Going on safari is at the top of many people’s bucket lists. It’s often a once-in-a-lifetime trip and can be very expensive. The craze of travelling to Africa for a safari holiday is only growing as it becomes more and more accessible to travellers and families with lower price ranges. There is a growing concern that cheaper safari resorts and companies are taking advantage of consumers and animals. It can be hard to not fall into pitfalls when you so desperately want to tick a safari holiday off your bucket list for a reasonable price.
Let’s take a look at if safari holidays are ethical, the history of safari and how to avoid resorts that make allowances for animal cruelty.
What is a safari holiday?
Safari holidays are loosely defined as trips which allow you to photograph and observe wildlife up close and in their natural habitat. They are typically carried out in Africa, to view animals such as elephants, leopards, rhinos, lions and hyenas in the wild.
The resorts on which you go for safari holidays are often deep in the savannah and on National Park land. The accommodation is usually reflective of traditional African culture and celebratory of the magnificent animals which roam nearby. Many resorts offer a range of options for couples and families with many different packages concerning meals and activities.
History of safari
In the past, the main activity and attention-grab on safari was hunting large animals such as elephants and rhinos. The black-and-white photos of men in soft shell helmets and khaki sets, holding guns are what immediately spring to mind when we think of the horrible past of safari. The richest Westerners would travel to the African savannah to hunt and spend time with friends.
The largest animals were of course coveted as the best trophies. Africa’s Big Five: the elephant, lion, rhino, African buffalo, and leopard were all considered to have been of the highest merit if taken down by hunters as they were considered the most difficult to pursue.
Nowadays, the main aim is still hunting – but with a lens rather than bullets. Safari offers a unique experience to photograph majestic African animals in the wild. Hunting is sadly still permitted in a few small reserves but is very strictly regulated by law.
The word ‘safari’ comes from Swahili which is the main language of Eastern Africa. It means ‘journey’ and there is a common phrase in the language – ‘safari njema!’ which means ‘have a pleasant journey!’.
What happens on a safari?
Classic safari trips involve exploring the savannah and forests in an off-roading vehicle with an experienced guide. You will often travel through a very extensive section of a National Park during your stay, searching for all types of wildlife.
Aside from the large animals which everyone wishes to see you may get the opportunity to see a range of other animals which are not often seen outside of captivity. Depending on the location, you may even get to see hippos and crocodiles in small rivers and lakes. Monkeys and other small mammals may be found in the forested areas of the parks.
Travelling by car allows you to see a huge variety of species within just a few hours each day. Radio systems in the vehicle also keep park rangers connected. Often, rangers who have spotted a large group of animals will report it to safari guides who will quickly take their group to the area so that they can get the best sightings possible. These systems are also important for safety.
Some resorts offer unique viewing experiences such as viewing the savannah from above in a hot air balloon or exploring the habitat on foot, under the instruction of a very experienced guide.
Popular safari spots
Nature programmes and social media influencers in particular are real lovers of the Serengeti National Park located in East Africa. This park has been considered to be the starting place of the safari and is very expansive at 30,000 km squared. Located in northern Tanzania, it is thriving with wildlife and several different game reserves.
The Serengeti National Park naturally extends across the Kenyan border and this protected area is called the Maasai Mara National Reserve. This area is famous for hosting the Big Migration. Every year, 1.5 million wildebeest and zebras charge through the savannah in July and October.
Ethical issues with safari parks
While it is obvious that viewing wild animals in their natural habitat is far more sustainable and friendly than in a circus or zoo, there are many parks which are exploitative and do not use their income to promote correct habitat maintenance and animal care.
It is really important to spend a lot of time researching potential reserves before paying for your stay and activities. There are sadly still many resorts which support hunting and animal abuse in favour of visitor money. Ensuring that you support ethical safaris is very important, not only for the animals but for the local communities which benefit socially and economically.
While we may have swapped guns for phones and cameras, it does not mean that we are any less disruptive when given a prime opportunity. Many parks boast of their close-up ventures to the huge animals that roam the savannah – ensuring you get top-notch photos to show off back home.
