“I want to see a tiger!” and other dilemmas for the diplomatic safari guide

Putting anyone into an unfamiliar environment on an unfamiliar continent is bound to elicit some odd and downright hilarious situations. None more so than being On Safari in Africa, an experience so completely foreign to most people's day-to-day existence that you are all but guaranteed some wonderful observations and questions.

Keri MullerMasai Mara National Park - Keri Muller

I put this list together based on anecdotes from friends and colleagues, and my own personal experiences in the bush. It is by no means definitive, so if you’ve got one of your own, please do add your contribution in the comments below.

'Why don't those Cheetahs sit on our car?'

This question, which comes in all too often, can be blamed on the runaway success of the BBC's 'Big Cat Diaries'.  This show focuses on three Cheetahs that are continuously sitting on the researcher's car.  

Big Cat DiaryCheetah Cub on Car - Big Cat Diary

What people don't understand is that wildlife shows are filmed over a very long period, and then edited and edited until only the thrilling and astounding bits remain. So the standard, yet less photogenic tendency of the Cheetah to sleep under a tree is glossed over, and viewers logically conclude that Cheetahs spend 12 hours a day sitting on cars. Just like in the 'Big Cat Diaries'.  

'I want to see a Tiger/Bear/Unicorn/Coyote'...

WikipediaAn Oryx (not a unicorn) - Wikipedia

… and pretty much any other animal that does not live anywhere on the African Continent.  This is a regular comment heard on game viewing vehicles from the Kruger National Park to the Okavango Delta to the Masai Mara. Safari Guides being the professionals that they are, will mostly respond with a deadpan 'I'll see what I can do but how about we go look at that leopard in a tree over there first?'

'Do Zebras hunt in packs?'

Zebras can be switched out for Giraffes, Kudus and pretty much any African animal that is actually a herbivore.

'Why does that Leopard have spots?'

‘Ermmm because it is a Leopard?’ 

Two less glib answers are available to more indulgent hosts – the zoological one, which involves mealtime and camouflage, and Rudyard Kipling’s, which centers around an Ethiopian and some fingerpaint.

'Can we get a bit closer to that Lion..? Don't worry I'll just hop out and walk a bit closer, back in 2 secs'

The frequency with which guests try to get out of a safari vehicle to get a better photo is a concern, and is guaranteed to get your guide's pulse racing. It seems to happen most often when you are parked up next to a pride of lions enjoying a recent kill, or approaching a herd of elephants with young ones. 

Flow CommunicationsLion cub with kill - Flow Communications

Granted, these are without doubt scenes that will take a turn for the dramatic when adding human participation. However, it is very difficult to capture that drama when the lion is chewing on your camera arm or you are composing a close-up of the elephant’s undercarriage, using the underside of it’s foot for a lens.

'Is this where Tarzan lives and do you think it would be possible to meet him?'

A meet and greet with Tarzan may seem like something to tick off the list, especially if all your previous holidays have featured a man-sized mouse and Cinderella Castle for a backdrop. Bizarrely, this question was posed at Cape Point in South Africa. I can make the tenuous link via the baboons but there isn't a jungle to be found anywhere nearby.

You can always improvise this one if you have a tow rope handy and a good yodelling voice.

Leonora EnkingMeeting Tarzan, an improvisational challenge? - Leonora Enking

'Where do the animals go at night?'

A rather perplexing question this, and it’s a difficult one to answer definitively. Unless there really is a portal to another dimension behind that big Baobab over there.

'Can we drive from Victoria Falls to the Masai Mara in one day?'

My tour operator friends will laugh at this one. Not only can you not drive there in one day, you also cannot visit Cape Town, Kruger National Park, Victoria Falls, The Masai Mara and the Serengeti with a quick lunch in Zanzibar in a week. I am just categorically saying no.

Google Maps'Are we there yet?' Nope. Vic Falls to the Mara - Google Maps

'How do you guys keep the grass so short?'

The guide just giggled quietly and shook his head while gazing across the Serengeti plains at the thousands of Wildebeest surrounding their vehicle.

There's a certain ad from the halcyon days of 70's South African television which presents an alternative answer here.

'Why won't that lady let me take her picture, does she think my camera is stealing her spirit or something?'

No, this is the 21st Century. She is just weary of tourists taking photos of her and her family without permission. You would probably consider it very rude (and downright unsafe) if someone came up to you and started clicking away at you and your kids without saying hello first.

'Where do you keep your spear?'

Under my bed next to my loincloth. 

And on a final note, Africa is not a country.

Apparently this is still a popular misconception - and a bone of contention for anyone living in one of the continent’s 54 countries.

Please do refer to the very informative africasacountry.com and their coverage of the recent Rick Ross incident, where rapper Ross, AKA 'Mastermind', tweeted his arrival in the 'beautiful country of Africa' to 3 million followers.

Many of them, though not self-proclaimed geniuses, were still able to reply with helpful geographic pointers.

his PR peopleRick Ross - his PR people

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