Self-Drive Safari: What to do at a Zebra Crossing
Self-drive safaris are a popular way to travel in Africa because they give you the freedom to create itineraries which focus on your personal interests and passions and opens up a huge degree of flexibility.
It also takes the decisions and responsibilities which would otherwise fall to a guide and places them squarely on your shoulders. In this post we're going to cover some of the ways in which you can make the most of your wildlife encounters while on self-drive safari and keep yourself, other travellers and the wildlife safe.
Give way to wildlife
Should you come across a herd, pride or troop on, or crossing, the road, stop and give them time and always remember, where there is one animal crossing there is likely to be more!
The vast majority of animals will keep their distance from vehicles and on some occasions you may have no option but to slowly and carefully manoeuvre past some obstinate zebra or dimwitted but there are a few species you should be particularly wary of, such as rhino and elephant.
Rhino are notoriously ill tempered, with the black rhino being the grumpiest. It is believed that this might be connected to their poor eyesight, which makes them relatively easy to surprise. Give Rhino space and time and you are unlikely to have a problem.
We started to write about elephant encounters here but realised very quickly that elephant encounters are so nuanced it would double the length of this post so you can find a specific article on elephants here, but the watch words are space and respect.
Try not to shepherd the wildlife
Pushing individual and groups of animals in a direction that they do not necessarily want to go is something that we usually do completely unintentionally in our enthusiasm for the wildlife and it can be difficult to avoid.
When finding animals on, or near, the road be aware that animals may be on the way to a specific destination, such as a waterhole. Keeping your vehicle parallel to them may be preventing them from crossing the road and continuing on.
More nervous species, such as eland, may run away even when you are relatively distant from them. Continuing to try and get close to animals that want to maintain their safe distance causes stress which is detrimental to their health.
Keep in mind that adult animals in Africa do not want to run, it's too hot, consumes hard fought resources and leaves them vulnerable until they recover from the exertion. Therefore, if an animal is running from your vehicle it is a clear indication that they are not happy with your proximity. It quickly becomes apparent how close animals will allow you and continually trying to get closer will eventually cause the animal to go somewhere you cannot follow or become aggressive.
Other negative effects of pushing wildlife with a vehicle can be separating mothers from their young, interfering with a hunt and reducing the wildlife's tolerance for vehicles.
Stay in your vehicle within reserves and parks
Have you ever wondered why lions and other predators don't jump into game
viewers for a free lunch? Well, in all but the most exceptional circumstances animals
only attack if they feel threatened or can effectively deal with the size of the prey. While in a game viewer people are seen as part of the vehicle, which is neither a threat nor small enough to eat. Standing up, leaning out of the vehicle or being excessively noisy can break the silhouette and highlight individuals as the weak little primates that they are. This is why safari guides ask that you remain seated and quiet when viewing predators.
Should someone emerge from the vehicle entirely even the most placid herbivore can quickly become dangerous. This may explain why, unbelievably (or maybe entirely believably?), the number one cause of injury and fatalities on safari across Africa is people getting out of their vehicle to pose for a photograph with an animal.
Only get out of your vehicle in the designated areas (even then look around first) and roll up windows when in close proximity to predators.
Watch the bushes
OK, so the bushes aren't really the problem; it's the wildlife that they can conceal. But by the time you see that it's too late! Startled animals can jump out in front of your vehicle so be cautious when driving along roads and tracks where bushes and thick scrub grows close to the roadside.
Don't stop in the middle of the road!
Now this sounds like common sense, but the excitement of spotting something in the undergrowth combined with low traffic volumes can make people forget the basic rules of driving. Every year accidents are caused by people stopping to see animals which they spot at the side of the road and subsequently being hit from behind by another vehicle. This is more of an issue outside the parks and reserves where the speeds are higher, dirt roads increase stopping distances and the dust from a vehicle lingers in the air for a considerable time reducing visibility to just a few metres.
Enjoy your Safari!
If you stick to these general guidelines and those specific to the country, park or reserve your self-drive safari will be enjoyable, rewarding and safe.
Final Tip: Interestingly, it's always the people who impatiently drive from one waterhole to another at the maximum speed allowed, ignoring the "inconsequential" antelope along the way and pushing away the wildlife that others are enjoying, that tend to end up the least satisfied by safari.