25 Africa Safari Myths and Misconceptions
By Peter K. Philip
Kenya Safaris: a guide to Kenya safari holidays — from custom-made tours, private safaris and shared group safaris, from walking trips, bush safaris ending with a sun tan at the beautiful Kenyan beaches. And of course, here are the 25 African safari myths and misconceptions you may or may not already know:
1. That Africa is hot — While there are some places that are hot like Ethiopia, Botswana and others like Mali, it will be wrong to generalize Africa as a hot continent. The equator divides Africa into two and cuts across Kenya, Uganda, Congo and other countries. All the countries touched have equatorial climate that have almost similar temperature ranges all year round. These temperatures are very comfortable and far from the purported hot. This is should not stop anyone from enjoying a safari in Kenya.
2. Visiting one park, you have seen them all — The wildlife habitats and sanctuaries in Kenya are not the same. Each ecological system is totally different from each other. For example Masai Mara in Kenya is totally different from Samburu National Reserve. The animals are totally different species too. While in other parks you would see the Masai giraffe, in Samburu you meet the beautiful reticulated giraffe. And this is a totally different species that cannot interbreed with the Masai giraffe. Their habitats are also different and very interesting.
3. Safety in Africa — While the past hasn't favoured the image of Africa, it is today a place you can visit comfortably. Like everywhere else in the world, common sense applies and that means it is always good to seek advice from the locals about where safety is an issue. Travelling at night is not recommended, or walking in dark alleys at night. Night life in the big towns is relatively active, but always consult with your agent about what and what not to do. The worst you can do is to not consult. We have seen acts of terrorism in the whole world, and Africa should not be judged based on that.
4. Africa is a bugs, bugs continent — The truth of the matter is that African has many natural bugs. What is exaggerated is that the bugs are all over. That you turn this way and you meet thousands or hundreds of bugs, so untrue. There are bugs, yes. Are they everywhere? No. In the natural areas, the parks and reserves, expect to see some insects and different types of flies that are part of the natural ecology. Without them, there would a deficit in the natural balance. What is important to note is that most of them are not dangerous at all. But if you're afraid of bugs or allergic to some like bees, some repellent would do. At night you hear lots of insects busy going about their business and this adds to the natural African sound.
5. That no kids on safari — You should not let this dissuade you from enjoying a safari with your children. Let the children see the animals in their natural habitat and learn a thing or two about them and about their conservation. That way we create a future generation of friends of nature, who will be the tomorrow's' conservationists. But apart from that, let the children enjoy being out in the wilds. Consult your Kenya safari travel agent to have your trip specifically crafted such that you will have an itinerary tailor-made to fit the ages of your children.
6. That Kenya safaris are dangerous — It is with good reason to fear the animals. After all they are wild animals unlike the beloved pets, cats and dogs we have at home. Some of them like the elephants are massive, and playing with such strength is stupidity of the highest order. There have been a few cases of animals attacking people, but what we need to remember is that animals do not attack anyhow. Unless their paths have been crossed and their safety grounds disturbed, they never attack you. They are not wanton killers. We make sure that the animals are respected and keeping enough distance when viewing them. Not because they might attack, but because it is the right thing to do, to respect them, and not to allow any off-road driving. You would expect anyone coming to your home to respect you, and same case should apply here.
7. Safaris are too expensive — Expensive is a relative term. When you travel in first class, and I travel in third class, we eventually get to the same destination. It isn't the same case here though. Depending on your budget, you can find a service that fits your pocket. With some patience and consultation, you will eventually land a safari that is affordable. Take time; evaluate the lodges given in your itinerary, read reviews until you are finally comfortable. Just because your friend or work mate did a million-dollar trip doesn't mean you do it the same way when you can't afford it. But be careful when you go too hard on the budget. There are some figures that will not change, like park fees, which is a government fee whether you are in a 6-star boutique or a budget camp. Remember, whether in a 5-star lodge or 1-star hotel, we could be watching the same lions at the sightings. So don't let budget limit you from enjoying nature, especially when it is the one thing you love.
