Theft and Security on Safari

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Jul 20th, 2005, 11:52 AM
  #1
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Theft and Security on Safari

I was prompted to post this by bwanamitch's comment on the room safes in Mombo. I know this changes the feeling of being alone out in the bush, but I feel compelled to warn people (especially folks with nice equipment like bwanam) not to be too complacent about safeguarding valuables in the camps.

Perhaps because I've had opportunities to speak to guides, managers and camp owner "off the record", I've just heard of too many cases where theft is an issue at these camps. I can't repeat these stories (too bad, because some of them are rather funny, especially when the thiefs were caught and the goods recovered) but believe me, they cover even the best camps and operators. Of course the camps don't publicize this, and don't really like to admit it, but there is a problem. Some of them will offer to put your valuables in a central safe--and this is good, except inconvenient when it is something you need frequently. Others have room safes-- and the wise use them.

Now PLEASE don't get paranoid about this!! Just be prudent...use the central or room safes, or keep valuable with you. And don't hold it against a camp if they do have a room safe. Of course, feel free to hold anything else against them (big tents, little tents...walkways, no walkways...high prices, really really high prices...)
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Jul 20th, 2005, 12:32 PM
  #2
bwanamitch
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tashak,

maybe I'm a little bit naive, but my precautions depend on the location and the scale of the accommodation I use. I know, humans don't always act logically, but if you're in a small remote camp where the only way out is the weekly support truck, I would consider twice before doing any theft - in contrast to a camp where my village is nearby and I can move freely. Of course, these assumptions give you no guarantee.

Whether there are room safes or not, in case of my photo equipment they're useless because of their small size. And for the small valuables each traveller should use safety measures that work in any place. There are some quite successful ones.

Mitch
 
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Jul 20th, 2005, 02:08 PM
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Bwana,
I don't think you are at all naive, but I did post this because some of the places and situations that had theft problems just amazed me for the reasons you mentioned. One camp was extremely remote and self-sufficient; no villages around at all. And the type of situation where walking to a village was out of the question. But they still had this theft problem, and they were really working to try to figure out who and how. (In fact that was one of the amusing bits: they set up a sting, and they did catch a thief, but it was clear that this thief was not the same as the thief they were targeting. So part of the reason I posted this was so people understand that remote, isolated camps still have these risks.
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Jul 20th, 2005, 03:09 PM
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tashak,

I always have baites in my luggage. So they are happy they get something, and I am happy that the real valuables remain untouched...

Mitch
 
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Jul 20th, 2005, 04:14 PM
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Mitch,

Would you mind sharing some sample "baits." I mean should I bring along a couple comic books or something? Maybe some worthless costume jewelry? Some sunglasses that are worth only a couple dollars? Perhaps a couple baseball caps with team logo?

As long as my camera gear is left alone, they can have whatever they want. But, I never worry as much at the camps as I do while at airports.

To date I have been victimized three times during my travels. Once while at a video game arcade in Hawaii about 20 years ago...wrong part of town where the "Holi's" (sp.?) are not welcomed.

The second time was in 2003 in Joburg when my credit card info must have been taken by a server or store clerk and they emptied $5,000 from my personal account...went to Zambia with $5,000 in the bank and by the time I arrived back in Joburg a week later, I could not even pull out 100 Rand from the ATM...fortunately I was reimbursed in full by my bank within a week as they saw that it was fraud as I proved that I was in Zambia while the charges were occurring in Joburg and plus the signature did not come close to matching.

Last year was the most annoying incident and it occurred in Italy. My wife and I had been delayed for about 20 minutes when some unhappy airline employee saw it his duty to charge us for overweight luggage. This whole process delayed us about 20 minutes and left us running for our plane. When we arrived at the gate with our carry on luggage, we were not allowed to check in a small suitcase and it was literally taken out of our hands and handed to a baggage clerk. We were so stressed out by then about making our flight that we didn't even think to remove the satellite phone and personal dvd player out of the suitcase. However, an Alitalia baggage handler was thoughtful enough to remove these items for us, so that once we had arrived in Zambia (never checking on the bag again in London or Joburg, but never having it leave our possession except for in Rome) that it was only then that we realized that our satellite phone and personal dvd player was gone. Total loss...about $1,750 and declined by Access America because we did not notify the proper authorities within 24 hours...yeah, we are going to use Kaingo's satellite phone at $3 per minute to spend a couple hours on the phone to Italy and then to Access America.

I will not rent a satellite phone this year because I think just about every camp owns one, and if they know what is good for them, they will not refuse me use of their phone! I would much rather pay the lodge $3 per minute than to rent the phone for about $100 per week plus pay about $1.50 per minute, plus a big fat security deposit.

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Jul 20th, 2005, 04:16 PM
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Left out that in Hawaii my wallet was stolen...good for about $20 and some pearls. That did cost me quite a few missed opportunities of Pac Man or Asteroid!
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Jul 20th, 2005, 04:38 PM
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Rocco,

A good bait would be an envelope with a lot of small green bucks somewhere positioned in the upper third of your soft bag.

Okay, that doesn't help much, if your check-through luggage doesn't get the connection flight in JNB... or you check in there with Air Botswana or any other regional airline...

