Travel and Photo Tips: Things NOT to do on Safari

I think it is important to remind folks of things to avoid when on safari.  Some of the items I will list have to do with personal safety, some with respect for wildlife and some are to help us preserve the natural environment of the park:

Personal Safety

  • Do not get out of the vehicle:  While in the vehicle, I am told animals see you as an inanimate object in their environment and an object to which they are familiar.  Generally, they will let you approach quite close while in the vehicle.  You will see folks getting out of the vehicle to have a morning coffee.  Hopefully this is in one of the designated areas and/or with a guide that has permission from the rangers to stop at that location.  Even in this case, you are not 100% safe out of the vehicle!  I have been with groups in the bush that have spotted lions (with cubs in tow) within 100 meters of the picnic area at Serondela in Chobe.

I have friends that theorize that man is not a natural food source to the game, so you should be generally safe out of the vehicle.  Nice theory, however, within past articles of ChobeSafari, we have noted lions biting a man in his tent and wild dogs surrounding a person separated from their group.  I recall we have also noted baboons hassling folks at various public locations. This is not a zoo and these animals are not programmed.  Any one of them can be a danger to you at any time.  Be alert.

There are exceptions one can take but still take care!  For example, one may really, really need a bio-break.  I know I have.  In this case, I suggest driving to a large sandy beach area with lots of open surroundings, and then relieving yourself while standing in the doorway of the vehicle (so you will still appear to be part of the vehicle).

Another exception is car problems. If you have a punctured tire or are stuck in the sand or water, consider the potential of another vehicle coming along to aid.  Two reasons: 1) occupants of the second vehicle can act as second sets of eyes to spot problem game and 2) the second vehicle may be critical to pulling you out of the stuck mess.  Do not consider walking out of the bush to get help as a viable option.

Times like this may require you to leave the vehicle, but this is best done if another vehicle is nearby to help and act as a scout

By the way, I have personally had to change a punctured tire while a large population of Cape Buffalo were headed my way.  I was lucky enough to have a friend in a second vehicle arrive to speed my repair and to keep an eye on the narrowing gap as the herd approached.

  • Watch your distance around elephants: I think elephants present one of the greater risks to vehicles in the park.  They are larger than you, they have a much better turning radius.  Generally, the elies are quite laid back at Chobe; however, they have been known to go ‘agro’ (get affrevated) if they feel pushed, feel their young could be harmed, are single animals, are bull elephants or particularly if they are a bull in musth.  As you can see, there are a lot of conditions that could provoke an elephant charge, so the best things is to keep your distance.  Previously, we published an article specific to dealing with elephants.  The link is here and we suggest you read this as a refresher prior to your safari.
  • Take proper medication precautions: For most safari locations, one should have proper hepatitis and tetanus immunizations.  For some, anti-malaria medications are recommended.  Many of my friends do not like to take anti-malaria med due to side effects.  I prefer to be safe and take them.  I have written about these meds previously at this link.
  • Stay on the roadway: This is primarily an issue within national parks. You will see guide drive into the bush to give tourist the best view of lions under bushes.  They are trying to improve their tips … and they are breaking the rules.  Do not follow their lead.  The environment is dry and fragile.  If everyone took these liberties, the bush would be a real mess.  There are other reasons to stay on the main roadway.  As noted earlier, the best way to get help if broken down is to wait for another passing vehicle.  The likelihood of another vehicle gets more remote as one gets further off the regular trails.
  • Take care in using flashlights (also known as ‘torches’): The wild game is not limited to the park system.  Wildlife will often come very close to the lodges where you will be staying.  This wildlife can be anything from a badger to an elephant.  It is wise to use your flashlight to check the path ahead. This light will generally warn game to clear out for you.  It is rude and disrespectful to intentionally shine or wave bright lights at the eyes of game specifically to get their attention.

