Less is more

Buffalo in Busanga Plains, Kafue National Park

Buffalo in Busanga Plains, Kafue National Park

Reflections on life on safari, from Safari for Real guide and author Lex Hes

It is crucial for Africa that the tourism industry does well. Eco-tourism, which is usually centred around wildlife tourism in and around the great wilderness areas of Africa, is vitally important for the employment of local people. The economic viability of tourism operations in Africa’s great wildernesses ensures the survival of these places. So it is important that tourists keep coming to Africa.

However, tourism can be a double-edged sword. As particular places become more well-known and popular, so the numbers of tourists increase and we start running the risk of these high numbers of visitors destroying the essence of what brought people there in the first place. One of Yogi Barra’s quotes comes to mind: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”.

Whilst the superficial reason for most people’s visits to Africa is to see the great numbers of wildlife, there is an underlying, deeper, perhaps more subconscious, reason that brings people back to Africa. We get taken back to a time when man had very little impact on the planet, when we were much more a part of the natural cycle, and we get swept up in observing these natural processes going on in front of us as they have been since time immemorial. We appreciate the silence and the noises of the wild, the darkness of the night and the brightness of the sun, the bird chorus in the early morning and the starry nights. Above all we appreciate the peace and the quiet. There is a kind of peaceful harmony in it all despite nature being “red in tooth and claw”.

So it comes as something of a shock to be confronted by 15 minibuses jostling for position around the amazing sight of a python trying to swallow a Grant’s gazelle in the Masai Mara; with foreign tourists shouting at each other from vehicle to vehicle until the python has enough and uncoils and leaves the gazelle lying dead in front of us.

Or of 25 tourist vehicles surrounding a cheetah and her two cubs as she tries to hunt along a road in the Kruger National Park.

This is why it is important to visit places where there is some kind of control on the number of vehicles around sightings of animals. The best option is to look for safari camps that are set up in large wilderness areas where they have exclusive traversing rights.

These camps usually accommodate no more than 20 tourists at a time and so there should never be more than three or four game-drive vehicles going out each day. Because the vehicles set off in different directions each morning, you very seldom encounter another vehicle whilst you are out there, giving you a great sense of being the only one in that vast wilderness. The general policy nowadays is to have no more than three vehicles at any one sighting, so once again you don’t feel crowded in at all.

Fewer tourists give you a much better sense of the essence of the wilderness areas that you visit. It may make it a little more pricey, but it is worth it!

Lex Hes is a renowned photographer, author, naturalist and guide, and is a director-guide of Safari for Real www.safariforreal.com

Image copyright Lex Hes