Safety in Botswana

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Jul 11th, 2005, 07:26 AM
  #1
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Safety in Botswana

I don't know if there will be much interest in this topics, as it has certainly been discussed. However, I'll bring it up and see!

While planning a trip to Botswana for next year, I was first surprised, then dismayed and now mildly concerned to learn that at many camps within national parks, and even some concessions, rangers are not permitted to carry guns during game drives.

Now, on previous trips in SA, the gun was there and never touched; and I know that the chances of ever beeing needed or used or slight indeed.

Still, its somehow comforting, and its absence -- I fear -- will be somehow worrying. Wouldn't it be better if there were translational (or at least regional) safety standards -- across countries or operators? What is the fall back in Botswana for a rabid lion or rogue elephant? Anyone elese share this concern?
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Jul 11th, 2005, 07:41 AM
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This is true. None of our guides carried guns on drives. However, we felt safe the vast majority of the time.
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Jul 11th, 2005, 09:22 AM
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bwanamitch
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At Kwando Safaris they have guns in the vehicles. They are mainly for the security of the tracker when he is leaving the car and tracking spoor by foot.

At Linyanti Explorations (Selinda) they also have guns in the vehicles but hidden. I don't know if this has changed since the Jouberts have taken over.

Mitch
 
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Jul 11th, 2005, 10:09 AM
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Hi Mike,

I have only been on one safari in Botswana and understand your concern about being at such close range with wildlife.
Knowledge is power and can help you decide what your comfort level is.

Our experience left us with the impression that some operators have better guides than others and have higher standards when it comes to hiring.
That said I never felt that my life was in danger and trusted our guides to keep us safe.


However, there are standards and levels of accreditation that each guide must pass in Botswana and most countries.

Perhaps you should email your concerns to the camp operators like WS.
Some operators, like WS have information and experience about the guides posted on their website.

Your other option is to request a private guide who has passed the exams to carry a firearm and stay in camps on private concessions.
If you do bush walks or sleep outs this is a necessity.

Just keep in mind that the rules are different in national parks versus private concessions and differ country to country.

At some point you must put some trust in the guides and the system that is in place to train them.
Tourism is such a huge part of the economy of Botswana and having guest hurt or killed is not something that any operator can afford to have happen.

The reality is that bad things can happen, especially to people who become complacent or ignore the basic rules of the bush.

Brenda


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Jul 11th, 2005, 01:17 PM
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bwanamitch
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Brenda,

the guides featured on the WS website are not the drivers who usually take you on a game drive.

And even the most experienced guides can fail. I remember Garth Thompson, renowned guide from Zimbabwe and author of the safari bible "The Guide's Guide to Guiding", was nearly trampled to death by elephants near a well-known elephant hide in the Savuti Channel.

In my opinion safari operators are balancing the risks - the risk that something goes wrong, against the risk of disturbing clients who see a gun and loose their faith in a risk-free safari.

Most operators I know who are carrying guns in safari vehicles have a background as hunting operator and estimate the risks differently than pure photo safari operators.

Mitch
 
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Jul 11th, 2005, 01:32 PM
  #6
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Mitch:

It's a slightly different picutre, I believe. In botswana, guns are simply forbidden in the Moremi games reserve. No camps or operators have them owing to government regulation -- end of story. In the consessions its a slightly different story.

The presence of guns in provate consessions is liekly also a matter of both regualtion, operator liability concerns and individual operator policy. Again, if guns were mandatory on photo safaris across regions (say throughout Southern Africa) it wouldn't be an issue at all.
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Jul 11th, 2005, 01:52 PM
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bwanamitch
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Mike,

There are 8 camps in Moremi GR, and about 50 in the private Ngamiland concessions. So I had more the concessions in mind...

But you are right, if there were fixed regulations it wouldn't be an issue.

Mitch
 
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Jul 11th, 2005, 02:15 PM
  #8
bwanamitch
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Hhm, I just remember that I saw the manager of Chief's Camp with a gun...
So even in Moremi GR there seem to be different regulations.

Mitch
 
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Jul 11th, 2005, 03:40 PM
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Mitch,

I beg to differ on your statement
"the guides featured on the WS website are not the drivers who usually take you on a game drive".
Our guide at Savuti was listed on the website and was our "driver" for the duration of our stay there.
My point to Mike was that he has many sources available to him to help in the decision making process.
Everyone has a different comfort level.

