Safari – drive in the wild or a big zoo?

How lucky am I – to have been into the bush in Africa, to watch animals and birds in their natural habitats, my previous experiences limited to zoos. But the experience does make you think.

Needless to say, there are plenty of people wishing to enjoy this experience, not that it comes cheap! But this leads to almost overcrowding at times. At our camp in Sabi Sands there were several other camps accessing the same area of bush. There was a fascinating collaboration and cooperation operating between the rangers in the various camps but also a form of hierarchy or precedence, all with the objective of avoiding overcrowding around a siting to protect the animals on the one hand but also ensuring that customers had the best experience, with the objective of protecting the popularity of game drives and continuity of business.

A critical factor to success in sightings is that the animals are not suspicious or frightened of the vehicles. Hence one is advised to wear drab colours and not to stand up in the vehicle, all to avoid being visible and draw attention to oneself, which could have disastrous consequences! And so, as a result, animals scarcely seem to notice the vehicles driving their passengers close enough for one to be tempted to put out ones hand and stroke, for example, a sleeping leopard! We sat for some time watching a mother leopard trying to coax her pup out of the undergrowth where he was hiding, less accustomed to the vehicles and therefore, frightened.

And so one must think that there is less of a gap between the experience in the wild and that of visiting the zoo. These animals are so accustomed to having their natural habitat disturbed as to give the impression of being virtually domesticated, (up to a point for sure) charmingly named by the trackers and rangers, generations followed and noted.

I felt slightly uncomfortable that there was a risk of being a voyeur, to the point of intruding. When word gets round that there is a valuable sighting, the trackers book their viewing slot. There is a rather frenzied dash of vehicles to the location, hovering until it’s your turn, a sense of encircling and trapping the prey. This could be to watch a leopard in a tree, noisily dismembering a recently killed baby giraffe, its head and long neck dangling lifeless, bones cracking.

And so I have come home with a slightly uncomfortable sense of intruding into a world which is magnificent in its sheer force of nature and wondering how much right I have to be participating in a rather manipulated possibly contrived privilege.

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