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Safari guide Henrik Hult.
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  May 2010:
  Insects on board
  March 2010:
  Tour companies to trust?
  January 2010:
  Seeing the migration
  October 2009:
  Are safaris safe?
  July 2009:
  Dress for safari
  May 2009:
  The cradle of mankind
  Mar 2009:
  Future tourism in Kenya
  Jan 2009:
  Big Five or not?
  Nov 2008:
  Kenya after the unrest
  Sep 2008:
  Launch of Safari Patrol
  Jul 2008:
  Bargaining and gifts
  May 2008:
  The long rains
  Mar 2008:
  Professional guides
  Jan 2008:
  Unrest in Kenya
 
 
 
Safari Patrol:
Are safaris safe?
October 2009
Yes. Safaris in general are fairly safe. But of course not 100 % safe. Few activities or holiday destinations are.

Safety of the region
The most common safety concern among safari-goers seems to be the general safety situation and stability in the region. Kenya's and Tanzania's neighbouring countries include Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and (Democratic Republic of) Congo, which have recent or ongoing records of war, civil war, genocide etc. In 2008, Kenya itself saw violent political unrest, and Tanzania, too, has seen violence following elections in modern times. Black headlines taint the region.

For Africa, Kenya and Tanzania are fairly stable, though. Both countries are multi-party democracies that work reasonably well. The political violence of later years has been seen in connection with elections, has been temporary, and has not been directed at tourists or the tourist industry. Few safari-goers visit the border areas facing the above neighbouring countries, as the better safari regions are found centrally within the countries or along the border between Kenya and Tanzania. These safari regions are far from those areas in East Africa that cause the black headlines.

Safaris cost a lot and so require a fair holiday budget. Because of this, the average age of safari-goers is slightly on the high side. Many couples travel after their children have left home. So you may meet a few older ladies in the bush. But they don't wear flak jackets and steel helmets, or crouch under tables. They go on game drives in khakis and flower patterns, have sundowners, buy souvenirs, and take pictures of elephants, Maasai tribe warriors and each other.

They are, in brief, enjoying a good holiday.

Professional safari guide Henrik Hult in Serengeti, Tanzania.
Safari guide Henrik Hult
on safari safety
Health and diseases
Health is another cause of concern. A lot of tropical diseases are present in East Africa, including malaria and yellow fever. There are vaccinations for many of them. Others, like ebola, are rare and local. Visit a vaccination clinic in good time before your safari, to get those vaccinations and the information that you need. That's what you need to stay in good health. Most safari-goers do so. Those who don't usually have problems with their stomach. The risk of the latter can be much reduced by eating and drinking wisely.

Bottled and safe drinks, including water, are widely available, and you rarely see safari-goers drinking anything else. But as to food ... well, taste buds seem to have precedence over brains when it comes to choosing from buffets and menus. When guiding tours, I include information on safe eating in my very first briefing with my clients. Next morning I usually find a couple of them having those dishes that I told them are not safe.

More about health
More about vaccinations

Injuries
Since I started guiding safari tours in East Africa in the early 2000s, the injuries my clients have suffered so far include a broken foot (fall in lodge reception), a few cases of grazed knees (falls) and some bruising (bumps into vehicle interiors on poor bush tracks). Safaris include a certain degree of activity, some of it outdoors and in non-flat terrain. You won't be as safe from hurting yourself as you'd be in an office chair or in the sofa at home. Unless you choose a walking safari, where you may walk the bush in all sorts of terrain, you should be able to avoid most hazards by keeping your eyes open and being careful where you know you should.

Like at home, road accidents can happen. Once outside the cities, traffic is far from heavy, but safari vehicles can sometimes be seen driving at high speed on poor bush roads, and a closer look at some vehicles may reveal for example poor tyres.

You may reduce the reason for high speeds by choosing a safari itinerary that allows time for travelling at a moderate pace, i.e. not too long days on the roads, and no long drives to catch planes, other connections or meals. You may also want to choose a local tour operator of good repute. Such a company is likely to keep its vehicles in good repair and employ good drivers. Some operators even have an internal speed limit (less than the maximum legal speed), and adapt their itineraries to it, resulting in more comfortable and safer travelling for you.

Hospital quality and health care hygiene isn't good. There is a risk of disease transmission, including HIV. The best hospitals, offering western standard, in the region are found in Nairobi in Kenya (from where a flying doctors service operates).

Using your brain
One evening on a camp in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, I met a lioness on my way to dinner in the camp restaurant. The lion soon disappeared into the bush, and I moved on. When passing a tent where a couple of safari-goers sat enjoying the evening, I told them what I had seen and warned them to be careful. They laughed.

Those guys were sitting outdoors some 20 paces from the bush in an unfenced camp in a wildlife area, and their immediate reaction to a wildlife warning was that it was a joke. This indicates either an alarming lack of briefing ("beware that there may be dangerous animals around") or an equally alarming lack of awareness ("hey, what can happen, we're on an organized tour").

Only a week before, a child was killed by a leopard in that very camp. Such tragedies are very rare. But a good way to make them happen is not being careful.

Use your brain to minimize risks. Don't expect someone else to take full responsibility of your safety. Don't go where you don't know or can't see what's waiting for you. Don't sit or walk around in the dark if there may be animals around. Stay clear of animals that you see, unless you're escorted by a professional and armed guide or safe inside a vehicle. Don't hesitate to tell your guide that you've seen something that worries you, or that you want to get away from it. The professional staff, including guides and lodge/camp staff, is there to serve and please you.

More about scary animals

The volcano Oldoinyo Lengai in northern Tanzania erupted a year or two ago. This was bad news to those locals that got an income from guiding tourists climbing the mountain. Some guides continued bringing clients onto the volcano, claiming that they knew the area and the mountain, and that the eruptions weren't big enough to be really dangerous. I can't make any comments on their expertise. But I have seen the terrain of the volcano, the clouds of smoke coming out of it, the ash fallout, and a couple of movie clips where magma appears like out of nowhere and flows like liquid. My brain says it's not a safe place to go. While the guides' brains may have said it's income going there. Your safety benefits from brains looking at things from your perspective.

Good vs. bad
All in all, and as far as I know, there have been no thefts, robberies, threats or acts of violence directed towards my safari clients. None of them have been injured by animals or in the traffic, and those injuries suffered out in the bush could have happened during a sunday stroll in a park or forest at home. Some have suffered health problems, mainly in the stomach region, but these have been relatively mild, and some could probably have been avoided by wiser choices in front of the buffets.

All of my clients, except for that poor lady who broke her foot and was evacuated by air, have completed their safaris after experiencing lots and lots and lots, after seeing Africa, its people and its scenery, and after seeing oh so many animals and generally enjoying an eventful holiday. And when I myself travel to guide my next group, I don't do it reluctantly because of safety hazards, but happily because of the events and experiences both I and my clients will face.

It's like when I go into town to a movie theatre or a restaurant. I know that there are dark alleys, drug dealers and robbers, and poor drivers in heavy traffic. So I do what I can to avoid the bad stuff, to get the good.

 
 
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Page updated 27 October 2009