tracking safaris controversy

Sep 15th, 2007, 11:04 AM
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tracking safaris controversy

Here's a story in today's Wall St. Journal about the growing popularity of tracking safaris, where you follow big game on foot. Mentions the number of people who've died on them, though records aren't really kept.
http://tinyurl.com/3a7u93
I probably wouldn't do it, depending on the location. Atravelynn did this in Phinda. Personally, I'm not that brave.
Leslie

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Sep 15th, 2007, 01:25 PM
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Walking safaris. Bush walks. Now we have Tracking Safaris. Seems like someone wants to differentiate with a twist on words. Look for changes in the brochure.
luangwablondes is offline  
Sep 15th, 2007, 01:46 PM
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I guess it's less dangerous than walking in our urban centers.
nyama is offline  
Sep 15th, 2007, 02:07 PM
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LAleslsie,
Very interesting article. Thanks for the link.

Here is the quote on deaths while doing safaris on foot "...at least 15 people have been reported killed or injured while on foot during safaris in Africa in the past decade, according to press reports."

It is funny the different names they come up with for walking. Clever marketing.

I am not very brave or even a big risk taker. But the article was correct that you will likely not see the Big 5 on foot, at least not with good photo ops.
atravelynn is offline  
Sep 15th, 2007, 02:36 PM
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Walking/tracking. Sheesh. Some of the stuff in the article is pretty silly, IMO. Methinks the author was trying to find a fresh (if a bit phony) angle for a safari article and makes a big deal out of nothing differentiating the two.

When we walked Chiawa/Old Mondoro, we tracked various critters, including following fresh lion tracks (didn't see them, however, until next morning when the lions we were following were bedded down within a couple hundred yards of our tent).

And, at Old Mondoro, it seemed we were within sight of elephants and buffalo more time than not. In fact, Roelof called for Helen to bring the Land Rover to fetch us when it was time to return to camp, because we we were encircled by ellies and buffalo. None were threatening, but we would have had to approach them if we had walked in any given direction--or wait for them to move on. Rather exciting, but we felt safe, because of the coolness, and carefullness of Roelof--and the presence of the ranger with a very big gun.

Your senses certainly go on red alert when you're on the ground without the metal of a vehicle around you (although our safety in a vehicle is really illusory since it is only a result of some sort of self discipline on the part of the animals which could easily crush or tear you apart).

As for the person mentioned in the article who was killed when the group got out of the vehicle to get closer to elephants, that absolutely would not happen at the camps we visited. You never, never leave the vehicle--except for the occasional scheduled break. And even then, it would be in an open area, and the guide would get out first and take a look around.

Can't wait to be back in Zambia again in two weeks!!!!

Jim

steeliejim is offline  
Sep 15th, 2007, 03:57 PM
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SteelieJim,

Hope you enjoy all your tracking safaris in Zambia.
atravelynn is offline  
Sep 15th, 2007, 04:13 PM
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I've been on walking safaris since the early 1990's.

I have had to stand down lion charges, run from elephant charges, be very quiet incase the black rhino charged and been charged by buffalo whilst sitting in a canoe on a sandbar in the Zambezi river.

You will learn more about african game in one day on a walking/tracking safari (call it what you may) than you will sitting in a vehicle for two weeks.

It's different horses for different courses but walking in the african bush is a real learning experience.

Geoff.
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Sep 15th, 2007, 04:21 PM
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forgot to mention it is less dangerous than driving your car in any city in the world.

Geoff.
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Sep 15th, 2007, 04:45 PM
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IMO there is a significant difference between walking and tracking. What the author describes is the latter, which differentiates itself from a bush walk, guided trail in as much as the objective of the exercise is to find fresh spoor and follow it until the species is found.

A bush walk by its nature is just that: a walk in the wilderness where by chance you might encounter game.

I will add that most of the bush walk specialist companies do not make a habit of deliberately walking you into dangerous game, they are bush wise and understand the limitations of tourists....
Nuff said: Leave the tracking to the pro's
mkhonzo is offline  
Sep 15th, 2007, 05:35 PM
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mkhonzo,

I agree but there are walking safaris where you happen upon fresh spoor it will be followed up.