Mitch

 
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Jul 20th, 2005, 05:27 PM
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Rocco,
The second incident you described is why I don't feel comfortable carrying a debit card with a visa/mastercard logo. I had my bank re-issue an ATM only card that can only be used with a pin and not as a credit card. I use it for cash withdrawal only and it's never out of my possession. For all purchases, I use regular credit and charge cards. My Amex number was actually stolen last time in Kenya and someone charged a $1800 plane ticket. My only inconvenience was a call to Amex (and calls to travelocity, etc. but that was me trying to do a little detective work on my own) and I was able to continue to use my card as usual. Had it been a debit card tied to my bank account, it would have been more problematic. Of course, the bank will eventually replace your money, but often you're halfway around the world and it isn't convenient to contact them or wait for them to replenish the funds.
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Jul 21st, 2005, 10:53 AM
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Mitch,

Maybe I missed something, but while I understand about the walkways I'm not sure why safes in rooms bother you -- no one is forcing you to use them. If you prefer, you can leave your stuff out and pretend the safe doesn't exist ; )

Personally, when I am travelling (on safari or for business) I store my passport, air tickets, and wallet in the safe when they aren't needed so I can have a worry free trip. I also use the safe to store little things which are easily lost so I don't accidentally leave them behind.

From a practical standpoint, if something does happen, it will be much easier to file a claim with your travel insurance company if you have taken precautions.

Cheers,
Julian
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Jul 21st, 2005, 12:01 PM
  #10
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For insurance claim purposes, you're better using the main safe provided by a camp, lodge or hotel then those in an individual room or tent. The hotel's own safes found at reception are insured... not the ones in the rooms.

Of course, should anything be stolen from a room/tent safe, you can put in a claim and hope for the best. But the best place is at the main safe at a lodging establishment.
 
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Jul 21st, 2005, 12:07 PM
  #11
bwanamitch
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Julian,

Room safes just remind me on the more ugly sides of our daily life. I have no problems using them in business hotels or even in large safari lodges in the more crowded areas.

When booking a safari I not only want to see wild animals in fantastic landscapes, I also want to make a total leave from our crazy civilization. And when booking a remote intimate safari camp, I prefer to see as less as possible artefacts of this civilization.

During my last Kenyan safari I saw a lot of people using their cell phones in the main areas of safari lodges. Hearing one of those noisy ring tones is certainly the last thing I want to encounter during a safari, and nowadays the distribution of mobile phone networks in African countries is a criterion for me when selecting a safari destination.

Back to the safes: Up to now I only know one operator in BW/KE/TZ/ZM where you find these devices in safari tents, and I've often wondered whether this operator has a special problem with thefts, or whether it's more a question of the requirements of a very special client structure. Whatsoever, I can't always ignore these devices. I remember Little Vumbura and how "well" these technical boxes are integrated in the rooms there.

I can imagine that not so far in the future internet access points will be a feature of a luxury safari tent. (I'm sure WS will be at the forefront of these developments.) And I certainly will have problems with those devices, too.

I prefer simple safari camps in great game areas, as near to nature as possible, where you have to shoo hyaenas away to enter your tent, with elephants and lions roaming around your tent at night - but unfortunately, this becomes harder to achieve with each year.

Mitch
 
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Jul 21st, 2005, 01:41 PM
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Like Julian, I think I may have missed something here. Do you folks mean that people have broken into LOCKED luggage or were they left unlocked?

Whenever I leave my room or tent my luggage is always locked with one of those four-dial locks and each piece of luggage has a different lock number. Granted, this doesn't guarantee that someone can't figure it out or cut off the lock, but I have never had a problem. I always lock my passport, tickets, and money in the safe in the lodge/camp office and keep with me only what I will need for a day or two.

One traveler that I know of says he always leaves the zips on his luggage in certain positions which he will remember. Then when he gets back to the room he can see if anyone attempted to get into the luggage. Usually they don't think to re-zip and put in the same position as they found it.

Do I need to think of doing something differently?

Jan
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Jul 21st, 2005, 02:05 PM
  #13
bwanamitch
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Jan,

In safari camps, I never use a safe, and my luggage is unlocked most of the time. Up to now I feel quite happy.

The only time I had a greater loss was during transfer, and surprisingly the lock of my soft bag remained untouched - it took some time till I realized how they managed this.

I would say this topic depends on personal preferences and your willingness how much thoughts to spend on it. Everyone has a different comfort level.

When on safari I always have the most important things, credit card and some cash, with me. (That would be more difficult on a beach holiday or more formal environments.) If someone wants to steal my passport or tickets? Well, I'm quite sure I will anyway find my way home.

Mitch
 
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Jul 22nd, 2005, 01:53 AM
  #14
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Everyone who is more interested in this topic should read this:
http://www.michna.com/kenyatheft.htm

Mitch
 
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Jul 22nd, 2005, 04:45 AM
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I'm sorry, I think I may have been unclear in my last message -- I put the passport and stuff in the lodge safe, and use the room safe for things to which I need daily access or little things I don't want to misplace, like memory cards for my camera.

BTW, Duma Tau (a WS camp) does not have room safes -- the safes are kept under a shelf in the gift shop. Unfortunately for Mitch, it does have wooden walkways.

Cheers,
Julian
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