to join a group part way through their safari. They will already have established a relationship with the driver and persuade him to track the game missing from their list. You may then spend a day chasing a rhino (and failing) at the expense of the rest of the game! It would be worth paying extra for a private vehicle to avoid this, if this is possible.
Vehicles are prohibited from travelling off the road
Ngorongoro Crater.
1st June, 2001.
Don't :
  • Encourage drivers to go off-road, pass through restricted areas or break speed limits. Most parks are now sensitive to the damage vehicles do and block-off roads to allow the environment to recover and give the game some respite from tourists. Drivers are fined more than their fee and the operators do not recompense them. Note simple stones or twigs spread across the road maybe the only indication the road is closed.
  • Talk loudly or shout. Animals are easily startled and can quickly disappear into the bush just as others are about to take their award-winning photograph!
  • Gatecrash others' activities. Wait to be invited. If you are not equally prepared and understand the form you could severely restrict them e.g. walking safaris.
  • Litter the park. It's bad enough at home but animals may be hurt by sharp objects or by eating what they may see as food.
Do :
  • Consider other tourists. If you've got your pictures suggest to your driver he may wish to move and give others access to the best positions. Many local staff are not used to taking the initiative - they are unlikely to offer alternatives to what they have specifically been taught. On one occasion our driver patiently waited for us to finish our lunch before asking if he could take a small girl suffering from malaria to hospital 20 miles away!
  • When sharing vehicles be aware of photographers. Even slight suspension adjustment as you move can have dramatic consequences when using tele-photo lenses.
  • Stay in your vehicles. Tourists on foot should be accompanied by armed guards for their own protection. They have to be arranged in advance. Whereas game do not consider vehicles a threat, people on foot are as the local tribes still hunt and kill if their livestock is attacked.
You will always need an armed guard when walking or travelling outside a vehicle.
Empaki Crater.
4th July, 2002.