8. Big Five game and craze — Safari is not about the Big Five (used by guides and tourists to group together some of the most popular African wildlife species: African leopard, African lion, Cape buffalo, African elephant and rhinoceros). Should I add only? No. Many firms advertise safaris with the Big Five in mind. In return you want to come and see them. Sure, they are interesting but these are a tiny portion of the animals available in the Kenya safari reserves and parks. In fact they are such a tiny fraction as much as they are hyped. They are great on camera and wows the adventure, but there couldn't be those animals if what is around them isn't there. For example leopards and cheetahs would not be there if not for the small antelopes. It is important to see beyond the five and understand the natural balance that makes up the ecological system complete.
9. You are not on safaris unless you camp or rough it up — Roughing it is just one of the ways of enjoying your Kenya safari. Just the same way that some like drinking coffee while others prefer tea, the way you enjoy your safari holiday depends on your style of doing it and your budget. You can choose from a variety of camps and lodges and enjoy your safari your way. While camping or roughing it up has its own advantages, it doesn't have to be it to make your adventure a real one. However you choose to enjoy your trip, at the end the day what matters is you enjoy your holiday, enjoy nature with your loved ones, whether in five star lodges or camping
10. Safaris are for the hardened travellers — Many previous adventurous have written a lot about safaris in Africa. They were not wrong. But what most have written about is their personal experiences. You will agree me that one time safari to Kenya doesn't make you the greatest expert about Africa. But that doesn't make the opinion wrong: it simply is one person's opinion from the experience. Safaris are not for hardened travellers alone. On the contrary, there are many safaris that very comfortably arranged and even avoiding extraneous drives or long hours. You don't need to do your game drives like filming for the national geographic. Have your safari custom-made, and work with a company that give you flexible game drive hours so that you can have the maximum adventure without overdoing the drives. And above all, you don't need to mark everything as seen to make your Kenya safari complete.
11. That game drives are boring for children — How children enjoy nature depends sometimes on how we as parents do enjoy nature. They don't necessarily have to love nature as much as we do. But what we can do is teach them to appreciate nature and all what is in it. Bring your children for safari and work with a company that encourages children to be taught about nature. It doesn't have to be boring for them. Have your itinerary crafted in a way that fun time is mixed with the game drives. Fun-filled nature-like classes, both in the hotel ground and in the vehicle during game drives, and it will not be boring for them.
12. That you need a big camera — Unless you are planning to join the National Geographic crew or Jonathan Scot, you don't need to go crazy buying those huge lenses that you would barely know how to use. If you have to, buy or borrow a simple camera and practice a little bit how to balance the lights, light angles and all those combinations that make a great photo composition. Don't expect to shoot award-winning photos without some practice. Furthermore, todays mobile phones come with relative advance camera parameters that you can actually use to capture those memories. A great camera isn't a necessity at all, what is necessary is the right mind set to go out and enjoy a great holiday. Besides, who said you must take photos? Some of the most lasting memories are the ones in our minds, and most of the times, it is what you will remember. And those are stories we tell, as we remember them.
13. That safaris have to be many days — A safari can range from a half in Nairobi National park or 20 days all over Kenya. There is no limit to how many days you can do a safari. It doesn't have to be many days as many have stated. What is agree is the fact that to experience much, yes do need a couple of days, but there's no limit to the number of days. It will be wrong to feel under pressure just because someone else did 12 days, yet you can afford time for 2-3 days. You will still have a great adventure and enjoy the beauty of nature.
14. You always need a guide — The fact is, it is recommended to take a guide, especially if it is your first time. To have a feel of it, it is great to move around with someone who has knowledge of the place especially with in the reserves. Some parks are manageable without a guide, especially Kenya wildlife service managed parks. This is mainly because the tracks are marked and you can always read the sign posts and be directed where you are want to go. Off course you may get lost here and there, but eventually the signs will guide you. The reserves are a completely different thing. The tracks are not marked and in some places like Masai Mara, there happens to be too many tracks. But if you have great sense of direction, you can manage and always ask other safari drivers and they will help you out. Basically, you don't necessarily need a guide, but it is highly recommended for first timers, even if it is for a day.
15. Safari is one-time experience — It is an experience that is actually fun-filled and very educational, and over 30% of the safaris that I do are actually repeat clients. And this is actually a way of life especially for nature enthusiasts. It is not a one-time experience as many have put it. Nature has no end, the more you travel, the more you love. And if you're crazy about that wild wild thing, you will be at home in the wilds of Kenya, because no matter how many times you do it, you will never get enough of it.
