Reflections on life on safari, from Safari for Real guide and author Lex Hes (Image copyright Lex Hes)
Whilst on a safari some years ago, we came across an incredible sight: a martial eagle had caught a huge rock monitor which it had pinned to the ground. The monitor lizard was large enough that it was still able to stand up on its legs and walk slowly forwards despite the mass of the eagle on its back and the powerful claws penetrating its flanks. The monitor moved very slowly forward, and every now and then the eagle would lose its balance and flap its wings frantically to regain it. We sat spellbound as we watched and waited to see how this amazing situation would play itself out.
After about 45 minutes our guide told us that it was time to go back to camp as breakfast was going to be served. We told him that there was no way that we would leave this sight just yet and convinced him to stay for a while longer. Twenty minutes later he told us that he really had to get going and that management would be upset with him if he arrived late for breakfast. Reluctantly we left this incredible sight and never found out how it all ended. This complete lack of flexibility on the part of the management of this particular safari camp left us feeling frustrated and hard done by.
Going on safari in the wilderness is an unpredictable thing. You never know what you are going to get around the next corner. Most wild animal activity takes place in the early morning or the late afternoon. At night. And even in the middle of the day! The natural world doesn’t really have any rest periods. For this reason it is very important that the safari destination you choose allows a great amount of flexibility in its daily activities.
We do tend to have daily routines on safari: up early in the cool of the day and when the predators are still coming to the end of their nocturnal prowlings, when the birds are in full dawn chorus and when the early morning sun provides us with great photographic light; back to camp in the late morning for a hearty brunch, and a rest period when most of the wildlife has retreated to the shade in the heat of the day and the sunlight is harsh and flat; and then out again in the afternoon as temperatures drop and the sun reveals its golden light once more; before returning to camp after a short night drive.
But these routines can be thrown off course by the things that can happen out there. The sound of animal alarm calls can lead you off your chosen route and before you know it you may be following a leopard on the hunt. Or the tracks of lions cross through a body of water, which means that you have to take a long circuitous route to get to the island that they have crossed onto. All of this can take time and can throw your routines out completely, and this is when you want a guide who is as passionate as you are about being out there, and a management team who will keep meals waiting for you or who is prepared to take your lunch out to you.
You may have planned to be back at camp at 7pm, but just as you think of returning, the lions that you have been photographing all afternoon suddenly get up and head off in the direction of that herd of buffalo that you saw earlier in the day. Now is not the time to go back to camp!
And it’s not only about the big game. There is so much life to see and learn about that you want a guide who is prepared to stop and reveal the little things to you – such as insects, plants, geology, dung and tracks – that you may not have noticed before. This can take time and can result in lengthy delays as you try and get to your destination.
In order to enjoy a fully in-depth safari, you want to have as much flexibility as possible!
Lex Hes is a renowned photographer, author, naturalist and guide, and is a director-guide of Safari for Real www.safariforreal.com