Walking with wild sense

by WildZambezi.com

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A traveller's guide to walking safely in the African bush

  • caution and common sense will help, paranoia will not. If you are likely to be nervous, take an armed guide with you;
  • respect the fact that the animals are wild and may behave unpredictably, especially if they are frightened, wounded or have young;
  • don't walk alone or at night;
  • walk at times of day when predators are less active i.e. morning to mid-afternoon;
  • walk quietly so that all your senses can be fully alert and be aware of what's around you at all times;
  • avoid long grass or thick bush - if you can't see out, climb a tree or an anthill;
  • avoid the temptation to get too close to animals for that ultimate photo-opportunity. Rather use binoculars and a telephoto lens;
  • if you are taking photographs, make sure that somebody else keeps an eye on the surroundings and can warn you if anything approaches;
  • walk downwind of any animals that you see or hear and take time and effort to divert if you have to, this is especially important if there are female animals with young;
  • if you come unexpectedly close to an animal or a snake, stop, try to remain calm and then back off very slowly, or stay still and until it moves off. Do not run.
  • never swim in rivers or pools and stay back from the water where banks are shallow. Crocodiles are the Earth's longest surviving and most successful predators

Below is a VERY useful common-sense article that tells people what to expect from animals in the African bush.  Written some time ago by Professional Guide, Dave Rushworth, we are indebted to Mark Brightman for its inclusion here:-


By D. Rushworth

Basically, animals and human beings behave the same. Try and get rid of the idea that all animals attack human beings. They won't, except on the same occasions as people would attack animals.

If you saw an animal you would first look at it. If it came towards you and were frightened you would run away.

If for some reason you couldn't or didn't want to run away you would start shouting at the animal or try and warn it from coming any closer.

If it came too close and you were able to attack it you would do so.

The same applies to animals. They will generally look at you and then, if frightened, run away.

If they have young that can't run or have food they don't want to leave, and you come closer, they will warn you.

If you don't heed the warning and go closer the animal may attack you if it is able to do so.

When you observe or hear a warning - leave the animal alone. The animal has done its best to warn you and you have only yourself to blame if you go closer and are attacked.

Warnings are generally given by a defensive stance, a short, sharp sound or by showing a warning colour which is normally white or black in the case of mammals.

Try to learn the various warning and alarm calls.

  • Monkeys will raise their eyebrows and show the white upper eyelid.
  • Antelope will snort and sometimes shake their heads. Small mammals will chitter or squeak. Rhino will snort (a loud sniff) and face you with head up.
  • Birds give a shrill cry and the larger birds of prey will raise their wings and puff themselves out.
  • Some warnings are obvious, like the baring of teeth, growling or trumpeting.
  • A cobra standing up and spreading its hood is not going to bite you. It knows you can't see it easily lying flat so stands up and spreads its hood so that you can see it. All that it is really saying is: "Here I am  - don't come any closer". If you do go closer, it is in a position to bite you and will do so - but that is your fault. If you back slowly away it will lower itself and move away.

When you get a bad fright from something very near to you - like being jumped on in the dark - your first reaction is to attack what frightened you. The same applies to animals. If you get very close to them without them knowing they may get such a fright that they will attack you.

(With acknowledgements to Dov Fedler from The Guide's Guide to Guiding by Garth Thompson (published in 2001 by Jacana).

The poor old rhino is rather like this as, rhino normally lie up in thick bush and if they don't see, hear or smell you, they can't give you a warning until you are right on top of them. When they suddenly see you near them they automatically charge at you. It isn't that they don't like you - they are just very frightened. You would do the same thing.

Remember, then, to announce yourselves to an animal through scent, sight or sound. If it warns you then don't go any nearer. Just watch from a distance. When you think of it - it boils down to good manners. Many people think that they can do just what they want when in the bush. There is just as much need for good manners among animals as there is among people.

Animals that make a noise and flap their ears and heads around aren't attacking. They are warning you or trying to chase you away. You would do the same thing if chasing a chicken or a dog. If you wanted to catch something you would go quietly.

Put yourself in the animal's place and think what you would do. In nearly every case the animals would do the same.

Animals with young, wounded animals and animals that are trapped, surprised at close quarters or have no escape are the ones most likely to attack you as they might be very frightened.




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