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Safari-goers watching a black rhino in the Ngorongoro Crater.
  More about game viewing
Looking for animals
· Bring a pair of binoculars, which allow you to look for and observe animals at a distance. Bring a book on mammals or birds if you want to identify animals that you see yourself.
· Keep you eyes open also when not on game drives. You may, for example, spot animals or birds in the trees or the bush around your lodge or camp.
· Don't sleep late. There is a lot of activity in the bush early in the mornings. The light for taking nice pictures is good, too.
· If the camp or lodge has an observation point overviewing the bush, you should spend some time there. You may see animals or birds. There may even be a floodlight for game viewing in the dark.
On game drives
· Stand up in the vehicle as much as possible, also when driving. You can overview the bush and see further when standing.
· The driver guides are good at spotting animals, but they don't see everything. Ask him to stop when you see something that catches your attention.
· Look everywhere. Animals or birds may be found in the trees, in the air, in shrubs, in the shadow of rocks, in the grass close to the road, far away etc.
· A good hand luggage for game drives includes a bottle of water, a pair of binoculars, a camera, a hat, sun block and wet wipes.
· Don't get out of the vehicle unless the driver guide says it's OK. There may be (dangerous) animals around.
Safari glossary
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On safari:
Game viewing
The most common way of watching the wildlife in Kenya and Tanzania is doing game drives, i.e. doing slow drives through the bush in safari vehicles, stopping to watch animals and other interesting things that you spot. Game drives are mostly done by day, but are also done at night (and are often referred to as 'night safaris') in some areas.

Game viewing and bird watching may also be done from boats on lakes and rivers, and on foot in some areas. Many lodges and tented camps have observation points overviewing the bush or a waterhole, and birds and small mammals may be seen elsewhere in lodge and camp areas. In some of the major parks, you may join a balloon safari to watch the wildlife from above.

What to see
If you visit the best parks in Kenya or Tanzania, you may see 30–40 species of mammals during a normal safari. To most safari-goers, seeing these mammals is the main reason for visiting East Africa, and most time on safaris is spent on looking for and watching them. Elephants, zebras, hippos, lions, giraffes, antelopes and more are seen on most safaris.

In addition, you may see numerous birds, some reptiles, a rich flora and the local landscape.

More about mammals

Savanna game drive.

Game drives
A game drive is a two to three hour drive in a park, looking for animals. You drive slowly on roads and tracks through the bush (driving off-road is allowed in few parks only, and then usually in special areas only), and stop to watch when you spot something interesting. The roof hatches found on most safari vehicles are open during game drives, allowing you to stand up for a better view.

Kenyan game drives
On most safaris in Kenya, game drives are done early in the morning and in the late afternoon, when temperatures are lower than during the middle of the day. (Lower temperature means more activity among the animals.) That is, you do two game drives every day, and spend the time in between in the camp or lodge, relaxing or watching animals from the observation point. During days when you are travelling between parks, there is usually only time for the afternoon game drive.

Tanzanian game drives
On safaris in Tanzania, game driving is often not restricted to mornings and late afternoons only, but may also be done during the middle of the day. Full day game drives, including a picnic lunch in the bush, are not uncommon. A reason for using more of the days for game driving may be that the Tanzanian parks are generally much larger than the Kenyan, and that travelling between parks and camps in some areas in Tanzania can be done by game driving, instead of travelling main roads in rural areas at speed.

Spotting the animals
Beginners may find spotting the animals difficult, as they may be camouflaged and hard to see in the vegetation, or just because you are not looking in the right places. But just keep looking, even if you don't seem to spot anything yourself. You will gradually become better and better at it. You may also ask the driver guide or tour leader which animals you may see, and where to look for them, in the different types of landscape you drive through.

Standing up in the vehicle improves your overview, and allows you to see further away. When sitting, roadside grass and the vehicle itself often obscures your view.

Many animals are spotted when they move, or because they make a shape diverging from the surrounding landscape. You may spot such things by scanning the landscape with your eyes, rather than staring at places where you think animals would like to hide. Even cats resting in the shade, where they may be really hard to spot, often reveal themselves by flicking their tail. A leopard in a tree may be found by spotting its tail or legs hanging down below the branch it's resting on.

Impalas seen at night.

Night safaris
In most parks, game drives at night are not allowed. Many camps and lodges located outside the park borders arrange night safaris (i.e. game drives at night), though. In the dark, you may not only see the same animals as during the days, but also nocturnal species that seldom or never are seen in daylight, for example honey badgers, galagos, genets and aardvarks.

A good game drive at night requires a hand-held searchlight, which is used for scanning the bush along your route. Most animals are spotted when the light is seen reflected from their eyes.

Bush walks
Some local tour operators, and some camps and lodges, arrange escorted bush walks or even full safaris on foot. In prime safari areas, you may encounter all kinds of African mammals, including lions, elephants and buffalos. Such walks may be done for example in the areas around Serengeti and Masai Mara, and in Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. On Crescent Island in Kenyan Lake Naivasha, you can walk among herbivores only.

Birding walks are offered in many lodges and camps, and are usually led by a local ornithologist.

More about walking safaris

Boat safaris
Lodges and camps by lakes or rivers may arrange boat tours for watching wildlife or birds on the shores. This is done, for example, on Lake Naivasha in Kenya and on the Rufiji River in Selous.

Balloon safaris
Balloon safaris are available in some major parks, such as Masai Mara and Tsavo in Kenya and Serengeti in Tanzania. They are not full safaris done in a balloon, but rather an add-on activity to a normal safari. The flight itself lasts for about an hour, while the whole arrangement, including pick-up from the lodge, briefing, flight, breakfast in the bush after landing etc, may last for some five hours.

The balloon safari starts early in the morning, and the wind direction decides which parts of the parks you will see. It is a nice experience, both seeing the sunrise and the African landscape from a completely new perspective, and the chance to see areas where you cannot go by car because there are no roads. The only drawback comes if you spot something really, really interesting, such as a lion about to hunt; you can't stay to watch, because you can't stop the balloon.

Fares for balloon safaris are quite high, starting around USD 400 per person. You may want to book the balloon early, preferably when booking your safari, as the number of passengers who can fly each day is limited.

Balloon safari in Serengeti, Tanzania.

Watching animals around the lodge
Unless you want to relax between game drives, you may go bird watching or even game viewing in your lodge or camp. There is usually some kind of garden, where mammals such as hyrax, mongoose or monkeys may be seen, and if there is an observation point facing the bush or a waterhole, you may see any kind of animals.

A good time for doing this is the first few hours after dawn, when the animals are very active and the light is warm and good for photography. Set your alarm clock for early mornings!

Some tented camps are located right in the middle of the bush, and are not fenced. Animals may be found within the camp area during days, and most certainly move there at night, when lights are out and the camp is quiet. You may hear sounds outside your tent, ranging from steps from grazing or browsing antelopes, to hyaenas calling or even lions roaring. The tents are safe, though, as long as you stay inside, and there are watchmen on duty at night, keeping an eye on animals passing through the camp.

Long-crested eagle.

Bird watching
Many keen bird watchers have a really good time while on safari, as you don't see mammals only, but also a lot of birds. If you keep your eyes open, you may see 100–150 different species of birds during a normal safari, and an experienced birder may see a lot more. There are even special safari packages for birders, visiting a combination of different birding areas, for example savannas, freshwater and soda lakes, forests etc.

If you aren't very interested in birds, you may still enjoy seeing big and spectacular ones, such as ostriches, hornbills, eagles, vultures and storks.

More about birds

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Page updated 27 April 2013