On my last trip to Botswana, we stayed one night at Elephant Sands, which is a small lodge and campground just  north of Nata.  Elephant Sands has a nice waterhole and viewing area.  I set up at this location and began photographing the night elephants as they came down to the water.  Drunken visitors with bright flashlights started shining the lights at the elephants, which startled them, perhaps put us in danger, and eventually led to the elephants running off into the bush.  Bottom line, move slowly, use the light wisely and it enhances your wildlife viewing.

  • Leave no trace behind: This is obvious, and we have all heard this before. This means not to alter, modify disturb or destroy any habitat, food source or surroundings. Leave your location in the same state than you found it.  Enough said on this topic.
  • Respect the people: Part of the images you may want to bring home are images of the locals at work.  Great idea, but be aware that not everyone wants their photograph taken.  For example, I have found that rangers on patrol in the park do not want to be photographed.  Military personnel or equipment should not be photographed.  Often the fishermen out on the Chobe River do not appear to like having their photos taken.  These limitations are not show stoppers.  We have written about the challenge here.  Review this article and then do what you feel is best.

Wildlife Respect: Don’t stress the wildlife: No image, no matter how good, unique or special it may be, is worth stressing, endangering or otherwise harming wildlife. As wildlife photographers, we all need to be advocates for wildlife, after all, if we, who love to photograph them, are not, who will?

Imagine being out of your vehicle when this lone fellow comes along. Not a good idea.

Take responsibility for our actions and make every effort to lessen our impact on wildlife and the environment. There any number of organizations promote their own code of ethics for safe and respectful enjoyment of nature, and I will list a few of those at the end of this article.

Here is my basic set of guidelines that I follow. I’ve made these simple and to the point in an effort to make it easy to remember and stick to.

  • Do no harm: The foundation of the wildlife photographers ethic. You must always ask yourself if the next action you are about to take will bring any harm to wildlife. Sometimes it’s is very clear cut, sometimes it’s a little more difficult to discern what consequences your actions make have. In any case you should always be considering the welfare of your subject first and foremost.
  • Never harass wildlife: This means never to never taunt, bait or force an action out of your subject. There are many ways to harass the wildlife.  Earlier in the article we noted that flashlights may harass the wildlfie.  Another ‘trick’ I have seen explored is honking of vehicle horns to get an animal to look up for a photo.  Generally this does not work, so don’t do it.

Be patient! The most beautiful wildlife photographs result from natural behavior. Never interfere with animals engaged in breeding, feeding, nesting, or caring for young. Learn the habits of your subjects; Respect and protect your subject, look for signs of stress. If you notice your subject is altering it’s behavior as a result of your actions, stop. Learn to recognize wildlife alarm signals for the safety of both wildlife and yourself.

PRINCIPLES OF ETHICAL FIELD PRACTICES

NANPA believes that following these practices promotes the well-being of the location, subject and photographer. Every place, plant, and animal, whether above or below water, is unique, and cumulative impacts occur over time. Therefore, one must always exercise good individual judgment. It is NANPA’s belief that these principles will encourage all who participate in the enjoyment of nature to do so in a way that best promotes good stewardship of the resource.

Environmental: knowledge of subject and place

    • Learn patterns of animal behavior–know when not to interfere with animals’ life cycles.
    • Respect the routine needs of animals–remember that others will attempt to photograph them, too.
    • Use appropriate lenses to photograph wild animals–if an animal shows stress, move back and use a longer lens.
    • Acquaint yourself with the fragility of the ecosystem–stay on trails that are intended to lessen impact.

Social: knowledge of rules and laws

    • When appropriate, inform managers or other authorities of your presence and purpose–help minimize cumulative impacts and maintain safety.
    • Learn the rules and laws of the location–if minimum distances exist for approaching wildlife, follow them.
    • In the absence of management authority, use good judgement–treat the wildlife, plants and places as if you were their guest.
    • Prepare yourself and your equipment for unexpected events–avoid exposing yourself and others to preventable mishaps.

