Safety on Safari

Just a few more notes on how to survive out in the bush! As we have already stated, the most important rule is to do what the guide tells you, immediately and without question. Out of the three activities that you will undertake: staying in camp, game viewing by vehicle and walking in the bush, paradoxically it is probably during the first of these that you are most at risk (although the actual risk is small). While you are in a vehicle the game doesn’t normally see you as people (or as prey), but rather just as part of a noisy smelly lump that they’re already familiar with. You could be within touching distance of a lion, but would be perfectly safe if within the confines of the vehicle (but not leaning out or standing up). Out walking you will always be in the company of both a guide and an armed Park scout and you can be assured that they know what to do.

One of the most important rule is to do what the guide tells you, immediately and without question. Out of the three activities that you will undertake: staying in camp, game viewing by vehicle and walking in the bush, paradoxically it is probably during the first of these that you are most at risk (although the actual risk is small). While you are in a vehicle the game doesn’t normally see you as people (or as prey), but rather just as part of a noisy smelly lump that they’re already familiar with. You could be within touching distance of a lion, but would be perfectly safe if within the confines of the vehicle (but not leaning out or standing up). Out walking you will always be in the company of both a guide and an armed Park scout and you can be assured that they know what to do.

However in camp you will often be on your own – for example walking from your hut or to the bar or dining area (although at night you will usually be escorted), and there is always the possibility of encountering an animal that has strayed into camp (the same could apply while out, if you have (after asking permission) gone behind a nearby bush for the obvious reasons). The most likely encounter could be with an elephant – they often stroll into camp, oblivious of whoever else might be there. Hippos can enter too, especially at night, and lions have been known to wander through as well – after all, they think they own the bush! All camps keep a careful look out for this happening, but you never know. But do resist the temptation to go out for your normal early morning or evening jog. It’s not unknown by a long way, crazy though it clearly is.

The main point to realise is that animals have a ‘zone of comfort’ and you are at risk if you inadvertently invade this zone – they could choose either to fight or to flee. Thus you simply need to look around you on emerging from your hut or wandering around camp. Hippos are actually the most dangerous animal in Africa, despite being vegetarians. Basically, they only feel secure in water (but forage on land, at night), and if you get between them and safety they will go right through you.

Therefore – get out of their way

– they’re not predators, and won’t follow. If you do come across an elephant in camp just go back into your hut (or the nearest hut) and wait until it is safe to emerge. In the unlikely event of meeting a lion,running is not a good idea, since it will trigger the predation impulse (you can’t run faster than most animals anyway). Thus here the rule is ‘don’t run’ and ‘don’t turn your back’. You just have to present as large an object as possible (thus several people would group together), and stare it down, whilst slowly backing off, still facing the lion. Sometimes they will mock charge (stopping well short), to encourage you to get further away. Great fun!

Do not gain the impression from the above that your life will be in constant danger. None of these encounters are at all likely to happen, and the above information is given merely as a precaution, and as a matter of interest. Checking around you in the bush is no different to looking before you cross the road in the UK – a sensible precaution. Obviously animals with cubs in tow, or wounded animals, pose an extra threat though. One final point, though – do shake your shoes before putting them on in the morning.

Whilst we are on the subject of safety, you need to be aware of how to behave if out alone in a city, for example on the evening before your return flight home. African cities are probably no more dangerous than big cities anywhere in the world – i.e. they can be quite dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Thus be streetwise – walk briskly, not alone, keeping to well-lit streets. Avoid going out at night anyway, and stay alert at all times, keeping your bag safe, avoiding speaking to strangers. You already know all this – as we say, it’s no different to being out in any strange city anywhere in the world. Outside the cities and towns, though, it’s usually a quite different story. The rural African is friendliness itself.