Words by Luke Brown
Covid-19 has brought untold suffering to millions, but it has also forced us to think differently and in so doing, ponder our decisions with more care. For example, it has forced us to pay more attention to our individual footprint in life and the resulting legacy we will leave behind for the next generation. When it comes to taking a safari, the deliberate act of being more conscious and aware about the journey is what will now define how travellers can make an impact before, during and after their safari. This approach offers safari goers a chance to enrich themselves experientially and in so doing create measurable, positive differences for the environments and communities they will visit.
With this in my mind I offer you 10 ways below to get the most impact from your safari journey. I proffer advice to you from the planning stage through the journey itself and beyond, so that your impact need not remain a finite one.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
1. Research your possible destinations and make your choice carefully
You first need to do your own research about the different safari areas in Africa, but you can also seek help from specialist safari planners and designers both in your home country and importantly on-the-ground-in-destination too (more about this in point 5). Don’t only choose one source of information and please don’t make the error of trying to book an African safari itinerary all on your own. There are many safari areas, but they certainly don’t all offer the same thing. Wildlife, climate, people, accommodation, activities, modes of transport, landscapes, safety issues, insurances, health, and immigration requirements are just a few things that differ between destinations and must be taken into account before rushing off somewhere on this diverse African continent.
There are two broad regions to choose from, East Africa and Southern Africa. You also need to decide whether to visit one country or multiple countries. In the past safari seekers have wanted to pack in as much as possible. The Covid situation has changed that for many reasons, including the logistical challenges, as well as the newfound need to reduce the pace and pursue what is now termed a more enriching ‘slow safari’.
2. Consider how long you will spend on safari
How much time do you have for this important break in your life? Let’s face it; a safari trip to Africa is unlikely to be cheap and the logistics can be pretty tricky, so definitely err on the side of more time, at least 10-14 days, but preferably more. This also relates back to the ‘slow safari’ method, where you must balance out your desire to see loads of places and have multiple experiences with a need to appreciate each day for what it brings. Africa’s wilderness areas are timeless and spontaneous, so rushing your journey may leave you feeling rather unfulfilled.
The best time to view animals on safari is in the early morning or late afternoon. That’s when the animals like to move about. The early mornings can take a toll on you so if you are allotting only a short amount of time in each place then you could easily wind up being exhausted by the end of the trip which kind of defies the object.
3. Reflect on what you want to personally get out of the journey
Set your goals carefully. Decide what you want for yourself on a personal level. Do you want the journey to transform your life in some way? Don’t create unrealistic expectations but do list your desires and detail them. How will this safari make an impact on you and your destination? Visualise the outcome. Put together this list and add clear criteria that you can easily use to measure them with when you get home. You will also be able to take this with you and check some of them off or even grow and adapt the list along the way. Remember, the list does not need to be a specific length – that’s up to you.
4. Read up about Conservation in Africa, especially that which is taking place in your chosen destination
When you research your possible destinations be sure to include some reading on whether those areas have a good track record in conservation. Fortunately, there are many countries in Africa that have done huge amounts to protect their wildlife and there are loads of bona fide organizations you can find online to get cracking with this. You will discover that there are multiple layers of conservation and different organizations plug into these different levels – these range from those on the frontline to those in support positions. Each one plays a crucial role, and one cannot succeed without the other.
A common denominator is that collectively they face a myriad of challenges, stemming from habitat loss and the illegal wildlife trade and everything else in between. It is important to get some sense of what these challenges might be, so that you can be forearmed before you travel. Once again, seek multiple sources for your information, particularly that coming out of genuine conservation organizations on the ground. They tend to have years of experience in this field and are employing local people who understand the complexities intimately.
5. Think carefully about who you would want to partner with for success
You are aiming to have a safari journey of epic proportions, but of course you are going to need help to put it together. Try your best to not start this search for help before you have rigidly followed the points above. It is understandable that you may think ‘why all this extra work when I can just pay others to do it for me?’ The trouble with this thought process is that those ‘others’ (where the help is) do not know what you want or why you want it, and if they are good at their job, they are going to ask you a bunch of things before they even start working with you. The questions they ask will be a whole lot easier to for you to answer if you have done some homework.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not asking you to go into some kind of PHD thesis or something before you speak to them. You can simply and methodically work through each of the points and believe me you will likely have fun in the process. This is going to make the world of difference in the success of your journey and will help you select your safari planners with a positive and discerning mindset. It is imperative that you find a good match for you as this can be a make-or-break moment in the safari making process. Very often safari goers end up becoming lifelong friends with their safari planners and come back to them over and over again for future trips.