Individual: expertise and responsibilities

    • Treat others courteously–ask before joining others already shooting in an area.
    • Tactfully inform others if you observe them engaging in inappropriate or harmful behavior–many people unknowingly endanger themselves and animals.
    • Report inappropriate behavior to proper authorities–don’t argue with those who don’t care; report them.
    • Be a good role model, both as a photographer and a citizen–educate others by your actions; enhance their understanding.

Adopted February 3, 1996 by the NANPA board of directors.

12 comments for “Travel and Photo Tips: Things NOT to do on Safari

  1. July 14, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    What about sundowners? I can’t imagine a safari without a cocktail standing under an acacia at after a long afternoon game drive.

    • P. B. Eleazer
      July 16, 2010 at 5:59 pm

      Sundowners may be the ‘exception’ alcohol consumption. I definitely see know problem if with a group on a pontoon boat being captained by a proper guide leader. I also understand the sundowner outside of the vehicle at sunset concept. Again, if in a wide open area with a proper (and non-drinking) group leader, these should be a reasonable risk … but you still have to remember that predators start roaming at sundown and if you are not in a vehicle, you are in ‘interesting’ choice for a lion.

  2. July 14, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    What about sundowners? I can’t imagine a safari without a cocktail standing under an acacia at after a long afternoon game drive.

    • P. B. Eleazer
      July 16, 2010 at 5:59 pm

      Sundowners may be the ‘exception’ alcohol consumption. I definitely see know problem if with a group on a pontoon boat being captained by a proper guide leader. I also understand the sundowner outside of the vehicle at sunset concept. Again, if in a wide open area with a proper (and non-drinking) group leader, these should be a reasonable risk … but you still have to remember that predators start roaming at sundown and if you are not in a vehicle, you are in ‘interesting’ choice for a lion.

  3. July 14, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Great article,

    i love the tips you give on personal safety. Animals are so unpredictable and its
    advice like this that tourists need to take seriously and remember when they are out in the bush.

    One thing that’s disturbing is the amount of littering that’s being done in public camping areas, not only does it endanger the animals but also the environment.

    Has anyone made any observations of this? (the littering in camping spots)

    Maybe you could write an article on ” tips on keeping the environment clean while on safari” :-)…

    thanks again for the great tips,

    zina

  4. July 14, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Great article,

    i love the tips you give on personal safety. Animals are so unpredictable and its
    advice like this that tourists need to take seriously and remember when they are out in the bush.

    One thing that’s disturbing is the amount of littering that’s being done in public camping areas, not only does it endanger the animals but also the environment.

    Has anyone made any observations of this? (the littering in camping spots)

    Maybe you could write an article on ” tips on keeping the environment clean while on safari” :-)…

    thanks again for the great tips,

    zina

  5. July 16, 2010 at 1:55 am

    Wonderful tips. I too am in agreement with Eleazer, It solves a lot of mishappenings if tourists heed to this advice. On several occasions I have been one of the victims of this errors. Thank you so much. It take great effort and work to identify these safari concern and then share with other travellers. I appreciate your work. Big hugs!

  6. July 16, 2010 at 1:55 am

    Wonderful tips. I too am in agreement with Eleazer, It solves a lot of mishappenings if tourists heed to this advice. On several occasions I have been one of the victims of this errors. Thank you so much. It take great effort and work to identify these safari concern and then share with other travellers. I appreciate your work. Big hugs!

  7. May 2, 2011 at 4:54 am

    Wow,this information is so awesome.This really shows how one has to prepare for a safari and still take caution of the environment.Some animals are not so friendly with human and a distance must be kept.To all tourists who love visiting national parks,please be careful and always carry the necessary equipments.Great site

  8. May 2, 2011 at 4:54 am

    Wow,this information is so awesome.This really shows how one has to prepare for a safari and still take caution of the environment.Some animals are not so friendly with human and a distance must be kept.To all tourists who love visiting national parks,please be careful and always carry the necessary equipments.Great site

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