Some safari resorts promote animal habitation to enable their visitors to get up close and personal to the animals, getting a hands-on experience of feeding and petting the animals. While this sounds like an amazing opportunity and one that doesn’t come around often, there are many potential issues that these experiences can cause.
At the end of the day, these animals are wild and should remain that way. There are high risks of these animals contracting human diseases and vice versa. The safest thing for these animals is to remain in their habitat – having a natural lifestyle.
Of course, there are some exceptions. Some animals may be housed for close-up viewing and feeding when in rehabilitation or while receiving medical care. It is important that you do some in-depth research as to why these resorts are offering the experiences and where they are being held. Then you can balance if the activity and therefore resort can be considered ethical or unethical.
How can you spot an unethical resort?
There are many tells as to which safari resorts are ethical and which ones may have questionable policies and activities. Here are some top pointers which will help you to make a start on informed research to base your decision.
– Strict policies on safari etiquette
Safari providers which have strict policies on behaviour while on safari are more ethical. It should be clear when reviewing a provider’s website that they require their visitors to follow strict rules while on their activities.
Some policies you should look out for may include tourists being encouraged to keep their distance from all wildlife. Turning off the flash on all cameras and phones so as not to disturb the animals. And an encouragement to speak softly and avoid unnecessary noise.
Animal welfare should be their top priority and so game drives should be relatively short each day. If you see anything on the website that makes you feel uneasy about the way the providers treat animals then you should steer clear.
– No human contact
Safari resorts which tempt you with cuddling, feeding and riding experiences do not have animal conservation at the top of their priority list. These providers are far more focused on tourism and making money.
Cuddling experiences of young cubs for example are extremely harmful and often are associated with abuse. Young lions are often drugged up on a cocktail of sedatives to make them less aware of their surroundings and induce them into a relaxed state. The cubs could then end up with a lack of natural instinct and not understand that an encounter with humans can sometimes be extremely dangerous or fatal.
Instead, you should opt for resorts which have no physical contact with animals and encourage their visitors to stay away from the wildlife – no matter how tempting.
– Their advertising makes it clear where your money is going to go
A clear giveaway that a safari resort is just a money grab is having zero information on their advertising of where your money is going. Sustainable safaris will be an open book and very clear on what initiatives your funding will support.
If you find a safari company that makes it clear that they support local communities, wildlife charities and conservation then you can bet on it being an ethical safari.
– The animals roam the savanna freely
The entire point of a safari is to see animals in their natural habitats. When animals are kept in captivity, they lose their natural instincts and often end up unable to fend for themselves even after a short period of time.
Ethical safaris will do their best to ensure that all of the animals on their reserve live freely and out of reach of human interference. The animals should hunt for themselves and eat whatever they want, and any visitors should feel like they are in the animal’s territory – not the other way around.
– Only traditional safari transport is used
Some recently opened resorts across Africa have begun branding safari holidays as being full of ‘adventure’ and for the ‘thrill-seekers’. There has been a steep rise in resorts that are offering quad bike tours of game reserves or using other noisy vehicles such as motorbikes to get up close to the wild animals. These experiences are extremely unethical. Not only do the loud roars of engines disturb the animals but high speeds and reckless driving can damage the rare flora around the reserve.
Ethical safaris will offer transport by traditional safari cars or vans or on foot. You should never be left unattended while on a game drive. An experienced guide who knows the wildlife of the area that you are in very well should always be present.
– Everything down to the souvenirs and room decor should be ethical
Gift shops on the resort selling products from poached animals are a sure giveaway. Ivory or fur pieces being sold for profit show that the safari resort clearly still supports hunting. Room decor such as fur carpets or ivory statues is another tell to look out for.
Make sure to choose a safari which supports local businesses by selling crafts that are made in the region, with sustainable materials. You’ll still leave your holiday with a great memento – with zero guilt on your conscience.
There is a growing number of unethical resorts popping up all over the place – all desperate to take advantage of visitors wanting a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s important to put your morals first and do some research before booking yourself a safari holiday. Finding a sustainable resort is extremely important to ensure the future of animal conservation and there are many ways to tell if a resort is ethical. Choose to be an ecotourist who leaves no trace but still takes the opportunity to see these marvellous creatures up close, in their natural habitat!