Safari etiquette, a question which visitors generally want to ask but sometimes feel uncomfortable to do. This blog post will cover some of the basic information on safari etiquette you need to know when joining us on a Safari from Durban, South Africa.
We have the opportunity to enter a habitat where wild animals are protected in such a way that it does not impede on their natural and daily routine. Even though they are confined, they are confined to a very large protected area which, even during drought times, allows for a daily routine/life that is as natural as possible as to what they would have enjoyed when human encroachment and hunting did not cause a need for such areas of conservation.
Due to human’s constant need for development and greed for land, as well as years of hunting naturally occurring animals, we have no choice but to create protected areas for eco-tourism. With the creation of these protected areas, it has been necessary to create written (and some unwritten) rules and regulations. This – essentially safari etiquette in writing is to ensure that the animals, the laws of South Africa and the enjoyment of others visiting these areas of conservation and eco-tourism are protected and respected.
It Belongs to THEM – Safari Etiquette is important!
Firstly, and probably of most importance when visiting a game reserve is to remember that we are entering into the animals’ territory and should respect them as well as their space. Rule number one of safari etiquette!
Calling of animals, driving too close to the animals, getting out of your vehicle to get a closer look (or any other reason unless in a designated area), in any way causing a nuisance to the animals or to others is a sure way to land yourself in trouble…
Let’s look at a few basics of safari etiquette.
Calling of animals:
It is important to remember that wild animals are not like your cat or dog at home. They are WILD, they do not understand our calling them, clicking our fingers, banging on the side of the vehicle or any other form of calling. In no way are you to do this at any time. It is known that some guides at times use unethical means in which to attract animals in order to get their guests excellent views/sightings of the Big 5 whilst on safari.
Copying the animals own call : Not Cool
An example of this is playing an animal’s own call to confuse the animal into thinking there is another of the same species in the area. This, this is bad safari etiquette and totally unethical! If your guide does this, please report him or her to management as soon as possible after your game drive. We need to curb this sort of behaviour.
Driving too close to animals:
This should be at your guides trained discretion and aligned with his or her experience and knowledge. However, if you at any point feel uncomfortable, let your guide know and request them to keep their distance. Safety is the most important thing, always! Although animals in protected areas have grown used to vehicles in a way, getting close to them is not a given and there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration that will allow for this close encounter with the big 5 or any other animal species for that matter. This is where your guide’s knowledge and training play an important role.
How close can you get?
He or she will read the animal’s behaviour and make an informed decision based on your safety and that of the animal’s before getting too close, possibly causing a dangerous situation, or chasing the animal away. Females in season, with babies, male elephants in musth or animals injured are some things that need to be taken into consideration that could affect how close you can safely get to them. This is where it is crucial when visiting a game reserve to have a guide with a deep understanding of animal behaviour. Their knowledge and training will be better than yours and will mean a safe, enjoyable experience whist on Safari in South Africa.
Getting out of vehicles:
Another interesting topic on safari etiquette. Even areas that have been designated for getting out of your vehicle and taking in unique sights, a picnic or to just stretch your legs can be dangerous. This is where you should be extra vigilant and alert to your surroundings. Should something pop out of the bush, never run! Make your way slowly back to your vehicle and get inside. The reason for not running? Predators associate their food item as running away from them… So, if you run, you trigger a predator’s natural instinct to chase, and, you will come off second best. Many times, I see people getting out of their vehicles at random spots not designated for this. This is against the rules and regulations of the game reserve.
Common sense… ILLEGAL AND DANGEROUS!
If you see this behaviour, do not follow suit and copy their behaviour. Do not be fooled into thinking “well, if they are out of the vehicle it must be safe” …it is not! Although the chances of something happening are slim, why take the risk? Why put your family at risk? This is why there are rules and regulations. If that doesn’t resonate with you, think of it as entering someone’s home uninvited while they are away. When that person returns, you may not get the reaction you were hoping for. Common sense…but, common sense is not so common anymore.
Leaning out of your vehicles window, sitting on your window sill, sticking your head out of your sunroof, generally making a nuisance of yourself:
Wild animals in protected areas where there are human visitors in vehicles or on foot (bush walks with armed guides – Wilderness Trails in the Game Reserve) have got used to safe distances or comfort zones. Each animal species is different and these comfort zones and safe distances should be respected for your safety as well as theirs. The shape of a vehicle has become a very natural sight to an animal in our game reserves but when you break up the shape or the outline of a vehicle, something the animals are used to, they may see you as being separate from the vehicle and even mistake you for being on foot.
Vehicals can get closer than us!
Animals tend to allow vehicles closer than they do humans on foot and the comfort zone for each (vehicle or on foot) differ hugely! Another thing to consider is the enjoyment of your fellow guests. When you are leaning out of the window or getting out of the vehicle for a better photograph, the animal may run away and the people behind you, well, they will not be happy. If you were the other guest, would you be happy?
Playing of music while driving in a nature reserve:
Another situation where some feel entitled to do as they please… Wild animals do not have radio, CD’s, MP3’s and all those music devices in the trees for their listening enjoyment. If you play music, you will chase the animals away. What many do not seem to realise is that an animal’s hearing can be up to 6 times better than ours (a lion’s roar can travel up to 8 kilometres/5 miles letting others know of its presence and, can hear prey up to a 1.6 kilometres/1 mile away). So, if you are playing music, even softly, for an animal it will be loud and foreign.
Feeding of animals:
A great example of where monkeys have become a problem:-
Where they are vising South Africans in their homes to steal food. If one person decides to feed a monkey as they think it is cute or “what is the harm in feeding it”, what do you suppose happens? The monkey sees humans as a source of food without having to work for that food. Monkey then tells his friend, who tells the other monkey’s friend and it becomes a learned behaviour and a problem.
If an 8-year old is given a sweet by one granny but not the other granny. Who do you think the child will want to visit? The one that gives the sweets of course. If after a year the granny stops giving sweets to the child, the child is going to be upset with granny… This associated learning becomes a huge problem as privates become aggressive when you don’t give them food. What then? Well, you could get bitten.
Something that is happening all the time. Why can people not keep their rubbish in their car or on hand until they get to a rubbish bin? Instead we see the results of people throwing their rubbish into the African bush. Never mind the serious battle we are fighting with litter in the world as it is. Just so we are clear, when you are on safari, you are in the animal’s home.
So heres the Deal …
If you throw rubbish (including toilet paper) other than in a rubbish bin.. It is like visiting a friend’s house and leaving your rubbish on their floor before leaving! “Under littering” is the throwing of cigarette butts out of the window and yes, I have seen this even in the game reserves. This shouldn’t surprise anyone as many smokers do this when driving their cars on the roads… Why some smokers do this I will never understand. Here is the problem, if you throw a cigarette but into the African bush and the grass is dry, guess what happens?
Yes, the reserve burns, animals burn… their food source burns. The lodge could burn down meaning there will be no visit to the bush again. Even if you stub out your cigarette butt, it will take 1000’s of years to decompose. My father would have said … “as thick as two short plans”!
The best way to thing about “Bush Etiquette”
Think of leaving only your tyre tracks/foot prints on the dirt roads, nothing else!
I hope this blog post helps and has been informative. I trust it touches on a few things you may have thought about even in your general life.