As a tour guide in South Africa, I have spent the last 20 years both visiting and working in such places as the Kruger National Park, the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, iThala Game Reserve, and many more.
From my experience, visitors to game parks arrive without knowing what they’re in for and what’s required of them, or even just general safari etiquette.
To help you have a great time while in the parks without making a fool of yourself, here are 5 things you should never do while on a safari:
1. Call animals.
Don’t whistle, call, or bang on the side of your safari vehicle to get the attention of an animal. Instead of the animal turning towards you for your photo, the loud noise may instead cause them to bolt. There’s also the very real danger in the case of bigger animals (especially elephants) that the sudden sound leads them to charge. Either way, you’re not going to be very popular with your fellow tourists or guide.
2. Hog a sighting.
There’s an unwritten rule that everyone gets a 10 to 15-minute opportunity to view animals at a sighting. This way, everyone gets a good look. Spending an hour or two while vehicles are starting to queue up behind you is not fair and definitely won’t endear you to fellow safari travelers. So, enjoy your viewing and after 10 minutes or so move so someone else can get a turn.
3. Be a know-it-all.
We, guides, understand that you may have very good knowledge of animals. But there may be others on the same tour who are safari virgins and know very little about the local fauna. So, let the guides do what they are paid to do. You’re more than welcome to share anecdotes of your prior travels, but please, respect your guides and they’ll do the same for you.
4. Get impatient with travellers.
In any group, small or big, people are going to have varied interests. I had a group of 10 on safari with me recently, of which eight wanted to see the big 5, and two just wanted to spot birds — it made for three very long and stressful days as the birders insisted on spending time at bird sightings while the others become frustrated and annoyed at not moving on to find the big 5. Be respectful of one another, because you’re likely going to be traveling with them for some time.
5. Don’t listen to your guide.
Guides have a job to do, and the most important part of our jobs is keeping you safe. Recently, at a picnic site at the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, two guests from a colleague’s safari vehicle ignored the guide’s instructions and ended being separated from their group by a small herd of elephants. Their guide had to risk his life to get them back to safety. So, if your guides ask you to move back from an animal, do so. If they ask you not to touch, then please don’t touch. Guides want you to go home stoked about your animal sightings, not relating the experience of being impaled on the horns of a Nyala (yup, it happened).