16. Giraffe males necking is romancing — That is what it looks like for a person seeing it for the first time. The two males intertwine their necks almost in a synchronised movement. To a keen first timer, you will notice that it is actually beyond romantic movements. These intertwining moves are actually a fight that sometimes can be so intense and may even kill each other or one of them.
17. Hyenas are purely scavengers — The truth of the matter is that these ugly-looking creatures are so advanced in their survival tactics and very capable of making their own kills, and they do these quite often. Their position in the balance of the ecosystem is so important such that at the end of the day, you get to see a very complicated survivor, who is capable of preying despite what myths revolve around them.
18. Male lions do not hunt — The reality on the ground is totally different. Males are such good hunters despite the myths. Whether in the pride or as lone rangers, they hunt and pounce on any opportunity that presents itself. For example, during the migration, the wildebeests roam almost everywhere; the males grab the opportunity and grab them anyhow, sometimes without eating much. In addition, when the young males are kicked away from the pride by their father, they have to survive on their own, so they have to sharpen their skills at hunting. By the time they manage to have their own prides, they are already good hunters.
19. That porcupine shoots their arrows — Since my childhood, I have been hearing this myth many times and I grew up knowing that porcupines are one species that I was not to play around with. There are so many African myths that were meant to make children be afraid and refrain from doing some things. Porcupines never shoot their quills; they only make it harder for the prey to hunt it when they roll into a protective ball.
20. Africa is full of diseases — When you hear the word Africa mentioned, what comes to mind? The continent Africa has been related to dirty and disease infested black continent. While this was probably true decades back especially the disease part, today the continent has some of the most beautiful, clean places in the world. Yes, there are some places that could do with some facelift and cleaning, but let's not exaggerate about the dirt and diseases. A lot has been done over the years and the health sector greatly improved. In fact, in Kenya you get world-class hospitals.
21. Africa is technically behind — Africa has now some of the most advanced technical advancement rate than many developed countries. What is happening now is that Africa and Kenya especially is actually jumping the learning curve that many western countries went through. Institutions of higher learning have advanced so much such that today we have very advanced technicians in all almost all corners of Africa. Kenya has taken so many steps in this direction and has seen the country supplying manpower to other African countries. Don't come to Africa expecting to find a dark continent; you will be in for a big surprise.
22. That you can plan it yourself — If it is just arranging for your flight, go ahead and do it. When it comes to combining the components of what comprises safari, you are better off in the hands of a local experienced agent or operator. Your best gamble is with the ground operators who have knowledge of which lodge does what or where it is located in the reserves and parks. They know the quality too of these properties, and they know the best guides. Besides, you can share your ideas of what you want or how you want to do your Kenya safari and the itinerary will be crafted for you. You will receive, review it until you are satisfied, and if something goes wrong, you have the agent for solution.
23. That you need khaki to be on a safari — It doesn't matter what kind of clothes you wear on safari. What is important is you dress comfortably and according to the weather. Early in the morning, it is sometimes chilly, but by the time it is 7.30am, it already starts to be comfortably warm. Long sleeved light clothing is great for the morning, but not winter clothing. It is good to note that some codes of dressings could be frowned at, for example too short skirts. While minding the weather, it is also good to mind the people especially where communities don't like body parts exposed.
24. That Africa is a country — Africa is a continent with 54 fully independent countries. Having been to one African country, don't assume you have seen it all. Each country is totally different from each other, and with different traditions, ways of life and even governance. In addition, some are coastal desert like Namibia, while others are evergreen tropical regions like Uganda. Many think that Africa is one big country, and nothing could be so far from the truth.
25. That petting is conservation — If you ever pay to go and pet animals in any African country in the name of conservation, think again. The fact that you are already patting them should tell you that something is already grossly wrong. Wild animals are never meant to be pets to be patted. The animal that you will be patting must have undergone something drastic in its life for it to change from a wild animal to a pet.
First published on ArticlesFactory.com 25 Jul 2020. Peter Philip is a safari guide with Natural Track Safaris, based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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