When it comes to traveling around the world, it is clear that the goal is not only to see new places, but to focus on doing so more sustainably. Looking at the environmental impacts as well as the social and financial repercussions of visiting an area may not be the first thing that you want to look up when preparing for your big trip, but it will make a difference for the communities that you are visiting.

Now let’s get specific. When you want to go on safari around Africa, you would assume that all tour companies would be sustainable options since they work with nature and wildlife. This couldn’t be further from the truth! In countries like Kenya, which is world renowned for its huge safari culture in Masai Mara especially, there are many low-revenue, high-volume businesses where few benefits trickle down to local communities.

african safari maxime niyomwugeri
Photo by Maxime Niyomwugeri.

Cons of regular safaris

Many safaris that are focused on making sure their guests get to view all of the “Big Five” (a hunting term coined in the 19th century that refers to the top kills: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape Buffalo) will go to the extent of throwing things at the animals  and feeding them food in order to entice them to come out for visitors. All of this can be detrimental to the health of the animals.

Overcrowding is another issue at safari parks. During the dry season, where there is little water to share, animals can easily be tracked to the watering holes –and so can the hoards of humans as well that follow them. You can find them crowded and poised in a ring around the animals, frightening them while they pull up with their convoy of tour trucks, emitting fumes while their engines idle.

Safari with a difference

african safari harshil gudka
Photo by Harshil Gudka.

If you are planning on a safari, please try to search for ethical tour operators that make a point to reinvest in the conservation efforts within the communities they work with. In Botswana, the Great Plains Tourism Company uses high tariffs and low-volume tourism in order to curb the numbers of visitors per acre of land. Owner Colin Bell states, “Instead of paying fees based on the number of tourists who come in, camp owners guarantee payment every month to the local people, regardless of occupancy. In exchange, the tribal landowners agree to create and maintain a viable and sustainable conservancy that ensures that wildlife prospers.”

Efforts like this are needed, especially in many areas where local people feel like they need to be in competition for space with the animals on the land due to the tourists flocking to the parks. They might feel as though they need to push them away — in some cases, they might even kill them. Incentives like this help locals feel included within the tourism model, and they can be even be added as financial beneficiaries or stakeholders. 

Background check

Make an effort to research the different operators providing tours in the area you want to visit, as well. Research the types of vehicles they use, if their safari camp has gone solar and they reuse wastewater, if they make an effort to employ locals from nearby communities, and if they have programs in place practicing animal stewardship and welfare. The last thing you want is a tour company without respect for animals you flew far distances to see. You can also end up putting yourself in danger if the animal is upset.

african safari hu chen
Photo by Hu Chen.

You might want to keep in mind when you are picking your safari what countries and areas you try to visit. Try to make an effort to visit during the low season when there will be fewer people and less crowding that may potentially stress animals. There are also a number of other countries that offer safaris but don’t receive the same amount of tourism that are worth checking out. For example, Namibia is one of the world’s least-populated countries, but is well known for its excellent safari excursions and camps. Rwanda, one of the safest and most stable countries in Africa to visit in 2019 is now developing their safari industry in order to reach more tourists.  Only a few hours away from Kigali, you have one of the best opportunities to see gorillas in the wild.

Wherever you end up visiting and whichever company you book your trip with, always keep sustainable practices in mind when choosing a tour provider. An African safari is a great opportunity to get up close and personal with the animal kingdom and if we manage to tread gently with respect in mind, they will be able to be viewed again for years to come. Make a choice with your money and choose to travel with sustainable companies. They are the ones that are making a positive impact for their communities, for the animals, and of course, you.

Do you have any other tips for choosing activities that are ethical for animals while traveling?

Header image by Nam Ahn.