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Safari guide Henrik Hult.
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  May 2010:
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Safari Patrol:
Professional guides
March 2008
The present high season in East Africa is close to an end. The clients that I have travelled the bush of northern Tanzania with during February have seen a good share of big cats and, for this time of year, unusually many elephants. The migrating herds of gnus and zebras have spent much of the month in the plains of south-eastern Serengeti, on the border to Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where we have seen them in vast numbers. To me, it has been one of the best migration seasons so far.

The clients have now returned home, pleased. Most of them have high expectations when arriving; this safari may be the most expensive tour that they'll ever do, and they expect an experience out of the ordinary.

So it feels good, when saying goodbye to them after their safari, to hear them say: 'It has been a lot better than I had expected.' Many of them say that. In exactly those words.

A prime safari region
I'm afraid they don't say that because they've had me for a guide, but because they have been on a safari in a prime safari region, maybe the best one there is. Northern Tanzania and southern Kenya have it all. The Big Five. An abundance of wildlife. Many cats. Many elephants, hippos and giraffes. The vast migrating herds. The typical savanna scenery. And so on.

You may no doubt have a very good safari elsewhere in Africa, too. But hardly to a region this rich in wildlife and this accessible.

Professional safari guide Henrik Hult in Serengeti, Tanzania.
Safari guide Henrik Hult
on professionalism
My neighbours at home went to Kruger National Park in South Africa, and had a good time, seeing a lot. But they didn't see the lion, they said. I refrained from telling them about those clients of mine that summed up 75 lions during their week on safari in Tanzania.

It is true, though, that Tanzania and Kenya have many visitors, and that safari vehicles sometimes are seen massing around trophy animals such as rhinos and big cats. I experienced this recently, when close to 40 jeeps and minibuses lined up around a hunting lioness in Serengeti. But such scenes are not the full truth. Most of these gatherings of vehicles are seen in areas close to where a lot of tourists are staying. The hunt, which ended with the lion eventually killing a waterbuck, took place in Seronera in central Serengeti, which is the heart of the park. Due to poor grazing, central Serengeti wasn't quite up to par during February, so many safari guides took their groups to Seronera, where you can usually spot cats even when game viewing in general is slow.

Similar scenes can be seen in other areas that have too many lodges and camps in relation to the size of the game driving areas. The Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania and Masai Mara in Kenya are such places. In Serengeti, it happens in Seronera but not much elsewhere in the park. My groups saw cats on a number of occasions, including lions, leopards, cheetahs, servals and wild cats, with no other vehicles around, in other areas.

Good safari guides
It's much up to the travel companies to plan their safari itineraries well, allowing for good game driving even if the normally good areas should fail. And it's up to the local tour operators to employ and train good driver guides, who don't have to rely on safe bets, but are confident and skilled enough to bring their clients to alternative areas and find the animals there on their own.

KPSGA, or Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association, was started some ten years ago, as an initiative to increase the skills among Kenyan driver guides. To be a member, you have to pass an examination, showing you're competent enough to provide a good guiding service to clients. Out in the bush, it's sometimes evident that also Tanzania would benefit from having such an association, stimulating driver guides to become more professional, and maybe even preventing some from entering the parks at all.

Rhino chase
One day this winter, a female rhino and her calf attracted the attention of a number of vehicles in the Ngorongoro Crater. The rhinos were clearly planning to cross a bush road, but many of the vehicles kept moving to stay as close as possible, parking wherever the animals approached the road, thus blocking the passage. The rhinos were most cautious and couldn't pass. This didn't stop until another vehicle drove up next to ours, parked there and effectively blocked the road for vehicles behind us. As the road ahead of us was thus left clear, the rhinos took the opportunity to cross right away.

Some of the drivers that were blocked from continuing their rhino chase obviously didn't know, or respect, the most basic park rule: don't disturb the animals. I had never heard so many car horns in the bush before, or heard such verbal abuse of a colleague.

The driver guide who had stopped next to us, helping the rhinos and attracting the wrath of his colleagues, replied: 'I know what I'm doing. I'm a professional guide.'

Very true. The others should learn from him. Those who don't shouldn't be allowed to bring clients into the parks at all. A proof of competence, such as KPSGA's in Kenya, would be a good thing for Tanzania, too.

 
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Page updated 18 February 2009