The video hoax of a German tourist annoying a game ranger highlighted how crucial it is to find the right job….and how important it can be to know your bush etiquette when you’re out on safari.
As a South African safari guide, based in Tanzania, I have to admit there are a few slightly annoying things that happen over and over again. But it’s the same in any job, right? So we guides should ‘cowboy up’ and live with it.
But if you’d like to know what you should and shouldn’t do on safari, the list below may go a little way towards helping guides and guests get the most out of their safaris! (If you’re a guide feel free to add your own particular bugbears because some of mine are really minor and might not bug other guides at all…but boy can they drive me crazy!)
1. Demand a Hairdryer in the Middle of the Bush!
Do you really need a hairdryer? Really? The problem we have with hairdryers is that they use huge amperage. Our camps are in the bush and FAR away from any form of state-provided electricity. We have to make our own electricity. Our fuel has to come from hundreds of kilometers away. Solar systems are expensive and do better at lower amperage. Surely you can live without a hairdryer for four days, or six, or ten?
Occasionally we have people who have their own hairdryer in their luggage and they don’t believe us when we say please don’t use a hairdryer as it will shut down the power for the whole camp. And so at 6.35 pm just after everyone has showered, their illicit hairdryers are switched on – and BOOM – off goes the power for the whole camp!
2. Wear Dazzling White Clothes and Scare the Elephants
If you are going to be walking in the bush it really is better to wear the neutral colours recommended by your safari outfitter. I don’t think this is as important while you are in a vehicle but the minute you step out of the vehicle it is.
I have seen elephants notice a white sweater from a long way off. We held a green jacket up in front of the white sweater and within a few seconds the elephant lost interest and resumed feeding. We tried it a few times with the same results.
3. Jump Out of the Vehicle to Grab a Close-Up Photograph
If you are on foot and watching a dangerous animal do not wander off, or wander closer, or step out of the group. And if you are in car and parked near to a dangerous animal – pleeeease do not jump out of the car to get a better camera angle (yes it happens)! Your guide will have told you this before you set out. Please listen to him or her. Hopefully they are in the right job, and are there because they are experienced in these matters. Your safety is of course our primary concern.
4. Whinge if You Haven’t Yet Seen Every Animal Every Other Group Has Seen
This is a big personal one. Please don’t say “they saw a lion, why didn’t we see a lion”. Don’t say it in any way, shape or form…especially when we’ve just seen cheetah and leopard which the others haven’t. We try our hardest to ‘educate’ people about what this mystical thing we like to call “The Bush” is. It doesn’t matter how skilled the guides are – if you are in the real bush then there is still some element of chance. You may not see a lion, you may not see Wild Dog or Serval. But you will have a total experience of wilderness and all the wonderful things that such an experience does for your soul. Oh, and I bet you get your share of adrenalin and thrills too.
5. Go For a Midnight Stroll
Do not, ever, under any circumstances wander out of camp, or walk around at night. If you think a lion is scary in the day time, try one at night! They are like two different species.
6. Treat Africa Like a Country
It’s probably a good idea to do just a small amount of research before you come on safari. Not a lot, otherwise you will know more than we do! But just enough to know that Africa is not a single country. In fact why not go big and learn which country you are visiting! That has happened too…overheard whilst standing in the Serengeti in Tanzania: “So Bob, here we are huh … South Africa.” Or, while watching a herd of zebra: “Are they vegetarian or do they hunt?”
7. Play Candy Crush or Listen to Music Whilst Walking in the Bush
If you are walking in the bush obviously you would not want to be listening to music or playing computer games, but how about on a game drive? In my earlier, more idealistic days I had much firmer beliefs on this one, but now I’m not so sure. I think that teenagers and children have a shorter attention span than adults.
We will often go out with a picnic breakfast and sometimes also a picnic lunch…which can make for a long day. So recently, when the teenagers have began to pout and parents have begun to fume, I’ve suggested that the youngsters head off to the back of the vehicle, put on those headphones and take some time out. And it’s worked! Within half an hour they’ve bounced back, stopped annoying the others and are taking an interest in what’s around them. I suppose this is a little different at places where game drives are shorter. More research needed!
8. Call it a ‘Tour’. Like Disneyland.
Please (sorry to whine) don’t call this a tour. Some of us try so very hard to provide an authentic safari experience. ‘Safari’ comes from a long and timeless tradition of adventure. It is a journey of discovery unlike any other. It has comfort, discomfort, exploration, authenticity, and a lot more.
It is something hard to define – it is in the smell of the campfire in the morning and in the clear stars at night and in the idea of wildlife existing as it has for thousands of years. And in the huge unspoiled space around you. It is a safari!
9. Go For a Jog Past the Elephants with the Swimming Pool Attendant
Yes elephants do kill people even though they are vegetarian. And yes it’s the same with buffalo even though they look like cows. So please don’t convince the watchman, the askari, the swimming pool attendant, or the waiter to go for a jog or a walk with you. I have heard of two deaths in the last three years in East Africa from people doing just this. The guides know how to walk in the bush. The swimming pool attendant…not so much.
In a similar vein do not say, the waiter told me there are lots of lions down by the second water hole after the small hill by the rocky outcrop, just near to the old baobab. He is a waiter.
10. Ask if you can Hug a Lion Cub
We know they look adorable, but these animals on safari aren’t for show. They’re really wild, and if you hug that little cub, its mom is going to kill you. And if you want to hug a cub at a petting zoo when you’ve left the safari, please don’t. Petting a lion cub is its death sentence…and that cub will land up in the canned hunting industry once it’s too big to be cuddly and cute.
Having said all of this and poked a little fun at our safari guests, let’s also be sure we remember how grateful we are that they all continue to visit us in our various countries in Africa from all around the world.
And really, our complaints as guides are WAY less than the wonderful positive stuff we get from our visitors – the lifelong friendships and the wonderful stuff we learn from you.
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