You are exactly right about balancing risks and it is unfortunate that not everyone realizes that with or with out a gun there is always a element of risk.
But that said, you are most likely safer on safari than driving your car on a busy freeway or the autobahn!

Brenda
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Jul 11th, 2005, 04:10 PM
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Brenda just beat me to my point.

There is an element of risk in nearly everything we do. If tourists were being attacked on game drives the vehicles would be different or there would be weapons. The fact is harmful or deadly wildlife encounters for tourists are nearly non-existent, especially in the company of trained guides. While a gun may work to startle an animal to buy time it is not necessarily going to save anyone from a bad situation. People are in much bigger danger from mosquitos or even lighting when racing a storm back to camp than any wildlife when following the rules. In the meantime Moremi has the only rhinos in Botswana due to a reintroduction after being poached to extirpation. Personally I think its a great policy to not allow guns when the temptation to take one shot could earn many times someones annual salary, and history has shown there are plenty who will take that shot.

Along those lines a cookie cutter policy of one rule fits all across a large swath of a continent would be horrible for wildlife management. Different countries and systems within countries sometimes have very different issues that need to be addressed. Just like diversity in wildlife and people is healthy, having a diversity of management tools is essential to provide the best experiences for wildlife and tourists.

In the US when I hear people raise these kinds of issues with Grizzly bears my feeling is there are 45 states you can hike in with no worry of running across a Grizzly. If the minute risk of a grizzly is too frightening or someone thinks they need to be shot for their protection I would urge them to hike on the 98% of the land that is grizzly free.

Similarly, I hope that the tiny risk would not discourage anyone from the amazing wilderness experience of Botswana but there is certainly South Africa, and many other places if someone prefers the protection of a rifle. I am glad not all the experiences are the same.
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Jul 11th, 2005, 06:07 PM
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well said predatorbiologist. 1 additional comment. i mean seriously, if you are 5 feet away from a male lion and it decides to jump in the vehicle, a gun locked to the front of the car isnt going to save anything. you may feel safer but probably arent really if there was a serious situation. the point is, as long as you stay in your vehicle, safaris are very safe. go and enjoy botswana. i have never felt uncomfortable and am now planning my 5th trip back.

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Jul 11th, 2005, 07:16 PM
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bigcountry - you said exactly what I was thinking. That gun mounted on the hood/windshield doesn't do much for me. The biggest threat I have felt on game drives is from charging elephants and I hope the ranger is busier driving away than getting his gun.
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Jul 12th, 2005, 11:14 AM
  #13
bwanamitch
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Brenda,

I'm still not 100% fluent in the English language, and sometimes things I say sound a little bit harsh or are misleading. What I wanted to say in my last reply to you (and Mike) is, and maybe the word "usually" wasn't the right one, that the guides featured on the WS site don't represent the resident camp guides that take you on a game drive when you do a normal booking. These are the top private and specialist guides WS have to offer - which, of course, doesn't mean that the resident guides are not well-trained and experienced. I've read in your trip report that you hired a private guide for your stay at Savuti, and that explains that he is featured on the site. Nevertheless, I feel sorry for any disturbance I caused.

Mitch
 
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Jul 12th, 2005, 11:53 AM
  #14
 
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Hi Mitch,
No worries..email is the hardest way to communicate as words can so easily be misunderstood, even if one is 100% fluent!

You have caused no disturbance and I appreciate hearing about your travel experiences.
Thanks for bringing your knowledge and opinions to this forumn.
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Jul 12th, 2005, 01:20 PM
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Based on many years of game drives in S. Africa and Botswana, I have a question ... why would the guide or ranger need a gun? Firing one I've been told is a failure. It would lead to the destruction of the animal regardless of whether it was struck by a bullet. Prehaps its presence makes osme feel more secure ... false security, I might add. Better one should gain an understanding of the futility of a weapon at a tourist lodge and reserve.
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Jul 12th, 2005, 03:41 PM
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We just got back from safari in both SA and Botswana and noticed the difference in guns. We asked the manager of Nxabega about it and he said that generally the camps are allowed only one gun permit and so the vehicles don't each have one. That being said, I never felt unsafe and we were very close to a very large male lion (who slept the whole time we were near him!). In SA, we kept kidding Gideon (our guide) that he didn't take his gun with him when he went tracking off in the bush. He admitted that it was a bad habit of his. I think the gun is probably just there to keep the tourists happy. He said he had never even come close to using it.
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Jul 12th, 2005, 05:08 PM
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There are rogue elephants, but you are kidding about the rabid lion, right?

