Written by Nikki Meyer
I’m often amazed by the perception that one has to drive off road in order to have a ‘proper’ safari. As the manager of Rhino Post Safari Lodge in the Kruger National Park, where off-roading is forbidden for both ethical reasons and long term environmental preservation, we regularly and frequently share incredible sightings with guests, without ever leaving the road.
On those rare occasions when we’ve followed a hunt and the action happened to take place behind a tree or rock, we might have be disappointed to have missed it, but our guides knew that they had not influenced the outcome. They’ve even taken advantage of the opportunity to switch off the lights and engine, and use other less developed senses. Fortunately there are more than enough exciting sightings that occur in view of the road, and tomorrow (as they say in the classics) is another day.
I’m pleased to note that there’s a growing demand for ethical and responsible eco-tourism in South Africa, with more and more private game lodges limiting the distance a vehicle may drive off road, even on privately owned reserves, and flatly banning off-road driving in wet conditions, as this causes major rutting and erosion.
Guests on safari in the Kruger Park, either self-driving or accompanied by professional guides should be proud that in complying with this SANParks regulation they are allowing the wildlife to dictate distance according to comfort zone. Game can freely leave the road if drivers are disrespectful of distance, make them uncomfortable or pressure them. Kruger Park visitors who obey the rules are also doing their bit to reduce damage to the soils (erosion and compacting), plant life (snapping of small saplings), and animal life (driving over birds’ nests and small creatures). Yes, little creatures do cross the roads, but in the open they’re easy to spot and avoid, especially at the recommended speed limit.
The first time I visited the Kruger Park, I was taken aback by the tarred roads. I thought it was ‘all wrong’ in a game reserve. After living in the park for 23 years, though, I have come to understand their vitality to ongoing public education, research and preservation of our biodiversity. Kruger Park Management gave careful thought to where they established these roads, in order to ensure that some of the best game viewing areas of the park and diverse biomes are accessible all year round. Without this arterial link, much of the park would have to close during the summer/rainy season.
Just to illustrate how wonderful game viewing from the roads can be, we have shared in this post some of our recent sightings – from the road.
I hope to see more people staying on road, not because they “can’t go off”, but because they “don’t want to go off”. Please don’t ever try to convince your guide to ‘break the rules’, not even ‘just this once’, and if he/she does of his/her own accord, please report it to the lodge or camp management.
If you can’t be persuaded that off-road driving is not essential to the safari experience, then at least choose your safari guide and/or lodge with great care. Do your homework to ensure that your visit causes minimal damage to the incredible African fauna and flora that we all so admire and respect.