With the world having opened up once more, and PCR tests a thing of the past, I wonder how people feel to be returning to the bush and safari. For some – for many in fact – it’s been a long wait.
I remember chatting about it to other guides: would returning guests be so thrilled to be outdoors, traveling, immersed in nature, that just the whisper of the wind in the grass will be enough to keep them content, or will it be the opposite? Or would there an almost overwhelming need to race around and take in as much as possible as quickly as possible, like a starving person being confronted with an overload buffet?
Don’t race around.
Stop, breathe, listen. Appreciate how magic it is that we can travel again.
Although we’re sure you want to leave with an absolute surfeit of memories and experiences (which you will almost certainly get), the best way to achieve this is actually to slow down.
Stopping to look at birds will help you find the big cats, because with the vehicle engine off you will hear alarm calls that much more easily, or even the calls of the predator themselves. But given that many people have had to defer their safari trips for so long thanks to the pandemic, we thought we’d reiterate some of the golden rules we’ve picked up during our years in the industry…
It’s not only about the listening mentioned above when the engine is off. Stopping for the small stuff gives everyone’s eyes on the vehicle a chance to wander, not just those of the ranger and tracker.
Movement is one of the biggest giveaways of an animal’s position, pretty much rendering camouflage moot, but if you’re driving most of the time, it’s hard to spot movement against what is essentially already a moving background. Coming to a standstill and taking the time to scan is far more likely to reveal results.
A tracker I once worked with spotted a leopard at 820m distance because of a brief flicker of movement in a tree, but he almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to do so if the vehicle had been moving.
Sitting still gives you a time to appreciate things more, it gives the tracker a better chance to examine the road ahead for signs of animals that have passed by, and unless you really need to be covering ground, there is very little to be said against stopping. We’re not advocating a regular ten-minute break, but don’t be afraid to have the engine off.
You’ll end up seeing more. Trust us.
Keep the pressure off
The rangers and trackers are well aware of their guests’ expectations. The team conducting your safari also have their own expectations of what they should be seeing in the bush. They want to see the spectacular, just as much as guests. They do their job because they love the environment and the thrill of viewing wildlife. They want the best sightings possible, and are going to do everything in their power to get you into the right position to see nature at its finest.
But, quite often, they need time to be able to do this. The time to analyse tracks, the time to make well thought-out decisions based on the evidence of the bush, their knowledge of animal movements, the weather, where other guides and trackers are working at the same time, and a myriad of other factors that all combine to make them decide to turn left or right at the next road junction.
The more the pressure mounts to see something epic, the more the possibility creeps in that that pressure might influence the decisions being made. Granted, by far the most pressure ranger and tracker teams receive is from themselves, but the less pressure from outside, the more the experience can proceed at the leisurely pace that will ultimately reveal the most.
Tracking in particular takes patience and concentration, and a ranger constantly radioing in and asking for updates is only a distraction. If a tracker or ranger has an update, they’ll give it. Many of most revered trackers are notorious for turning their radio off when on foot. They will radio you only when they find the animal, not before. Frustrating at times for the ranger(s) working with them, but they know what they was doing, and don’t want the distraction.
We should regularly pinch ourselves when out the bush. “I can’t believe I’m seeing”, should play on loop in your head. Make sure to actively remind yourself just how special it all is. It’s human nature to become used to something, but the last couple of years have been a wake-up for many to not take anything for granted.
Even if it’s something seemingly mundane like a turtle dove hopping around in front of your chalet, take a moment to truly observe it and think about its role in the greater scheme of things. It’s also trying to survive, with a life every bit as dramatic – at least for it – as a leopard’s, and just as fraught with danger as that of an impala constantly sniffing the wind for the scent of a lion.
During the most restricted days of the pandemic, we often pictured international travel opening up again being like the shop doors opening at a Black Friday sale. It wasn’t quite that hectic, but the comparison that can still be made is the anticipation while waiting; excitement and the prospect of something spectacular and imminent. And given the crazy boom in travel we’re currently seeing, that metaphor wasn’t all that wide of the mark…
There the comparison ends, as in the bush, instead of having to rush around madly trying to fill your shopping trolley, you’ll find that if you just take a leisurely stroll down the aisle, the trolley fills up all on its own, and can hold far more than you possibly imagined…