In Zambia I've talked to guides who had guns for walks (as did the ZAWA scout) and it was very interesting. They didn't actually believe it provided much in the way of safety, because the time you have to react is so limited... and if you are thinking about shooting, you are not thinking about how to get the people in your charge out of harms way. They also said that nothing prepares you for a charging animal, and no amount of hunting or target practice will allow you to shoot accurately under that pressure. (They laughed at the idea that hunting coult keep them prepared.) Only multiple experiences of being charged could prepare you, and best practices today would avoid those practice sessions.

So they thought the gun was really a throwback to the old days. It may be still allowed, but is probably unnecessary.
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Jul 13th, 2005, 01:26 AM
  #18
bwanamitch
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jcasale, interesting info with the gun permits at Nxabega. Does anyone know if there are different gun permit regulations in photographic, multi-purpose and hunting concessions? James?

tashak, I've been told a quite different story with the guides I walked in Zambia (Busanga Trails, Chiawa, Remote Africa), so it might be interesting to know with whom you walked. I assume it depends on the personal background of the individual guide. Most of my guides were PHs, ex-PHs or had experience in game management so they know how to use their tools.

Mitch
 
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Jul 13th, 2005, 07:52 AM
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Bwana,
I think you missed my point...my point was that being a PH does not at all prepare you for the kind of situation a guide faces if an animal charges. I don't have hunting experience, but I've been told by people who do that hunting in Africa does not involve creating a charge so you can shoot a charging animal at close range. Thus hunters, even PHs don't get the kind of experiences we are talking about here. If they did get lots of experience this way, it is more of an indication that maybe their bush skills are not so hot...or perhaps their judgement should be questioned.

OK-I do know of a number of situations where people had dangerous encounters with lion, buffalo, elephants while on foot. In the case of lion-- no time to react-- it happened so quickly that their was no time to even register "LION" let alone raise gun and get off a good shot. In the case of buffalo-- the time was better spent getting way, because if a buffalo is really upon you, you probably cannot bring them down in time with one shot. (and if the animal is farther away, a good guide will tell their clients to get out of the way, then cover them with warning shots if necessary). An elephant-- a real waste of time trying to shoot! You will only make them angrier!
The people with the very best bush-smarts don't encounter these situations because they carefully manage their bushwalks to avoid walking unaware into such situations--or provoking them.
And that the best practice for a guide is not to stand their ground and take target practice to they can get this experience. It is to get-the-hell-out of danger, and that, on most occasions does not mean shooting.
In fact the people that I know spend very significant time out in the bush--often alone somtimes with their wives. They are more worried about encountering people with bad intentions (say, a run in with professional poachers) than they are worried about wildlife encounters.

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Jul 13th, 2005, 10:04 AM
  #20
bwanamitch
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tashak,

thank you for your thoughts - and you are absolutely right: a guide should always try to avoid any dangerous situation (even against the interest of the client), and using a weapon should always be the last resort.

However, in these very rare cases where you encounter such a situation I would expect the same from a certified guide what I would expect from a police officer in our urban areas: that he/she reacts fast, remains cool-headed and knows how to handle the weapon - even under large pressure. All these qualities are trainable - and you don't need real situations for such practicing.

I know that at most walking safaris in Zambia you have this kind of job sharing where the ZAWA ranger should ward off the animal and the guide's main responsibility are the clients. But nevertheless, I find it disturbing to hear that there are guides who regard their guns more or less useless because of missing "practice sessions" - in my opinion this is not the right attitude.

I don't know if their gun bores allows them to stop an elephant or buffalo with one shot, but not every lion charge comes from short distance, and not every lion will charge the guy with the gun first - so there could always be a situation where a weapon would protect a client from harm.

Mitch
 
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