The whole intention is to get you (the tourist) a sighting of the animal(s) and perhaps even a photo. Often with good guides & trackers you can get very close to the game in relative safety.

The pro's are well aware of when the situation is too dangerous for their clients and discreetly back away but often a safe vantage point is sought.

Geoff.
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Sep 15th, 2007, 05:39 PM
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mkhonzo, that was my take on it, that the writer took pains to differentiate a walking safari from these "tracking" walks, in which you specifically go looking on foot to get close to big and dangerous game. Thus the point of the story. It seems like accidents waiting to happen. And since I've never been on either, aren't these "tracking adventures much more expensive than "walking" safaris?
Related tiem: Apparently there will be a "60 Minutes" segment on shark diving tomorrow night. Similar questions being asked: Has man's desire to interact with wildlife gone too far?
One thing I thought was how truly dangerous the first expeditions into Africa really were. Stupid white men!
Leslie
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Sep 15th, 2007, 05:43 PM
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LAleslie,

Have a look here... http://www.walkafrica.com/walking_safaris.htm

Geoff.
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Sep 15th, 2007, 07:06 PM
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Thanks, Lynn,

Yes, can't wait. Walking/tracking--AND day and night game drives, tigerfishing, canoeing, just hanging at camp while ellies and buffalo wander through. Bee eaters by the hundreds building their nests. The symphony of the hippos at night. And so, so much more

BTW, we are probably not going to be able to canoe the Chifungulu Channel--although Ruth is, er, was, willing to give it another go.

Seems another issue has popped up, so to speak, which have put trips down the Chifungulu on hold. Not hippos, though, surprisingly.

"Curious" crocodiles. I got a note from Julie at Chiawa that it seems there are some rather aggressive--and large--crocs that have taken playing with the canoes, approaching closely and sometimes bumping them. No one has been dumped or hurt yet, but they thought it best to forego the Chifungulu canoe trips, at least for the time being.

Back to walking/tracking. I can understand that some walks are indeed walks. Call what we did what you want, but when we found VERY fresh lion tracks while we were "walking" at Chiawa, we followed them for quite awhile until we finally lost them in a rocky, dry stream bed.

And, when walking out of Old Mondoro, it was hardly necessary to track spoor, because the elephants and buffalo were everywhere. It was more a question of keeping an eagle eye out (at which Roelof was quite adept) so as not to be surprised by them.

It appeared from the article that the density of the game, at least some of the big species, was not so plentiful, and one had to go to some effort to find them.

And, yes, Goeff, I agree wholeheartedly re. the learning experience when walking, as well as being connected to your environment in a way not possible when in a vehicle. From the bats in the baobob, to the terrestrial termite dragging a twig 5x as long, patiently manipulating it to pull it into the small hole and underground where millions more of it's companions waited.

But, to track, and find, a leopard on the ground--now, that's impressive--no matter whether you call it walking or tracking.



Jim
steeliejim is offline  
Sep 15th, 2007, 08:04 PM
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Like atravelynn, we did a walking safari at Phinda. Before we got out of the safari jeep to start walking, our guide told us that we were unlikely to get close to any animals as they tend to avoid people on foot whereas they might let a safari vehicle get close. We certainly found this to be the case. We got close to lions, elephants, cheetahs, rhinos and other "big" critters in the safari vehicle, but on the walk, we only saw animals such as zebra and giraffe up close (and that wasn't actually very close at all). The thrill was simply walking through the African bush with our guide, learning about plants, tracks, spoor, animal behavior, etc.
longhorn55 is offline  
Sep 16th, 2007, 12:43 AM
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The question that comes to my head is how many animals have rangers/trackers had to shoot?

I had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of time with Elmon, who is the elder brother of Renias, the tracker mentioned at Londolozi. Elmon is also supposed to have a very good reputation for tracking, and indeed, he went looking, in the 10 days that I was there in July 2006, for leopard and lion cubs, and after hours of tracking over many days, he found both. But he also tells many stories, of tracking animals and being charged by the unexpected. So if someone of Elmon's experience, some 38 years now, still gets charged and caught unawares, I would be very cautious with others with a lot less experience!

