This is a short, yet indispensable list of things to consider NOT doing whilst travelling Africa. We've published this post as an attempt at some friendly pre-departure traveller education, to keep you safe and on the do-right side of the tourism line.
Things that may seem harmless or even like must-do activities...
There are several behaviours and activities that, to the average visitor, may seem natural or fun to do, but which upset the natural order of things, either in the bush or urban landscape. In addition, there are more than a few commercially successful, but increasingly controversial tourist activities which you may be offered, but which are getting a lot of flack lately from the responsible tourism lobby, often for good reason.
Read it here first, and travel with peace of mind
We've tried to highlight a few common mistakes or ethical pitfalls you may encounter on your trip to our unique continent. The idea is to read it here first, before you travel, which we know will make for a more enjoyable, socially and environmentally aware, as well as stress-free trip.
Cuddling lion cubs, walking with lions & related 'interaction'
Many lion sanctuaries, lion parks and research centres offer lion cub petting and walking with lions, as part of various rehabilitation programmes. This is a huge money-making industry with questionable results, and in supporting such activities, you are usually doing more harm than good.
Not interacting with humans keeps lions safe and equipped for survival. Cuddling them can mean a death warrant.
Captive-bred and human-friendly lions will never live free
Lions are wild animals. While a lion cub is ridiculously cute and it is extremely tempting to want to cuddle, pet and feed them, human interaction will only place them in danger. If the lions become ‘imprinted’ by humans, they will never survive in the wild, and are destined to be kept captive for life, or more likely, sold to canned hunting operations, to be shot at close range by warped individuals with fragile egos and big guns.
See cannedlion.org for a quick explanation of exactly why these places are usually to be avoided. While there are many, brilliant and hard-working organisations doing incredible work in conserving Africa’s lions and other threatened wildlife, there are also, unfortunately, a lot of people treating wild animals terribly, purely for money.
The only thing that should be cuddling a lion cub, is a lion!
Baboons are endemic to many areas of Africa and are integral to the fine balance of nature. Unfortunately, they are also extremely vulnerable to human interaction and are often found on roadsides and at picnic sites. This is mainly due to humans trying to interact with them/feed them, encouraging them to congregate in these spaces and putting them at risk.
Baboons are wild animals with a tendency toward aggression when things don't go their way. If left alone, and not interfered with in any way, they are fascinating to watch, uncanny in their human-like actions.
Safely watch baboons by following these simple rules:
- Never feed a baboon. In doing so, you are giving them food which is unnatural (and potentially harmful) and encouraging them to interact with humans. This may, in the long-run, be a death sentence for them.
- When staying in an area where baboons live, be sure to lock away food and close windows and doors.
- If in your car, keep windows closed and doors locked. NEVER get out of your car or attempt to pet a baboon - they are wild animals, despite their 'cuddley' look.
- In the event of your being confronted by a baboon, never try to take back anything it has stolen. Establish its best route of escape and back off slowly, but with confidence. It is important that the animal knows you're in charge and are serious about it leaving.
Just following these simple rules could save you, and our very precious baboon population!
Where There's Smoke, There's Fire
13 million km2 of the African continent is savannah or grassland - almost half of the continent. The rest is made up of desert, wetlands, coastal regions and mountains. These areas are highly susceptible to bush fires. A bush fire in Africa is disastrous, with thousands of square kilometres of destruction, both fauna and the animals that live there.
When in the bush – no smoking, please! Most lodges/campsites have specific smoking areas. Please stick to those. One small spark or throwaway match can cause untold damage to the bush. Smoking not only is a potential hazard to the bush, but it can also adversely affect your game-watching experience. Wild animals have an extremely sensitive sense of smell.
Getting Out of Your Car In Game Reserves: Don't. Ever.
When you're in a game park, filled with wild animals, remember that. They're wild. Their basic instincts are to protect themselves and their young and to find food. Do not underestimate their agility, speed and stamina when you're exploring their territory. Getting an extra special shot of a lion kill is not worth losing your life for.
If you want to experience the bush first hand, and get up-close-and-personal, do so on a guided walking safari, accompanied by an experienced game ranger, who can ensure your safety.
Here's a gentle reminder of what could happen - these people narrowly avoided a nasty situation. The internet is filled with far more horrific examples, including many deaths, due to people irresponsibly getting out of their cars in the wild.
Helping the needy - begging, poverty and what to do about it
Africa is a continent of extremes, from its weather to its landscapes to the living conditions and financial situations of its people. Going on safari in Africa contributes to easing the extreme poverty, but you will be exposed to a certain amount of begging at some point, and you may well wish to do something to help.
Please do. The best way to do this, though, is to contribute to organisations making a difference in Africa. This does not necessarily mean you have to give money. Many places welcome volunteers, albeit for a morning, or a week. Spend a day helping out an orphanage or feeding scheme, donate pencils and paper to a school, plant trees, donate clothes... the options are endless.
Elephants are known as family-orientated, gentle giants, and that they are. They are, however, also wild animals. As such, they were not made to be led by humans on specific paths carrying the weight of an adult (or two) on their back. This, in fact, is one of many reasons that you should not partake in this particular activity. An elephant's spine is not designed to have the 'chair' used for humans to sit in strapped to them, nor for the weight of the people. In short, it hurts the elephant in the long-term.
Another reason to avoid elephant rides is the manner in which they are trained to submit to human command. In most cases, in order to 'break' the elephant's spirit, they are taken from their mothers at a young age, and then confined and often abused with bullhooks and sticks (often with nails) in order to, literally, beat them into submission. While they are 'tamed', there are countless stories of these elephant turning on humans. Again, they are wild animals.
So, while we're not saying interactions with elephant should not be actively sought, they need to entail elephant activities, not human ones. Elephant riding, circuses, and elephants kicking soccer balls are not that. Many fantastic sanctuaries offer places for previously abused and orphaned elephants and offer interactions such as feeding, bathing and spending time with them, doing what elephants do. Places like the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya do amazing work. Visit those that are ethical and contribute to real conservation of these wonderful creatures.
For more guidelines on what you can do to travel well, see Responsible Safari: how to travel ethically