There are plenty of articles out there about what to do when on safari; what to pack, what to expect, what to wear, etc. Very few tell you what NOT to do, so I thought I’d venture a few that I’ve learnt.

  • Sleeping In

The night chorus of the bush tends to have a wonderfully soporific effect.
Combined with early morning game drives, the excitement of amazing wildlife sightings, and one or two more glasses of wine around the campfire than might be wise, Africa’s night sounds might well cause drooping eyelids before the dinner conversation has run its course. Although you are on holiday, the days can still be tiring out here, much of the fatigue simply caused by an overstimulation of your senses.

And inevitably, when feeling really tired, the temptation is there to tell your ranger that you’ll have a little sleep in in the morning; either just going out later (if the whole vehicle is on board with this) or missing the drive entirely.

With beds this comfortable, of course it’s tempting to sleep in and skip a game drive. But that would be a bad decision!

Even if you’ve already had some crazy wildlife viewing and think you have seen it all, I can guarantee you that you haven’t.
Get out as early as you can, before the sun is up if possible. Game drives are scheduled then for a reason; temperatures are cooler (particularly in the summer), animals are more active, the light is usually better for photography… I could go on.

Even common animals like impalas offer wonderful photographic opportunities when the light is good. But you won’t be there to see them if you sleep in and miss the sunrise.

I remember a few years ago when the Vomba female had made a kill near camp. She was raising a young cub at the time who wasn’t used to the vehicles yet, and the only way were likely to see him was if we sat and waited patiently, hoping he’d come out. Well, we did, but he didn’t. After two hours sitting in absolute silence, waiting for the little leopard to emerge, it started getting dark, so we left, leaving the two to their kill. One of the guests had to catch a flight the next morning at around 09:30, which is a bit earlier than usual, and opted to sleep in, despite my insistence that he should come out, as we could still see something special on the last drive, and we could get him back to camp in good time to catch the flight anyway.

Both this photo and the next were taken during a drive in which I had a guest sleep in. In this one the Ravenscourt young male had just caught this impala lamb that we had watched take its first steps.

The Vomba female and her cub emerge from the thickets.

He could not be persuaded though, and when we left camp in the morning we were one guest short.
Not only did we bump into the Vomba female moving with her cub across the airstrip, which was both unexpected and spectacular, but we also found a male leopard who was watching an impala give birth. After we witnessed the tiny lamb’s first steps, the leopard moved in and snatched it up before our horrified gazes. Obviously not a feel-good sighting, but it’s certainly something you don’t witness every day. To top it all off we had returned to camp before the guest had even finished his breakfast, so he would have been able to enjoy the whole drive with us.

You can never see it all in the bush, so no matter how tired you are or how late a night you’ve had at dinner, go out early in the morning!

  • Listening to the Radio

The ranger and trackers communicate via radio out in the field. Whilst out on game drive at Londolozi, there’s a good chance you could overhear something coming over the wire, particularly if you’re sitting in the front seat of the Game Viewer.

Ignore it.

We are incredibly lucky to have a low vehicle-to-area ratio here, which means that there’s very little pressure on sightings, and given that vehicles might be 15km from each other, there’s very little chance that what is coming through on the radio will be relevant to your drive.

Your ranger wants you to have the best time possible. He or she knows the property, knows what’s out there, knows where you are in relation to anything that’s been found, and has a plan to give you the best safari you could have. If he or she is ignoring the radio, it’s not because they haven’t heard it, it’s because either the update isn’t critical (tracks of a lion/leopard have been found, not the animal itself) or you are too far away to be able to get there in time.

Helpful to the ranger, but best ignored by everyone else.

By listening to the radio, you are only going to confuse yourself needlessly or make yourself think you’re missing out on something that you aren’t. Trust your guide to make the best decisions for your vehicle. You will see amazing things. That, ultimately is why your ranger works in the bush. They want to see cool stuff too!

  • Being in a Rush

We were chatting amongst the ranging team awhile ago and trying to work out how often we find predators by a) tracking them until they are spotted on foot, b) just bumping into them, or c) hearing the alarm calls of other animals that give away their position.
C) was the clear winner.
The tracking effort generally gets you into the vicinity of the animal(s) you are looking for, but it is invariably the eyes and ears of the many prey species on the reserve that will find the predator for you. Squirrels, impalas, kudus, and even tiny birds; all will announce loudly if they have seen something that represents a threat, and through their vociferousness, you can move in and find the animal yourself.

Stop and appreciate things like this three-banded plover…

…if you want to see more things like this… The Tamboti female, who had been found because one of the rangers heard the alarm calls of an impala herd.

It is when you are rushing about with the vehicle on that you will miss these alarm calls. Even if you are 20 metres from an alarming squirrel, the throb of a diesel engine will most likely drown its noise out. By stopping regularly, taking it slowly and appreciating the small things, you are far, far more likely to hear alarm calls of prey species, or even the calls of the predators themselves. Your ears will help you way more often than your eyes do, but by being too insistent on driving past some of the less high-profile game, it’s almost a guarantee that you won’t see as many of the predators either.

If your ranger wants to stop quickly to explain the intricacies of a blue waxbill’s nest, and birds aren’t really your thing, go with it anyway! You’ll be very grateful when the Mashaba female suddenly calls from the drainage line just down the hill, and out of nowhere you’re in the sighting of your life!

Mashaba 3:3 Female
2008 - present

The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the camps and vehicles.