I do not see this experience as being brave in the least!

Kind regards

Kaye
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Sep 16th, 2007, 05:52 AM
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I do not know the differential in price between a bush walk and or a tracking walk. Either way both are priceless experiences.

In my experience walking is not the right medium for photography, particularly of the big and nasty, the sound of the shutter in those instances is alike a gunshot to the game and it can and has caused negative outcomes.

As far as the learning curve goes: That is entirely dependent on the skill of the guide, what is probably more true is that you have the opportunity to examine the smaller creatures of the wilderness on foot than you you do from a vehicle.
Those who have walked must agree that sightings of game is a bonus, and that the focus of the walk centres on feaceology, track identification, then insects, plant and tree id and so on.

Game naturally shies away from man on foot, we are the superior predator! This activity is not as dangerous as people fear. Think of it, man has inhabited the African continent for centuries, perhaps we all originated there...And I'll add that man had lived there long before the rifle...some how or other the human species was never exterminated by the wild beasts of Africa.

A knowledgable African can predict the presence of a predator or pachyderm by interpreting the clues in the environment making it safe, a lot safer than you think.

I have attached a link to a clip, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/
scroll down to the segment: "shark a lucrative catch", in anticipation of the 60 minutes debate.
mkhonzo is offline  
Sep 16th, 2007, 01:06 PM
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Quote "The question that comes to my head is how many animals have rangers/trackers had to shoot?"

I have been told by one walking/tracking safari specialist that in approx 20 years of operation he has had to shoot 1 lioness, 1 elephant cow & 1 buffalo. (I'm aware of the scenarios behind these but its too long to type here)

..and tongue in cheek he told me he had a tough decision to make if a black rhino charged me... shoot one of the most endangered species on the planet or shoot me to put me out of my misery.

Geoff.
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Sep 16th, 2007, 04:02 PM
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Geoff, you certainly make a case for getting down on the ground for an authentic experience.
Mkhonzo, very good points all, though I don't really want to compare us to the early kill-or-be-killed days. Our job, or at least a non-hunter like me, is to get as close to the animals as possible while disturbing them as little as possible.
I do worry that these walking/tracking jaunts are more dangerous than the travel business would lead us to believe. Or at least I worry this trend will grow as more people want an out-of-the-Rover adventure. Will all the tourists be properly advised, or heed the warnings, and will some act like jerks? Will all game lodges make sure their rangers are properly trained (there's already a shortage of African rangers as many local kids don't want these jobs)? The game lodge people have nothing to worry about since the guests sign liability waivers. And there is extra money to be made. I don't necessarily buy the argument that a death or mauling would be bad for business. For one thing, very little news from Africa reaches the U.S. or other shores. For another, often businesses look the other way in denial until someting awful happens. And rangers probably won't protest too much out of fear of losing their jobs.
That said, I will seriously consider doing a "walk" when I'm in Bostwana in November.
Leslie
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Sep 16th, 2007, 06:30 PM
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I had an email discussion with a Fodorite on walking/tracking in Africa after a tragic death of guests on foot in Hwange in Zimbabwe. We both stated we would be more vocal and up front with the ranger before the walk about not wanting to take risks to get closer and not needing to get good photos while on the walk. Of course that should be common sense, but it takes some pressure off the ranger/guide that might come from wanting to please overzealous tourists.

I realize that some close encounters or accidents while in the bush would have happened regardless of whether the guests being guided were happy with more distant viewing or not.

You raise a good point LAleslie, what if everyone wants to leave the vehicle and start marching through the bush? Could that be a much more dangerous situation or would it just save gas?
atravelynn is offline  
Sep 16th, 2007, 07:38 PM
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or over time would the animals get acclimated to seeing humans walking their trails and "pose" for pictures as they do when we are in the rover/ranger?
Or walk within inches/feet of us while they are concentrating on hunting "real" food?
matnikstym is offline  

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