Who doesn’t get excited about an African safari?
This is the true land of the living. Life here is layered and it must be, to support as much biodiversity as it can. Starting with the underground networks created by millions of white ants under your feet to the rivers and waterholes where rounded hippopotami and snappy crocodiles cool off, to the bottom of shady baobab trees where lions lounge, life here does not stop. In fact, it stretches all the way to the top of the trees; where long neck giraffes pick at leaves and weaver birds dangle in their pendulum nests.
More than 30 million tourists visit Africa every year because there is no better place on earth where you can experience this intimate and rich celebration of wildlife on this scale.
My own Kenyan safari experience left me enamoured with the astonishing animals and minimal, stunning landscapes. I definitely had a heart opening experience in Africa and could not wait to blog about my adventure in the most poetic David Attenboroughish type of way. Yet, my research led me down a different route, revealing a more sobering side to African safaris that was not as cute or fluffy as I had originally been led to believe. My own initial comparisons of the African parks was to that of the Garden of Eden-untamed, unbridled. Imagine how thrown I was to discover some experts declare that: “the great African parks of today are, ecologically, as artificial as an English garden.”
Talk about bursting my bubble. What was even more disturbing to learn is that despite more parks opening up yearly, African animals are still making the endangered list. Additionally, over the last forty years, national parks in Africa have declined significantly. Clearly, wildlife conservation is failing and the pressure comes from encroaching human development, climate change, widespread illegal poaching and hunting.
Tipping the scale even further underfunded parks have had to rely on almost gimmicky marketing of the “Big Five” to draw in visitors, enrolling “must-see” animals into their parks even if it means forcibly relocating the animals from their ‘natural environments.’ But by far the most controversial clash is between the hunters and the conservationists, or as some would put it-the protectors and exploiters. Did you know, a single elephant hunt can cost a trophy hunter as much as 80,000 USD? This is money the parks and government desperately need to fund their conservation projects. The irony of it all is without the millions of dollars brought in yearly by trophy hunting the parks and their inhabitants will probably all disappear.
The other casualty that is seldom discussed in the safari matrix are the people of Africa. Land, which was once shared among native people, pastoral animals and wildlife has been sealed off from everything expect wildlife. This model of closed off areas was invented by the Americans and exported to African by old American hunters around the early 1900s. Local communities that live next to these parks and reserves, not only lose access to land and resources but often their crops are raided, livestock killed, and in some instances, human lives are lost due to the conflict with wildlife. Today, African countries have some of the world’s largest swathes of land under protection, as a result, they also have some of the most pressured issues around land allocation, preservation and development.
The stakes in Africa are high for wildlife, the local communities and the environment and the only thing that the past has shown us is that there are no neat win-win situations. Though current conservation models are failing, and local communities are in dire need a life-line. Admittedly, when I visited these parks like the majority of tourist I was unaware of the real issues. We pay our money, take our pictures and leave happily. That’s why instead of sharing with you the hottest safari fashion trends, I prefer this list.
Here are 8 things a responsible travellers can do when you go on safari:
Chances are your safari may be in a poor country or a depressed community.
You don’t have to be a big spender, but you can do your bit by tipping your guides, drivers, cooks and hotel staff – find out what is the appropriate amount, as well as currency and have some spare cash ready.
Most of the time these vacations are prepaid, including transfers and meals etc. A big benefit to the communities you’re visiting is to shop in the local markets and eat at the local restaurants. Take craft tours and buy direct from the artists. When you purchase handmade items from local artists, you directly support them, their families and the culture.
Be alert with your purchases.
Although you want to support locals and purchase their products, it’s important to note which items are unethical or illegal to buy. Purchasing items like ivory, rhino horns, coral, tortoise shell, reptile skins, and plants harms the community and encourages further illegal activity.
Spend Time With Local People.
There is a whole new world to explore outside the perimeters of the safari parks. I have found Africans to be warm, friendly and welcoming, taking a little time to get to know them.
Pack for a good cause.
This is my favourite and easiest. Pack a few extra items:
Clothes, shoes- new or gently used. For both adults and kids.
School supplies- stationeries, note books, pens, pencils, colour pencils, etc.
Candy and treats- these are always popular with the kids of all ages.
Groceries- these you may not want to pack, but instead purchase on the ground.
These are thoughtful and always well appreciated gifts to families and schools.
Help a School, Orphanage or Medical Center.
Every little bit counts. If you wish to donate your money or time, go through a local charity or organization that is already established in the area. For instance, my tour guide in Kenya did wonderful work in his community and had already completed building his first school with the help of donations and was making a positive impact in his community.
Finally, help promote a balanced view of Africa.
Poverty doesn’t mean unhappiness. Life here maybe simple even basic at times, but it also doesn’t mean misery. Africa is not just desert and savannahs, it’s a wonderful variety of landscapes, rich and diverse like it’s culture and people.
The traditional African park model needs replacing and whatever the new model maybe, it cannot be built, “on separation and exploitation, but on coexistence and mutual benefits between wildlife and humans.” Now that you know, you can never unknow and even as lowly travellers we all have our role the play.