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Mashaba 3:3 Female

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  • Worrying Too Much About the Photograph

With DSLR cameras and superb lenses for hire at Londolozi, the focus while out on safari is often about photography. And with social media broadcasting the most beautiful wildlife images all around the world from game reserves all across Africa,  it is easy to be duped into thinking that amazing safari photographs are a dime a dozen. While you may well get presented with many great photographic opportunities on game drive, it’s important to remember why you’re here in the first place: to experience the magic of the African bush.
The photography aspect should always come second (although sometimes it’s a very close second).
Know your camera’s limitations, know your own photographic ability, and be able to accept when the situation doesn’t lend itself to photography. If it doesn’t, put the camera away and just enjoy.

This is not the best time to be taking pictures….

This is a better opportunity….

Leopard on branch in golden light? Camera out and get snapping! Leopard moving through thick bush while you desperately try keep it in sight from the Land Rover? Cameras down.

Manage your own  photographic expectations, and always remember to ask your guide what he or she recommends in the situation.

Ultimately, just being out in Nature should be the core reason for your visit.

Those are just a few off the top of my head.
Try as hard as you can to avoid them, and your safari will be far more rewarding.

Involved Leopards

Mashaba 3:3 Female

Mashaba 3:3 Female

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About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

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on 4 Things to Avoid on Safari

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Marinda Drake

James all of four of your points are so true. My most favourite game drives are early morning when everything is fresh and you can actually smell the veld. I take hundreds of photos that is realy just for memories. The best is realy to just enjoy the moment spend with an animal.

Joanne Wadsworth

Wonderful and much needed advice. Thanks, James.

James Tyrrell

You’re welcome Joanne!

Jeff Rodgers

A few more things to avoid: telling the Ranger, ‘today I want to see ______.’ Not fair to the Ranger or the other guests in the vehicle. Don’t avoid asking questions . . . pretty much the Rangers know almost everything about almost everything . . . from little bugs to the stars in the sky.

James Tyrrell

HI Jeff,
Haha, agreed about the “today I want to see”.

Karina Robin

Important article, safari newbies take note! One thing I would add: stop worrying about not seeing the Big Five – there is so much else to see, smell, hear! Just enjoy being out in the bush – it‘s fantastic!

James Tyrrell

Hi Karina,
Like in Point #3, it’s specifically when you aren’t worrying about the Big 5 that they often turn up!

Phil Schultz

Fun fact about your talking point #2. When I visited Londolozi and Botswana a couple years ago, I memorized the names of (20) animal species in both Tswana and Shangaan for precisely the form of eavesdropping you’re discouraging. If there was Yingwe, Ngala or Xikankanka being seen somewhere out there, I wanted to know about it even if I understood the dynamic you describe in your post.

James Tyrrell

Haha Phil you become your own worst enemy when you start tuning in to the radio! Although Xikankanaka is pretty exciting to hear…

Robert Walder

Good post. We were at Londolozi in June and the blog is a wonderful way to relive the extraordinary experience we had.

James Tyrrell

Hi Robert,
Thanks for the comments. Let us know if there’s anything you’d be interested in reading a post about.
Best regards

Darlene Knott

I agree wholeheartedly, James. I have been on safari many times and have never missed a game drive. I know if I do, there will a fantastic sighting and I will kick myself for ever! I can sleep when I return home. I also think that you must have patience when on safari. Enjoy what is in front of you, the landscape, a herd of impala, or whatever. You do not know that a cheetah won’t come darting out looking for dinner! Or that a pack of wild dogs are lying just up ahead, getting ready to greet each other and head out for a hunt. We truly enjoy watching animal behaviors, whether it is a herd of elephants, a pack of dogs, a dazzle of zebras, or a flock of quelea drinking at the waterhole. Put a leopard in front of me and I can sit for hours just marveling at his or her beauty. Patience is key! Great article!

James Tyrrell

Thanks Darlene!
Patience is indeed the key to seeing the real magic!

Ian Hall

And there is no need for a Pith Helmet. I swear I actually saw a tourist wearing one (In Kenya). On a more serious note try to avoid Larium . It has a track record of extreme reactions.

James Tyrrell

I don’t know Ian, I’m kind of partial to a pith helmet from time to time… 😉

Callum Evans

The first one is definetely a rule to live by in any natural area you are visiting. I’ve been up at 4 in the morniing in the Central Kalahari and was rewarded with a honey badger and my first ever Cape foxes! In Moremi we were out of the camp at 5:45 and as we turned onto a loop, we suddenly had 30 wild dogs filing past our vehicle (another first for me)! I do however sometimes worry about the photograph a bit too much, I have to work on that.

James Tyrrell

Hi Callum,
I’m still working on it nearly a decade later!

Callum Evans

Haha, understandable!!

Michael Kalm

Four GREAT points – especially the “Don’t sleep in!”

James Tyrrell

Agreed, Michael, sleeping in is an utter crime!

Denise Vouri

James, you are so correct in your safari assessment, especially the photography point. Image captures are usually the focal point of a safari, but oftentimes putting the camera down and just observing is a true safari experience. One other rule is “don’t move around, stand up or loudly speak” while observing wildlife. Rocking the rover can spoil photos for others who are quietly trying to capture a moment, balancing their camera on a beanbag or the railing- Good article.

James Tyrrell

Hi Denise,
Some good points!

Guy Lacy Chapman

This was such an interesting blog to read!

Betty-Lou Luijken

This is so true! When you’re on safari just enjoy the moment, have eyes for the smaller things as well as the so-called spectacular things and you probably come back with better photographs than if you just focused on making images, because when your heart is in it the photographs will show that.

James Tyrrell

Betty-Lou we agree completely!

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