June 3rd, 2009
There is something truly fascinating about being out in the bush knowing that you could have a close encounter with one of the Big 5 at any moment.
The anticipation of it all can be overwhelming, not to mention frightening at times. But if you listen to your guide, follow the general rules for safety on a safari and respect the fact that you're in Mother Nature's territory - you're in for a stellar time.
We chat to qualified bush guide and director of Letaka Safaris, Brent Reed as he shares some survival tips, memorable experiences as well as those he'd rather just forget.
The number one mistake tourists make while on safari is...
Brent Reed: "Having Great Expectations ala Discovery Channel. If you expect that every hour of your safari is going to be like a wildlife documentary you will be disappointed. That is not to say that you will not see a great deal but having unrealistic expectations can severely detract from your enjoyment of what should be an experience of a lifetime.
Being on safari is not just about the Big 5, a good guide will be able to give you a holistic view of the environment in which you are travelling and evoke interest in even the smallest creatures which are often more interesting than the much sought-after Big 5.
Lions spend around 20 out of 24 hours sleeping so the thrill is often in the chase, tracking lions by vehicle or on foot is often more rewarding than actually finding them because, unless you are very lucky, these fat cats will be lying sprawled out under a tree snoring the day away.
Brent Reed goes through the Bush Guide training process. Photo: Letaka Safaris
What's the most dangerous experience you've had as a safari guide?
On Valentine's Day 2004 I was bitten by a Black Mamba whilst visiting my wife at a lodge which she was managing on the boundary of the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. I was catching the mamba to remove it from the braai area and misjudged the length of the snake in relation to the length of my arm and the stick I was using to capture it.
This schoolboy error very nearly cost me my life but did buy me a wonderful sunset flight on an ambulance jet from Maun to Millpark Hospital where I spent 6 fun-filled days in ICU.
Unfortunately I was unconscious for the duration of the sunset flight but my wife assures me that it was a truly spectacular sunset over the vast Kalahari plains. I had another stint in ICU in 2000 in the unlikely town of Upington where I collapsed with cerebral malaria which I had contracted whilst on safari in Zambia.
The worst part of that experience was the after-effects of the quinine drip which caused tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears) which was almost worse than the malaria. Actually now that I think back on it the most traumatic part of that episode was having to listen to Radio Oranje for a week.
I have been charged by both lion (three times) and elephant (quite a number) on foot but have never had to fire my rifle in anger and I hope to keep it that way. Most of these charges have been during guide training exercises and not with guests.
This python is not as deadly as a black mamba. Photo: Letaka Safaris
What's the wisest thing to do when an animal looks like it might attack during a game drive?
Unfortunately you as the guest don't have a hell of a lot of choice when it comes down to what to do, your guide will assess every situation and act accordingly.
Generally you are pretty safe in a vehicle and in Botswana at least, vehicle/animal incidents are very rare. The only animal that can really take you on in a vehicle is an elephant and mostly we deal with boisterous elephants by just holding our ground with the engine of the vehicle turned off.
Revving the engine or hooting is not a good idea as this might be seen as a challenge and even in a Land Cruiser you are still outweighed by a factor of 2:1 by a bull elephant. In a contest where there can be only one winner, the odds are not with you on this one.
If the elephant approaches too close to the vehicle, a hand slapped sharply on the door or the traditional 'voetsak!' will normally suffice to discourage further approach.
Reversing away from an elephant is also a bad idea because now he thinks he's got you on the run and the mischievous streak in him wants to see how far he can chase you. You are now in double trouble, you are now being pursued by the elephant and you are driving in reverse over terrain which is unlikely to make that feat any easier.
In theory a leopard or lion could easily jump into the vehicle should the mood take them but to the best of my knowledge this has never happened in a game viewing vehicle although some hunters have been shredded in their vehicles by leopard after extreme provocation.
In the case of a leopard charging, you would not have time to cough (charging speed 80km/h) before it was inside the vehicle dishing out 120 stitches per second, that means if the animal was in the vehicle for just five seconds the result would be in the region of 600 sutures which would hopefully be shared amongst all occupants.
A Sevuti elephant sillouhetted during an African sunset. Photo: Letaka Safaris
Your top five safari survival tips would be?
1) Have faith in your guide, he or she is a professional.
2) Make sure your guide IS a professional and is properly qualified by the regulating authorities - professional guides in Southern Africa should be accredited by FGASA (Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) and should also carry a license to guide in their country of operation.
3) Never believe the weather reports. Even in mid-summer pack a light fleece or something to ward off the chill. Weather reports seldom consider the temperature at 5am. In winter pack like you're going to somewhere snowy but make sure you can strip it off because by mid-morning temperatures are normally pleasantly warm.
4) Bring some good reading material or something to keep you occupied during the mid-day siesta
5) Tsaba monang! Which is Setswana for ‘beware of mosquitoes'. If you are travelling to an area where malaria is known to occur be sure to take the necessary precautions. Malaria still kills around one million people every year. That said, very few of the victims are tourists because generally people visiting our areas from abroad are taking prophylaxis to prevent infection.