Going on a safari is one of the most exciting experiences in the world. Follow the advice of your guide or driver and you will be perfectly safe. Here are 10 things NOT to do, and what happened to those who chose to ignore it.
- On a game-drive, don’t get out of your vehicle.
Lions completely ignore safari vehicles. They’re just large, unthreatening, moving things that don’t look very appetising and smell strange. If you get out you instantly look like a meal – with a head and legs and a tasty aroma of meat. Someone should have told the Japanese tourist who decided to get out of his vehicle to wake a lion as it was asleep in all his photos. It woke up.
Chased by lion
Clip from “God must be crazy.”
- If you do and an animal turns up, don’t run. (Well, not straight away).
If you’re out on a walking safari and come across a dangerous animal the general advice is not to run. Whatever it is may look big and fat, but even a hippo can run as fast as you can and a rhino can cruise for a short distance at over 30mph (48kph).
With a rhino you should retreat from it and try to distract it, perhaps by discarding a piece of clothing to one side or throwing a stone. This is because their eyesight is not good – they see movement rather than images – and rely on their senses of smell and hearing. Once this is achieved then climb a tree, not always easy if you are standing in the open savannah, but it’s amazing what you can get up if you have a rhino closing in on you.
Do try to remember who you’re with however. One man on honeymoon in South Africa used his (now ex) wife as a ladder to get up a tree and 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. Easy.
Sniffed by a lion
Man vs Rhino
- Don’t bring food with you in the vehicle. If you do, lock the door.
African animals have a sense of smell 100′s if not 1,000′s of times more sensitive than a humans. Its evolved in order to help them find food in an environment where it can be scarce for long periods of the year. A hyena for example can smell decaying meat from several miles away, allowing it to home straight in and get there before the kill has all been consumed.
It’s highly unlikely that a lion is going to chase your vehicle desperate for that ham and mustard sandwich you made up at lunch in case you got peckish later on. But baboons and monkeys will be in and out of the vehicle before you realise what’s happening and should your iPad and phone be in the same bag, you can wave them goodbye.
Baboon opens door and gets in a car
- Don’t shout. Talk calmly and quietly.
You’ve been out on a game-drive for over two hours, searching an area where there was a recent leopard sighting. Everybody is craning their necks, looking in all directions to get a glimpse of this elusive but most coveted of animals. Suddenly the bloke in the row behind you bellows “Over there” at the top of his voice. You swivel round to see, first, which way is “over there” and then look “over there”. If you’re lucky you’ll glimpse a tail disappearing into the scrub. Often you’ll see nothing as its scarpered, frightened by the shouting. You then have to listen to him eulogising about it being the most spiritual moment of his life all the way back to camp.
If you spot something, quietly tell the guide where you’ve seen it so that everyone can look instantly and the animal is less likely to be spooked. “Leopard at three O’clock,” works. “Leopard behind the big brown rock works. “LEOPARD OVER THERE” doesn’t.
- Don’t wear bright colours (or dress as a zebra…).
Most African animals have excellent eyesight, as they’re constantly on the lookout for animals that want to eat them or for animals to eat. Therefore, seeing you in the distance heading towards them in your favourite ’80’s Day-Glo tee-shirt is not a sight they particularly want to hang around for. And let’s face it, who would. That’s why everyone wears khaki and muted colours. That and the fact it makes you look more intrepid in the photos. Oh, and don’t dress up as a zebra…
Don’t wander around outside at night.
Many lodges and camps are enclosed by electric fences, designed to keep dangerous animals out and guests, after a night in the bar, in. Others are not, open to everything. This gives the added attraction of waking to see and hear animals grazing the gardens of the property, of elephants walking through camp and even lions popping in at night as they wander about looking for prey. Such camps employ guards, often local tribesmen to escort you to and from your tent at night, and its best to use them. I was staying at a camp in the Masai Mara recently and walked over freshly made hippo tracks as I returned with a Masai guide from supper. The squashed grass was still straightening itself up where it had been squashed down.
Even Park Rangers can get caught out. Two were killed and eaten at Lake Nakuru National Park (where their quarters are inside the fence) as they popped out at night to answer calls of nature.
Lions calling outside a tent
Hippos grazing outside Governors
- Don’t be fooled by “cute little animals”.
They may be small, furry and cute, but the smaller animals can still pack a punch. They live in a tough world, certainly more dangerous than that of your pet rabbit back home, and will all be hunted by something. Don’t therefore try to stroke or feed them. I still have a scar from a rock hyrax (looks a bit like a large guinea pig) who decided my thumb looked tastier than the bit of ham I was holding out for it.
In some places vervet monkeys and baboons will come right up to your vehicle, knowing there’s food inside. At the entrance gate to Lake Nakuru the monkeys will actually climb inside looking for the packed lunches they know are there.
The one to give the widest berth to is the honey badger. This giant thug, squeezed into the body no bigger than that of a normal UK badger, likes to punch above its weight. I’ve had one attack the vehicle I was in, trying to bite off the tyre, before scurrying off with a scowl. It even stopped before it disappeared into the bush to give us a final snarl.
- Don’t leave your boots outside your room at night.
To a snake they’ll look like an interesting hole to explore. After a few days of being worn on safari they’ll probably be pleasantly warm and slightly moist on the inside and giving off an appealing aroma of rotting flesh. If they are particularly wet and your camp is near a river then a toad might hop in for a sleep. Even a simply grasshopper inside is not particularly pleasant. It’s not dangerous but does made a rather sickening crunch when you slide your foot in next day.
- Don’t sit in the back seats of the safari vehicle.
Most safari vehicles have bodies designed specifically for game-viewing. It involves a bank of three rows of seats rising up behind the driver so everybody gets a great view forward and to the side. The only issue is that the back row is well behind the back axle, exaggerating all the bumps and sways of the vehicle. It’s a great view but a hell of a ride. Obviously if you are aged 14 or under disregard this point and when next on safari make a beeline for these seats. Its African Alton Towers.
- Don’t bring babies on safari.
Babies are not a good idea on a game-drive. For a start they’ll get nothing out of it, apart from being uncomfortable and unhappy. Dust will blow in their faces and they’ll get hot and fed up very quickly. They will also shout out at the wrong moment and scare away the game.
The most important consideration however is the reaction of the big cats. It’s been noted that a crying baby will immediately attract the attention of lions. If they are sleeping they will wake and look towards the vehicle. They will turn their heads slightly, as animals do when puzzled by something. No one is really sure whether they are attracted by the opportunity for an easy meal (young animals are slow and weak, and also very tender) or whether it’s a maternal instinct caused by the crying.
Happy Hippo: to keep babies happy when left behind..