Going on a safari holiday is perfectly safe but there are important guidelines to follow to get the most out of your trip…
..and some examples of what happened to people who didn’t do as they were told….
Don’t get out of your vehicle. To a lion or leopard, a safari vehicle is just a large, harmless creature. It doesn’t look tasty and smells terrible. In fact there’s nothing about it that makes a carnivore think of food. Get out of the vehicle and you suddenly become a creature with a head, body and limbs, in fact just the same as all other prey. Shame nobody told this to the Japanese man who, impressed how docile some lions were as his vehicle stopped only a few yards away, decided to get out for some close-up…
Don’t run (not straight away anyway). If you are caught in the open by a dangerous animal, don’t run. Even a Rhino can reach speeds of 30 mph and can turn quicker than you. Think about it, antelope run (a lot quicker than you can) and still get caught. With a rhino it is best to scarper but try to distract this fairly blind creature. A stone thrown to one side to divert or an item of clothing discarded to distract is a good start. Then climb a tree. Although not like a Honeymooner in South Africa who used his (now ex) wife as a ladder to escape a charging rhino. If it’s a lion, don’t turn your back but try to maintain eye-contact, making yourself look as big as possible. Piece of cake.
Don’t wander around outside at night in your camp/lodge. Some lodges and camps are fenced, keeping the animals out and you in. (With the exception of monkeys and baboons). Most however are open, allowing the animals to wander freely around the grounds grazing. Many lodges and camps are built by rivers, the home to hippos that kill more humans every year than any other animal. Why? At night they come out of the water to graze and should you bump into one on the way back to your room you are unlikely to win. Most lodges have guides to escort you back to your room. Even rangers get caught out by this – 2 were killed and eaten at Nakuru National Park in Kenya for going out alone at night for calls of nature.
Don’t bring babies with you. Babies and very young children are not a good idea. On a more mundane level, they will shout out and scare away the game. More seriously, if they cry it can attract the big predators that are perplexed by the noise and attracted by the possibility of young, tender meat. Your guide will get you away before it becomes dangerous, but it can be a bit alarming to have a pride of lions head your way in attack formation.
Don’t be fooled by the “cute little animals”. The smaller creatures may look cuddly, but they live in a tough environment where it’s a cute creature eat cute creature world. Don’t try to stroke them or offer them food – your hand will look just as tasty as the ham sandwich you are offering. I still have the scar from a Rock Hyrax on Mt.Kenya who took a fancy to my thumb.
Don’t wear bright colours. Some animals have excellent eye-sight and the sight of you bumping towards them in your favourite 70’s psychedelic retro tee shirt is not something they will hang about to see. Dress in plain earthy colours to blend with the terrain. That way you will not scare the animals away and you will look more intrepid in the photos.
Don’t bring food with you in the vehicle. Most game animals have a sense of smell 100’s if not 1,000’s of times better than ours. It’s highly unlikely that a lion is going to come after your cheese sandwich, but baboons and monkeys will be in and out of the vehicle before you know it and if your camera and wallet happen to be in the same bag, tough.
Don’t leave your boots/shoes outside your tent/room at night. To a snake they look like a burrow, are pleasantly warm and probably smell like rotting flesh after a few days of game-viewing…
Don’t sit in the back row of seats of the safari vehicle. It’s very bumpy and you will bang your head on the ceiling.
Don’t shout or talk loudly. When you finally spot that elusive leopard don’t yell “Over there” at the top of your voice. It will have gone before you can point it out to the rest of the party and they will think you made it up. Keep your voice down.
When going on safari people often hear of the “Big 5” and wonder what is means. It refers to the 5 animals that big game hunters used to want to shoot to complete their collection of trophies. The animals were:
Today the same phrase is used for those travelling on safari, the five animals that everybody wants to see, albeit these days to shoot only with a camera.
The one everybody gets wrong is the Cape Buffalo. They expect the hippo or cheetah as they are seen as more exotic. But the buffalo provided the biggest challenge to the old hunters; bad tempered, strong and quick, only a perfectly placed shot would bring it down before it charged right through you.
We’re often asked about our scariest moment on safari. Scary is not really the right word. Exhilarating, breath-taking and humbling suit better. But sometimes….
I was on a drive in a private Rhino reserve in Swaziland, with the Head Ranger as we looked out for the animals. Coming round a corner in a fairly well run-in Land Rover we came face to face with a large and rather angry-looking Black Rhino. After a minute or so of sitting watching each other, with a fair amount of head tossing and foot-stamping going on (the rhino, not me) it decided to charge.
The first impact on the Land Rover was impressive. We were out of gear and without brakes and jolted backwards a fair jump. The Rhino decided that the bumper was rather hard and came around the side of the vehicle to look for a softer spot. I was delighted when it chose my side. A short run and ram, its horn came through the side panel of the door and appeared a few centimetres from my leg. The vehicle was lifted off its left-hand tyres and we waved around a bit. It withdrew its horn and retreated a short distance, possibly preparing for a new charge, but we were in reverse and off round the corner. Fortunately it didn’t follow.
A colleague was at the reserve later and informed me that the door, complete with hole, is now mounted over the lodge fireplace. Fortunately, my leg is not pinned to it. It made me realise the strength of the rhino and its speed.
You’re with a group of clients and have been game-driving all morning. You stop under some trees for a packed lunch and are all sitting in the shade, looking out over the shimmering plains to the escarpment in the distance, discussing the morning’s highlights.
Just as you look down to open you lunch box, a large drop of blood splats down onto its lid from above. What do you do next:
1. Tell your group to get back to the vehicles as quick as they can and shoo them along from behind.
2. Leg it, calling over your shoulder for them to follow.
3. Stay where you are. You like your beef sandwiches rare and you cannot go wrong with a bit of extra sauce.
I was talking recently with one of the owners of a lodge we use in South Africa. For the purposed of this story the lodge will remain nameless. It is a romantic property – small, intimate, luxurious, in short the perfect venue for a honeymoon and one which we send clients to frequently. They love it, with a heated verandah bath overlooking the plains and private meals served under the stars. A fantastic place to start married life and forget the stresses of the wedding day. Not so for one couple who were staying there.
On the last day of their visit they decided to go on a walking safari, an exciting way of looking for animals and plants away from the noise of the vehicle. Accompanied by an armed guide/guard they ventured off into the park and all was going well until they stumbled upon a rhino in a patch of thin shrub woodland.
The guide told them to freeze – rhinos do not see well but can detect movement. But the rhino had caught the smell of them and did a short dummy charge. At this the couple did what they had been told at the briefing before the walk, they ran towards the nearest tree that would take their weight and began to climb. The woman got their first and was just getting off the ground when her new husband arrived and used her as a ladder to get to the upper branches.
The rhino departed and the guide was left with another dangerous animal – a very angry bride. She left the lodge that afternoon alone.