10 ways you can be a responsible tourist on an African safari

In 2002, a Cape Town conference defined responsible tourism as being tourism that “creates better places for people to live in, and better places to visit”.

Those involved in Africa’s responsible safari tourism industry aim to fulfil these criteria and also ensure the survival of Africa’s wonderful wild creatures so that future generations can get the chance to be ethical safari tourists.

Here are ten ways you can be a responsible tourist while on safari in the African continent.

1. Choose an ethical safari travel company – one which puts something back into the many local communities which prove to be magnificent hosts to western tourists. There are plenty of health clinics and rural schools which benefit from charitable donations; if the travel company you choose to organise your holiday gives generously to these organisations then it’s a reassuring sign of their ethical credentials. African safari specialists Safari Consultants is one such ethical travel company; it contributes to school funds, guiding schools, conservation societies and various other charities.

2. Pack lightly

It’s a good idea to only take what you need when going on safari. Remove all unnecessary packaging before you arrive at your safari destination as waste disposal in some remote areas can be problematic and litter can cause damage to wildlife.

It is also a good idea to leave outlandish items of clothing at home; take some time to research the correct colour clothing in the bush and don’t wear anything that might provoke offence among the local people.

3. Follow the rules

African safari specialists Safari Consultants advise: “We believe that visiting the bush is like visiting someone’s home. Certain common courtesies should be adhered to and will reduce the impact on the environment and its inhabitants.”

These courtesies include refraining from “encouraging your guide to take you too close to the animals, thus putting them under pressure” and curbing the urge to “make noises to attract or frighten the wildlife”.

4. Don’t buy products which endanger species

Anyone with any common sense will know that buying ivory products contributes to the destruction of endangered wildlife. However, the unethical nature of some products is less obvious. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has drawn up a list of these products – they include many plant species; another good reason why it is a bad idea to pick flowers and plants in Africa. If in doubt about the origin of a for-sale material don’t buy it!

5. Be respectful to locals

However, it is helpful to local African communities to buy locally-crafted souvenirs. Safari Consultants advise not to be too aggressive when haggling over a price as “an amount which may be fairly insignificant to you, can represent a lot to a local”.

6. Be careful with your charity

Tempting though it might be to dispense sweets, money and gifts to the local African children you encounter, this isn’t a good idea as it encourages begging. If you are feeling charitable then you can always give to formal organisations or schools.

7. Monitor your water consumption

When visiting remote areas bear in mind that water supplies might not be plentiful; use water from wells and taps sparingly.

8. Think before you take a snap

If you want to take a local person’s picture then politely ask first. Similarly, take advice before photographing wildlife. For instance, guides tend to discourage flash photography near gorillas as frightening them is not a good idea!

9. Don’t spread diseases

If you pick up a cold or flu it might not be a good idea to soldier on and go tracking with primates. Such illnesses can be transmitted to certain species if you get too close to them; it’s why visitors are asked to keep a distance of 22 feet away from gorillas.

10. Take a hike

Offset some of the harmful emissions produced by your aeroplane flight by donating to organisations which support reforestation and energy efficiency research (Climate Care and Carbon Footprint are good examples). It’s also a good idea to take advantage of all the green methods of transport you can find when you get to your safari destination.

There are plenty of opportunities to take cycling trips throughout Africa and many hiking trails to follow. A Zambian walking safari is a popular choice of holiday for responsible tourists and those embarking on a Tanzanian safari might well choose to follow one of the many hiking trails which lead to the peak of Kilimanjaro. This is a rewarding challenge which involves very little fuel consumption and the achievement involved in completing the climb will really give you something to write home about!

Photo Credit: Tony Young.