ON THE GROUND
6. Be present and mindful
Finally, a dream come true, and you have made it to Africa. Now you owe it to yourself to live that dream! One of the best things you can do is put your work away and home life away. Live for the moment, be present and stay conscious during your adventures. This is where you will get maximum fulfilment and enjoyment. It will also help you to retain clear memories. Fortunately, when you visit new places this is a much easier thing to do than when you are in the throes of the sometimes-mundane daily life back in your comfort zone. If you are not sure how to be mindful, present and conscious then take a meditation course before you leave home and bring the things you learn on that with you.
7. Ask how you can contribute to wildlife conservation and community upliftment
It really is not enough to take a safari to tick off animals alone. This is not some kind of race to achievement “I saw the Big 5, yay I am fulfilled!” Nope, there is so much more to be gained, especially if you are trying to make an impact both for yourself and the environment and communities you are visiting. Armed with questions from the research you did on conservation prior to your trip you will be able to put these to good use on the ground. Every good African safari operation has some sort of conservation focus, so take advantage of this and learn about what they are doing on the ground. If it is something that resonates with you then ask what you can do to help. Try not to impose your perceived solutions on anyone unless you really understand what you are talking about.
ONCE YOU GET HOME
8. Measure the impact of your journey
Once you are settled back at home do yourself justice by taking time to honour the memory by reliving it in your memoirs, videos and pictures. This is very important, but at the same time this is also the perfect chance to go back to that list of criteria you made before you left. What did you achieve? Did you transform yourself? Did you help someone or something on the ground? Can you continue to help? You will have your own personalised list so take the time to measure your safari’s impact by it. Some of the criteria may have evolved now that you have taken the trip – that doesn’t matter, but the important thing is to follow the process. This may be one of the most important things you ever do in your life. Many people that visit Africa on a safari for the first time are somehow touched deeply by it. I do not say this lightly, but don’t be surprised if you end up booking more trips or get involved in projects taking place in the destinations in some shape or form. You may be able to assist remotely, or you may wish to get back out there again as soon as possible. The choice is yours.
9. Spread the word
Tell as many people as you can about your safari trip. I am hoping that most of it will be positive. It is rare to find the opposite, but of course there will be things that did not live up to your expectations. Nothing is perfect, although I would happily put myself out there and say that getting extremely near perfect is certainly a distinct possibility on a safari to Africa. The reasons for telling lots of people include ‘bragging rights’ about the experiences and encounters you had. At this stage I am trusting that you took a great deal of care during your trip to understand and appreciate the conservation and community challenges on the ground. You are now in a position to spread the word correctly about these. Proffer to others how they can learn from you to understand them. You will also have started to get some idea of the solutions that create lasting success. Share these with your friends, family and colleagues. Get them excited for they too can make an impact if they get a taste for what a safari can do for them.
10. Plan your next move to ensure a lasting legacy of impact
So, what next? You have documented your journey and you have shared your wisdom about it. The temptation may be to leave it at that. The world is a big place and maybe it’s time to turn your attention to the next place you want to visit. Those places also have loads to offer you, but if you leave the last piece of this process out then you won’t make that lasting impact that you set out to do. Does this step need to take lots of extra effort? It may be perceived to be so, but in reality, it does not have to at all. Quite possibly, on your discoveries during the safari, you will have found that one conservation effort that just sits right with you. You have the option to donate something to them each month. Why not trade in that takeaway coffee just one day a week in favour of this? Or you may join a social group that spread awareness for the plight of wildlife in Africa. The mere gesture means that you have committed to staying the game. Others of you may want to ramp this up further, make bigger donations or actually give of your time to do more. There are so many ways one can help and create a lasting impact. Don’t forget what I said earlier about the very high number of safari goers that after their first visit decided that their connection with Africa’s wild spaces needs to stay with them! This can happen very easily, and you will definitely know it when it comes.
A little bit about the writer:
Luke Brown is based in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. He is the co-owner of Vayeni – Safari Experts in Africa www.vayeni.com and a co-founder of the Zambesia Conservation Alliance www.zambesia.com. He is a co-moderator of the We Share Africa group on Facebook, a space for all those passionate about Africa’s wild spaces and communities can share their stories.