The next best thing to travelling when you can’t actually travel, going online offers a virtual portal to a vast array of African experiences, ranging from livestreamed safaris and wildlife cams through to 360° interactive photography. Most safari operators are putting great content out now, so it is worth following your favourite companies, but here are our suggestions for some of the best places to slake your thirst for Africa during lockdown.
LIVE SAFARIS AND VIDEOS
Livestreamed safari drives have taken off in a big way, with increasing numbers of operators now offering tantalising glimpses of the great African wilderness to the quarantined masses. Partly an exercise aimed at inspiring viewers and encouraging future bookings, live safaris also play an important role in ensuring that guides stay out in the field and keep a watchful eye on wildlife, particularly given the enhanced risking of poaching in the continued absence of visitors.
The go-to destination for your daily dose of the great outdoors, with sunrise and sunset safaris streamed live each day from South Africa’s Djuma Private Game Reserve and the andBeyond Ngala Private Game Reserve. The channel’s team of expert guides are hugely informative and usually seriously entertaining, while viewers can message guides (and one another) in real time throughout the drive. There’s also a vast library of old gamedrives to browse on their YouTube page, providing hours of immersive viewing. “Completely unscripted and unpredictable—this show is reality TV as it is supposed to be.”
As well as partnering with WildEarth for their twice-daily livestreamed game drives, andBeyond also produce plenty of virtual safari material of their own, including video clips and a vast selection of photos. It’s also worth checking out the Instagram accounts of the group’s individual lodges—click the arrow next to the blue “Follow” bottom at the top of your screen to bring up the links.
Instagram Live: instagram.com/singita_
Another leading operator (with almost twenty lodges spread over South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Rwanda) to start offering live virtual safaris. Turn on your Instagram notifications to watch live, or check out older postings under the “This Week” tab on their Facebook page.
YouTube: Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
Videos of safari drives from the stunning uplands of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya, home to the critically endangered black rhino and the rare Grevy’s zebra, as well as elephant, lion, giraffe, wild dog and much more.
YouTube: PaintedDog TV
Fun and educational YouTube channel based near Kruger National Park, offering regular live shows (branded as Animal World LIVE) hosted by Brent Leo-Smith, plus some top-quality documentary-style studies of the region’s lions and cheetahs. Helpfully, it is one of the few places that actually tells you when its next live stream is going to take place!
YouTube: EcoTraining TV
Run by one of Africa’s top field-guide training providers, EcoTraining TV’s YouTube channel offers an entertaining and always informative selection of videos from its camps in South Africa, Botswana and Kenya. A great place to brush up on your tracking and birding skills during lockdown.
YouTube: Royal Malewane
Live streams from this luxury lodge in South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park—it’s also one of the few places to post full-length videos of their game drives if you want the full, unedited safari experience.
Others offering live or daily virtual safaris include:
Wildlife cams offer a great digital alternative to being there yourself: live, totally unpredictable and (if you really get hooked) offering a challenging exercise in patience. The first African cams were established twenty years ago, originally comprising still shots taken at thirty-second intervals. Technology has come on a lot since then (although outages are still fairly common), with the best cams now remotely controlled, and with high-spec microphones capable of picking up and zooming in on approaching wildlife.
Founded in 1999, the pioneering Africam network now beams real-time, high-definition video from its eight cameras set up in various places around South Africa, including Tembe Elephant Park, Sabi Sands, Olifants River, the Kruger National Park, Balule Nature Reserve, and the Pilanesberg and Madikwe Game Reserves. It’s probably the closest you can get to actually being out in the African bush yourself without leaving home, and there are also videos of recent cam highlights if you don’t fancy waiting for wildlife to make an appearance.
A great portal hosting live wildlife cam footage from around the world. Most of the Africam feeds can also be accessed here (along with interesting additional background info and tips on best viewing times which can’t be found on the Africam website itself), and there are also several live feeds from Laikipia in Kenya’s Rift Valley, plus a superb, up-close-and-personal live stream from the Gorilla Forest Corridor at the GRACE Centre in eastern DRC.
Djuma Dam Cam
Another project by the pioneering WildEarth TV team, the Djuma “Dam Cam” at Gowrie Dam near the Djuma Private Game has been keeping an eye out for wildlife for over twenty years, with regular visitors including elephants, hippos, lions and leopards. The state-of-the art camera can be operated remotely from anywhere in the world and swivels constantly day and night in search of visiting wildlife, enhanced with a sensitive directional microphone and infrared mode for after-dark viewing.
South Africa National Parks
For further real-time glimpses of South African wildlife, head to the website of South Africa National Parks, with live streams from Addo Elephant National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Kruger National Park.
Interactive 360° photographs offer some magnificent views of the African landscape and allow you to click your way around and virtually “explore” a wide variety of locations across the continent.
Virtual Ecotourism hosts a wide selection of interactive on-line tours of wildlife and conservation hotspots worldwide, using a mix of immersive 360-degree photographs with embedded videos and voiceover commentary from expert guides. Led by Ian Redmond, former research assistant to the legendary Dian Fossey, the 16 African v-tours range from visits to Stanley’s Baobab in Boma through to the Lola Yo Bonobos sanctuary near Kinshasa and the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Best of all are the collection of tours in the spectacular mountain gorilla habitats of northern Rwanda, including a memorable glimpse of the summit of Mount Sabinya, at the meeting point of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. Don a VR headset for maximum impact.
Google Street View
Google’s Street View offers much more than the name suggests, now boldly going to places far from any tarmac. All of South Africa’s national parks can now be visited virtually on Street View thanks to a team of 572 guides, rangers and volunteers who walked over 500 miles carrying 48-pound cameras to bring you images of the parts no vehicles can reach. Most of Kenya’s National Parks have also been captured on Street View, and you’ll also find coverage of remote tracks in some other parks around the continent.
It’s a bit tricky to find out exactly what’s out there, which is maybe part of the fun, as you never quite know what you’ll stumble upon next, but you’ll get a great sense of the terrain. Just open Google Maps on your chosen location, drag the Pegman icon onto the map and then drop it on any of the blue lines which appear, transporting you miraculously into the heart of the African bush. So, if you’re thinking of visiting the Maasai Mara and want to see what it looks like, it’s now easily done!
Alternatively, head over to 360imagefilm.com, created by Chris du Plessis, a major contributor to Street View’s African projects, where you’ll find a big selection of Street View drives, walks and 360° photos from seven countries across Eastern and Southern Africa.
Also worth a look is https://streetview.360imagefilm.com/, showcasing Chris’s mouthwatering 360° portfolio featuring bush lodges across the continent.