Alan Murphy
Australia AU

Alan is a travel writer and author of over 20 Lonely Planet guidebooks, including the guides to Southern Africa and Zambia & Malawi.

Category: Alan Murphy's Column

This week Alan looks at prioritising the wildlife when booking a safari. A priority that can be strangely absent. Operators sometimes focus on creature comforts rather than your real reason for being in the bush.

Chocolate dusted strawberries anyone? How do you like your martini, shaken or stirred? Cocktails by the saltwater pool perhaps? These days selling a safari can be as much about the luxury of the operator’s lodges and services as it can be about the animals. Strange isn’t it? But true, so I highly recommend doing a bit of basic research around the wildlife you’d most like to see.

What are your wildlife priorities?
Lions in a tree? Cheetahs on the move? Wild dogs on the hunt? Elephants splashing around in a mud bath? What is it about African wildlife that stirs your imagination? For me it’s hippos. Love hippos, especially enjoy spending time near a watercourse and seeing grunting hippos haul themselves onto the grassy banks under a blood-red African sunset. All ready for a good night’s grazing. Yum yum, boy does that grass look good!

What you need to toss about in your mind are: habitat requirements and seasonal fluctuations of the species you are interested in. Sound complicated? It’s really not. It boils down to, ‘’where are they, and when do they like to hang out there’’. And any decent wildlife guide, or safari operator for that matter, can tell you that.

Many species are migratory for example, especially birds, and habitats change. When the grass is long after the rains it can be difficult to see anything land-based. But the lush setting will often be rich pickings for birders.

And choose wisely….
Also important are the social and environmental responsibilities of operators. Have a trawl through my archive for an earlier blog on this. Number one priority is that an operator is sensitive to the welfare of the animals and their habitat. Again research. There are plenty of shysters amongst the throngs of safari operators.

So, a good rule of thumb is to see where the focus of an operator is – on the wildlife or your lodgings? I’m not saying sunset cocktails over the floodplains are unimportant. Nor Egyptian cotton sheets under your duck feather duvet, but do you really need to come to Africa to find that? Operators that stick to the wildlife are a better bet for some unforgettable wildlife spotting in the African bush.

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