Looking at the increasing rate of strange and sometimes irresponsible visitor behaviour inside our national parks, one could easily think, being wilderness areas, these places are equally wild, with no rules governing them. Far from the truth!
In fact if you are one of those crazy guys who gets out of your car to pose for a selfie in front of a pride of lions or an advancing herd of elephants, be warned early enough that there are consequences for your actions because these wilderness areas have rules!
Let me give you these 12 safety tips early enough so you do not say you were not warned. I have just adopted from rules laid down by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) which will keep you out of trouble with the law.
1. Respect the Privacy of the Wildlife and their Habitat
I believe this is not too much to ask. These wildlife are hospitable enough to allow you in to their humble abode. The least you can do is respect their privacy. After all, you are in their home just in case you were not aware.
2. Wild Animals are Wild and can be Unpredictable
I think the very fact that we do not speak the same language with wild animals indicates how fundamentally different we are. Once cornered by one, do not expect any possibility of reconciliatory dialogue! To them you are either food or an enemy. Please appreciate that and treat them as wild – there is a reason they are called that.
3. Avoid Overcrowding and Making Sudden Noises
Over the years, animals of the wild have evolved and have been cultured to see humans as their worst enemies. Surrounding them or making noises unfamiliar to them could trigger their natural instinct for self-defence and this can come with devastating results. Try to avoid this, especially for the big cats, Buffalo and elephants.
4. Don’t Feed the Animals, It Upsets their Diet and leads to Human Dependence
Since you rarely carry raw buffalo meat around with you on a game drive, please avoid throwing your usual french fries, biscuits and pieces of pizza to the animals. Once they get used to these handouts they not only acquire a new taste, but they also become lazy and cannot fend for themselves.
The next thing that will happen is a rise in human-wildlife conflict as the animals invade human-inhabited places for easy food and to satisfy their newly acquired taste for French and Italian food!
5. Keep Quiet. Noise Disturbs the Wildlife and May Antagonize your Fellow Visitors
I know by now you have gotten the gist of it. Just be silent. It is not only courteous to fellow visitors but it also minimises stress to the animals.
6. Stay in Your Vehicle at all Times
I need not emphasise the importance of sticking by this rule. Unless at designated picnic or walking areas that are deemed safe, stay in your car at all times during a game drive. Your very life might depend on this.
7. Keep Speeds Below 40 KPH (25 MPH)
There are no traffic rules in the wild so be aware that at any time, and without notice, a wild animal may pop around the corner when you least expect it. If you were at a high speed then you can imagine the kind of fatalities you would cause. In any case remember you are in their home, and they have a right to roam as freely as they wish. Keep it slow in the parks.
8. Never Drive off-road, this Severely Damages the Habitat
The locations of the roads provided for in the parks are carefully selected to ensure minimum interference with the surrounding ecosystem. Going off-road can have a devastating impact on that balance so keep to the designated roads.
9. Keep Your Distance
When viewing wildlife keep to a minimum distance of 20 M and pull to the side of the road to avoid blocking oncoming vehicles.
10. Keep the Parks Clean and Free of Fire
This one, so many are guilty of. The numbers of photos I have seen posted on social media regarding this are just numerous and saddening. Cases of groups of tourists leaving plastic mineral water bottles and paper wrappings from their picnic session inside the park are rampant.
Some of the park fires are blamed on park visitors who forget to put out their camp fires. When you litter or leave the park on fire are you not destroying the very unadulterated wilderness environment that first brought you there? where will you go to next time you need that peace and quiet?
11. Respect the Cultural Heritage of Kenya
Again, I need not belabour the point here since this is an often talked of caution in any guide book you pick. For the sake of emphasis though, never take pictures of the local people or their habitat without asking for their permission. Respect the cultural traditions of Kenya and always dress with decorum. I will add my voice to the many guidebooks and say ‘ask before you engage’.
12. Stay over or Leave Before Dusk
Visitors must vacate the Park between 6.00 PM and 6.00 AM unless they are camping overnight. Night game driving is not allowed and the reasons are quite obvious. The night is the perfect hunting time for most predators. If you are still in the park past 6 PM you only put yourself in grave danger of an attack.
I am sure if you observed these 12 tips, your game drives will be enjoyable and stress-free. No one will have to worry about your safety and all you can expect in return is nothing short of a memorable, breath-taking experience of Kenya’s finest wilderness treasures.
If these safety tips were helpful, I would be delighted to know how and in case you have any feedback you might want to share, just leave your comments below.