I have always dreamed of seeing Africa’s “Big 5” but as a passionate animal lover, I want to know how to choose an ethical safari. I know how to travel responsibly when heading to the beach or the countryside, but not a big game safari. Heading off on safari is many people's dream holiday. But seeing animals in the wild comes with a price, and that's not only in $$. Human interference can cause significant distress to wildlife and affect their environment, and some safari companies offer little benefit to their local communities. So how can you go on safari and see wonderful wildlife, while still behaving in an ethical manner? After some research, here are my tips for how to choose an ethical safari.
While you shouldn't rule out larger companies, choosing a small company can ensure that your safari is conducted in an ethical fashion. Such small operations are often run by people who have a strong knowledge of the wildlife and country they cover. Whoever you choose, the key is to do your research, and ask plenty of questions. For example, what do they do for the local community? Do they employ local people? What do they do to protect the environment and its wildlife? Have they visited the lodges and campsites?
Safari camps don't always mean roughing it; some can be quite luxurious. But whatever the style of your camp, pick one that makes every effort to cause minimal impact on its surroundings. These could include such methods as using solar power, and turning waste food into fuel.
Investigate what the company and the camps do to preserve the environment and its animals. Do they take active steps to improve animal numbers and protect the environment? Do they maintain a respectful distance from the animals and avoid direct contact with them?
The only way you should view animals is at a safe and respectful distance. Avoid any company that promotes contact with animals (they are often drugged to keep them docile, or may be subjected to inhumane training methods), unless it is a genuine sanctuary that always places the welfare of the animals first.
What does the camp do for the local community? Do they employ local guides and cooks? Some camps are ownedby local communities, while others offer sponsorship programmes or a community levy that puts money directly in the pockets of local people.
Tourism can often have a negative impact on the local people as well, and it's important to remember that. Look for a company that makes an effort to introduce you to local people, so that you can learn about their lives, culture and the environment they live in.
If you choose an owner-run company, you are more likely to be sure of dealing with people who are committed to the area they run tours in, and who have a strong knowledge of the environment and its animals. They may also go to greater efforts to work with local people and ensure that they benefit from tourism.
Anyone can call themselves a sanctuary, and appearing to be involved in wildlife conservation does not always make a company an ethical one. Indeed, there are many tour operator who engage in dubious practices such as breeding for hunting, or allowing interaction with predators that should be kept at a safe distance. Check out lists such as this one, which will provide you with a basis for doing your research into how ethical a company is.
A hotel may be more comfortable, but it will not give you an authentic experience and will have a greater impact on the environment. Choose a safari that provides accommodation in tents or lodges.
The EthicalTraveller offers many articles on sustainable and low-impact tourism. Although most are about tourism in other countries, there are some on safaris, and the advice in other articles may still be applicable.
In many areas, visitor numbers have grown to such a rate that they have a major impact on the environment. Look for a safari that keeps numbers low and makes efforts to restrict the impact on the animals and the environment.
It's easy to get over-excited by the amazing wildlife you see on safari, but it cannot be emphasised enough that you must always behave in a responsible manner and always follow the instructions of your guide. Many tourists have sustained injuries that were entirely avoidable and their own fault, so listen to those who know best and respect that you are in the animals' territory.
Have you been on safari in Africa? Was it fab?
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