Safari tourism is the most popular form of wildlife tourism the world over. Wildlife photographers, professional as well as newbies, make up the bulk of the safari tourists.
National parks in India were recently in the news for increasing the entry fees exorbitantly for both tourists as well as for photography equipment. While this may dampen the spirits of a few impoverished photographers like me, the increase in purchasing power of the average Indian is sure to balance this out, and Safari tourism is bound to thrive in India as well.
Most people, however, especially the uninitiated have no clue about the “etiquette” in the wild, so I’ve taken it upon myself to document a few of my amused and sometimes annoyed observations of my fellow safari tourists in the disguise of handy hints and tips.
A national park is not a zoo
Not that this excuses bad behaviour in zoos either, it pays to remember that in national parks animals roam free, unlike zoos where they are caged and confined to a limited area. Most of our parks are forests, home to these animals and we are visiting for just a few hours. Sighting a wild animal is a privilege to be cherished and tucked away as a lifelong memory. There will be trips when you don’t see a wild animal at all – for the entire duration of your visit. It’s foolish to curse an animal who won’t sashay for you because you have paid an entry fee. It is often said that during a safari you may not have been fortunate enough to see a big cat, but the cat will have had the misfortune of looking at you at least ten times.
Do not wear flashy and bright coloured clothes
Save your funky threads for the club back home. Birds and other wildlife are disturbed by bright and fluorescent colours. On safari, wear attire which has a dull colour – preferably green or a dark shade – which will merge well with the natural habitat. This will help you and your fellow travellers enjoy an extended sighting of the wildlife. The animals you are observing will also seem more comfortable and less shy allowing you more time to take pictures.
Do not shout or speak loudly and do not tease the animals
You’d think this was Safari 101. What is it with humans and animal teasing? If you’re doing it to attract the attention of the animal, so it looks at the camera, stop. It will get you no further than if you were a desperate roadside Romeo. These are wild animals, and their behaviour is unpredictable. They could retaliate and your life, and that of your fellow travellers could be in jeopardy. More often than not though, animals tend to be very shy and will just run back into the heart of the forest away from you their tormentor. Be quiet and let them get used to you. You will get far better shots if you are one with your environs.
Do not litter
It is sad to see national parks and rivers with plastic waste lying around. Plastic often leads to the death of animals and other wildlife. Carry your waste back with you and dispose it properly at your hotel or jungle lodge.
Do not smoke
Stray matches and smouldering embers from a lit cigarette can easily start a forest fire that can get out of hand quickly. Not just the green cover but endangered species in the forest are at risk. Stray, unmanageable forest fires are already a cause for concern, and a little abstinence will ensure that man-made fires don’t add to the problem.
Listen to your safari guide
Your safari guide is well versed in the forest habitat and animal behaviour. Leave your ego outside the national park and follow his instructions. Do not pressurize or bribe him to chase an animal for want of a better view. Do not ask him to take you off the designated path if you haven’t been able to sight an animal. Safari vehicles are required to remain within the defined zones and not veer off the track to ensure your safety and that of the animals.
Stay calm during a mock charge
Animals (often elephants) will stage a mock charge. They will move towards your vehicle menacingly asking you to back off. This behaviour in elephants is usually accompanied by a loud trumpeting cry to scare you away. Stay calm and let your driver decide the next course of action. Do not shout or scream as this only add to the stress of the situation.
Don’t make any sudden hand or body movements
This is especially when sighting birds or animals that are resting. Abrupt gestures will frighten the birds, and you and your fellow birders might not see it again. Animals do not like to be taken by surprise, and a reaction like this could result in an unpredictable response.
Do not step out of your safari vehicle
Repeat after me. Do not step out of the vehicle under any circumstances. In many parks, even the resting of one foot on the ground outside of the jeep is a punishable offence. You may step out only in designated areas with the permission of your driver/guide. Some parks have designated areas for a bio break, but many do not. So, make sure you empty your bladder just before you start a safari
Enjoy the forest
Many of us do not enjoy the forest when in pursuit of that elusive big cat. We are so engrossed in tracking pug marks and making assumptions on the trail of the tiger or leopard that we fail to notice the beauty of the jungle around us. Make sure you look around and soak in nature. No matter where you live in the city, there isn’t enough green.