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There’s nothing quite like an African Safari to create memories that will last a lifetime. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of the bush, getting up close and personal with Africa’s wildlife is high on most people’s bucket list, so how can you make sure your experience is all you’ve imagined it to be?
Many of these points are common sense, but whether you’re a seasoned adventurer, or you’re about to set off on your first self-drive safari, it’s worth taking a moment to read through these reminders on safari etiquette:
Stay on the beaten path
As much as you might be tempted to stray from the beaten path on your self-drive safari, this is the one time in life, when the road more travelled really is the best option. Natural bush vegetation is extremely sensitive and off-road driving contributes to soil erosion, which allows unwanted and invasive plant species to take over, killing the indigenous vegetation the animals need to survive.
Staying on designated roads and tracks also helps to protect the habitat of the smaller creatures that might not be so easily seen when in a vehicle, such as dung beetles, lizards and chameleons or ground-nesting birds and other small wildlife!
Listen to the experts
If you decide to book a game drive with a professional guide while staying in one of the reserves, remember that he (or she!) is just that – the professional. Respect their judgment and listen to their advice. Don’t insist they get closer to animals than they deem safe – not only can it interrupt an animal’s hard-earned meal, but it could cause the animal to react unpredictably, which can put you in danger.
Don’t stick your arms or body out of the vehicle, and definitely don’t get out of your vehicle unless you’re in a designated area! The same applies if you’re on a self-drive safari. Never forget that you’re surrounded by wild animals.
Play it safe and sound
Whether you’re on a game drive, or out on a nature walk, talking will alert animals to your presence and this could cause them to move away from you. There really is nothing better than walking through the bush in absolute silence and listening to the natural sounds all around, so do your best to keep talking to the minimum and your ears open.
When on a game drive, don’t try to attract an animal’s attention by clapping your hands or banging on the side of the vehicle, rather sit quietly and appreciate their natural behaviour. Just think how frustrating it would be if you’re trying to film a video and all you can hear is human interference. On that note, make sure any electronic devices are set to mute!
Take nothing but photos
As I mentioned earlier, the ecosystem within these wildlife reserves is extremely sensitive. Don’t be tempted to remove any natural material of plant life from reserves, as this can disrupt the ecology of the area, and even spread disease. Your photos and your memories should be more than enough to take with you when you leave. On that note, please don’t use GPS coordinates when taking photos of animals, as poachers can use this information.
By the same token, leave nothing! Make sure you take all your rubbish with you, as litter left lying around can be a hazard for birds and animals alike. Even “biodegradable” peelings can upset the balance and interrupt efforts to maintain an indigenous environment. Lastly, please be considerate of the bush, and don’t smoke when on a game drive.
Don’t feed the animals
You might think you’re doing something good, but you’re not. In fact, you’re contributing to the creation of a highly dangerous situation. Animals that are fed by humans quickly become habituated and lose their natural fear. This leads to them harassing people for food and becoming aggressive, which could eventually lead to the animal being put down by park authorities.
Plus, animals that have lost their fear of human are also more likely to become easy prey for poachers.
Traffic jams of a different kind
Everybody wants to see one of the Big Five! So if you’ve spotted a lion, leopard, elephant, rhino or buffalo, or even one of Africa’s more reclusive residents, be considerate and be aware of other visitors who might want to see them too.
Don’t crowd the animal – park a reasonable distance away (turn your engine off and enjoy the silence!) and try not to block anyone else’s view. Stay a while; take a few pics and then move on.
Share the love
Don’t hog your sightings all to yourself. Be nice and tell other people you pass about your sighting and where it is. There’s nothing more frustrating than driving around all day without seeing a thing! Trust me, you’ll appreciate it when the favour is returned.
Take the time to familiarise yourself with the rules of the game reserve you’re visiting. Take note of the speed limit, and stick to it! You wouldn’t believe how many animals are run over on park roads due to people speeding. And I’m not talking about small animals or insects either!
Don’t make the mistake of rushing through the reserve at sundown in order to get back to camp before the gates close. Take note of when you have to be back and allow plenty of time. Plan your outing before you leave so you finish your journey with time to spare.
There are so many things to be aware of when it comes to safari etiquette, but if there’s one thing to remember, it’s respect. Simply have respect for your guide, fellow tourists, the animals and the environment and you’ll be well on your way to ensuring a successful self-drive safari!