Meet the wild bunch: safari tips from the guides on the ground

While safaris are once-in-a-lifetime experiences for most people, it’s a way of life for the guides conducting them. They share their stories of the wild, along with top tips for your trips. Monday, 1 July 2019

Africa is a dynamic, vibrant continent that offers an unrivalled wealth of wildlife experiences for travellers. Safaris are the best ways of getting up close and personal with the animals, and the guides serve as ambassadors to adventure. Here, they answer questions about their ultimate experiences, what makes them tick and their top tips for an exceptional safari.

Robert Tarimo from Sababu Safaris, Tanzania

What are your top safari tips?

Communicate with your guide, ask questions and convey your fears or concerns. Also, spend as much time out in the bush as possible. Being on safari is like fishing: the more time you spend on the lake, the higher the chance of catching a fish. Be present and soak it all in; avoid phone calls, work email and devices that steal your time on safari. Remember: you don’t get to go on safari every weekend!

What are the biggest misconceptions about safari?

I think one of the biggest misconceptions people have about African countries is that there’s a lack of safety and comfort. Yes, animals can be dangerous (they’re wild after all), but you’re perfectly safe as long as you follow safety instructions. Snakes, for example, try to avoid humans at all costs. In addition, Africans are very friendly, helpful and hospitable. A lot of people live in poverty — that’s why giving back is part of Sababu Safaris’ business model. Making a difference in someone else’s life doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your own comfort.

What made you get into this job, and what keeps you going?

I always consider it a fortunate geographical accident that I was born and brought up in this beautiful country full of wildlife and cultural diversity. What keeps me going is the beauty of the areas we work in and the people I get to meet from all over the world.

What are your thoughts on the future of conservation?

This is a very complex topic. However, I think conservation efforts can be improved by involving the local communities and getting support from the companies doing business in these areas. We need to understand that these areas can be protected through educating and raising the awareness of the inhabitants, as well as offering them job opportunities. It’s more about human management than it is about wildlife management.

sababu-safaris.com

Bonnetswe ‘Bee’ Sarefo from Ker & Downey, Botswana

What are your most memorable safari experiences?

On a walk with three guests, we encountered a fully-grown male lion. The lion charged us, stopping just metres away in a cloud of dust. As the lion stared at us, some vultures distracted it and he turned to chase them away. This gave us a chance to make our escape and get to safety.

Another time, about 15 years ago, we were driving through a massive herd of buffalo. While we were stationary, waiting for the herd to pass, a single buffalo came storming at us and actually bumped into the vehicle. I think it was a little disorientated by the incident because moments later five lions leapt out from the bushes and took it down. We realised the buffalo must have been running from the lions. So, in that short time, we witnessed a hunt and a kill right beside the vehicle.

What are your top safari tips?

Manage your expectations. Guests often expect to witness the Big Five within a few minutes of setting off on safari, then a spectacular chase and kill, just like on television. This is Africa — the animals in the area move around so sightings will vary based on water levels, the time of year and migratory patterns.

What’s your favourite part of your working day?

The mornings are my favourite. The weather is cooler and conditions are more favourable for tracking as there’s been no vehicle movement. All nocturnal tracks are still fresh.

What made you get into this job, and what keeps you going?

A friend of mine was a guide and he spoke so highly of the profession that I decided to give it a try. I fell in love with the experience and have continued to find excitement and exhilaration in each day’s activities. For 33 years, I’ve remained both a guide as well as a staunch member of the Ker & Downey family.

What are your thoughts on the future of conservation?

Tourism is still growing in Botswana and remains one of the largest boosters to the economy. The future of conservation lies in something that Botswana has tried to do from the very beginning. It all comes from sustainability from the very inception — we need to sustain the flora, fauna and the environment. The use of fewer vehicles — and therefore guests — impacts positively on an area and means less of a carbon footprint. The use of canvas and wood for buildings and dedicated walkways also means when a camp is taken down, very little harm has been caused to the environment.

kerdowneybotswana.com

Tim Van Vuuren from Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa

What are your top safari  tips?

Take every opportunity you can to immerse yourself in Africa. Go on walks in the bush, go on drives and do some research. Read up about the area, the animals found there, as well as the people and their culture. It will all greatly enrich your experience. And definitely go to Mala Mala Game Reserve.

What are the biggest misconceptions about safari?

People tend to think of Africa and safaris as dangerous. Travelling with a well-trained and highly professional guide is actually one of the safest and most valuable life experiences you can have here. Africa and its people are extremely friendly, warm and welcoming. 

What are your most memorable safari experiences?

Over the course of more than a year, I watched a leopard raise her two cubs in the wild. After 14 months, the mother was killed by lions and the cubs were orphaned. We don’t know what happened to the male cub, but his sister went on to become independent and take over her own territory. We still see her around.

What made you get into this job, and what keeps you going?

I’ve been going into the bush since I was a boy. My grandfather was a huge lover of nature and took me under his wing. I also do a lot of filming and documenting of wildlife, which has developed into a major passion.

What are your thoughts on the future of conservation?

There have been some major shifts within the field of conservation in recent years, but there’s still a long way to go in finding solutions to problems such as poaching and habitat destruction. What’s encouraging is that more and more people are dedicated to making a positive change through passion, care and love for the environment. It’s a daunting task with many obstacles, but through education, perseverance and patience, it can be achieved.  

malamala.com

Published in National Geographic Traveller (UK) — Africa Collection 2019

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