Self-drive excursions allow you to explore the fascinating wildlife and beautiful scenery in African game reserves and national parks at your own pace. You can drive around the parks and encounter the animals without a guide.
Despite the benefits of self-drive safari, it also comes with its fair share of challenges. For instance, getting dangerously close to the animals can arouse them, leading to attacks. Over the years, various parks have reported incidents of animals attacking tourists. However, that should not be a cause for alarm since we provide you with the best tips for staying safe on your next self-drive safari.
1. Drive Slowly
Animals will get startled, run away, or probably charge at you when you drive fast or make noise. Since you are traversing their territory, avoid speeding or causing disturbances that will make them feel unsafe. The tracks are also narrow, and the road may be rough; hence driving fast may also cause accidents.
When you drive slowly, you can get close to the animals without them noticing your presence. You are also less likely to scare them, and the animals will not run away or attack you. They may only stare at your car, but they will not approach your car once they realise you are not a threat. It is also advisable to observe the animals’ reactions to your presence. If they look tense, you should not approach them until they are calm.
2. Keep a Safe Distance
Wildlife sightings are fascinating up close, and you can capture the best photographs. You can marvel at the animal features, such as their colour and beautiful patterns, when you are a few metres from them. You can also observe their behavior and eating habits. If you are lucky, you can watch up close how predators such as lions and cheetahs maul their prey.
While approaching the animals boosts your safari experience, you should remember that wild animals do not behave like humans. Getting too close may cause discomfort. Besides, giant animals such as lions, rhinos and buffalos can attack you when they feel threatened. Bull elephants in the musth phase are even more dangerous since their high testosterone levels make them aggressive. Mothers with their young ones and lonely male animals can be especially dangerous when they notice foreign objects such as vehicles and even people lurking around their territory.
Apart from exposing yourself to danger, approaching the animals may also destroy the vegetation and animal habitats. Disrupting the animals in their natural habitat is also equivalent to disrespect. During the rainy season, you should keep a safe distance from aggressive animals. If you are in close proximity to the animal habitat, it can be hard for you to get out in time if an animal charges at your vehicle and you are stuck in the mud. For larger animals such as buffalos and elephants, the distance should not be less than 20 metres.
3. Be Patient
Self-drive safaris are not for the faint-hearted. You got to be patient if you want to see crocodiles attacking their prey in the rivers. It is rare to get into the park and bump into a herd of zebras grazing just a few metres from your location. It is best to identify a strategic location to wait for the animals. For instance, lions are active in the morning when the sun is not scorching. Therefore, you should go for your self-safari early in the morning to get the perfect wildlife sightings.
If your safari falls in the dry season, you can wait for the animals patiently at a watering hole. Most animals will be searching for water in the afternoon to quench their thirst and cool down their bodies. You can witness a lot of drama at the waterholes as predators may take the opportunity to attack their prey. You are also likely to come across animals resting under tree shades on hot afternoons.
Experiencing the African bush sounds is an exciting way to enjoy your self-drive safari. Sometimes the sounds can alert you about the approaching animals. For instance, if you hear baboons making alarms, it is a sign of danger or predators lurking nearby. Listening to animals such as hippos, black-backed jackals, and zebras make their sounds is also enjoyable.
5. Switch Off the Engine
Animals are not used to noise from vehicles. When you come across a herd of elephants, turn off the engine to reduce disturbances and allow the animals to continue with their business. Hooting, loud music, or other noises will only scare the animals and make them move away.
When you approach animals on a self-drive safari, it is advisable to switch off your car engine to allow the animals to behave normally. For instance, elephants ‘hear’ by picking up vibrations over long distances. A running engine near a herd of elephants will only disrupt their normal hearing process and make them feel uncomfortable. Sometimes switching off the engine when the animals approach your car can also make them less aggressive.
6. Use Binoculars
Although the chances of getting close to the African wildlife are high on a self-drive safari, that is not always the case. Sometimes you may see a small herd of gazelles a few metres away, and any attempt to approach them will scare them away. If you are interested in watching a pride of lions tearing an antelope, the long-distance may make it difficult to get the finer details without binoculars.
Going on a self-drive safari with a pair of binoculars allows you to capture events and enjoy wildlife sightings without approaching the wild animals. During the rainy season, it is hazardous to get close to large mammals like elephants. However, you can use binoculars to watch them from a safe distance.
7. Learn From Self-Drive Safari Professionals
Before embarking on a self-drive safari, familiarise yourself with the game park guidelines. For instance, you can learn the recommended distance between travellers and the wildlife. Although getting out of your car window and standing up through the sunroofs allows you to take great photos, you could be attacked by wild cats such as lions and leopards. Therefore, find out the best locations to get out of your car and walk around without exposing yourself to danger.
Your safety should always come first when enjoying wildlife in Southern Africa, Eastern Africa and other parts of the vast continent. If it is your first self-drive safari, you should get a game driver to avoid getting lost or traversing dangerous zones. Safari experts can also provide relevant information that will make your trip secure.
8. Look All Directions
When going on a self-drive safari, have an open mind and be ready to explore diverse habitats. Do not restrict yourself to the top five since it may take hours to spot them. As you wait for a herd of the blue wildebeest or lions to approach, you can enjoy the flora and watch birds flying over the trees. You can also get fantastic photographing opportunities as you drive around, like watching a cobra crossing the road or crocodiles basking in the sun. Therefore, for the best sightings, keep your eyes open in all directions and savour every inch of the tour.
9. Use Common Sense
Large animals like elephants and buffalos can charge and overturn vehicles. Hence, you should always be on high alert on a self-drive safari. Sometimes switching off your vehicle engine and keeping your music low is all you need to avoid an attack. Other times, a speedy retreat could be the only option to avoid an unruly herd of buffaloes.
When on a self-drive safari, you should judge the prevailing circumstances and take quick action. If you notice the animals are calm, you should not keep the car engine running. However, if the animals are tense and can attack at provocation, speeding from the site could be the best course of action.
Always remember that you are intruding on the animals’ territory when driving around the game reserves. Violating any rules, regardless of how trivial they seem, may compromise your safety and that of the animals. You should ensure your presence in the park does not affect the animals’ usual way of life. You should also avoid polluting the animal habitats using reusable water bottles and carrying your plastic trash to the recommended disposal site.