RESPECT THE WILD: A Code of Conduct for visitors in wild areas

by The Zambezi Society

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Designed and produced by The Zambezi Society with the aim of encouraging an environmentally responsible attitude and a way of life to keep wilderness wild for future generations.



  • wild places and wild species have the right to existence and respect, along with humans
  • we are part of the web of life: our future depends on keeping this complex structure intact
  • respect for the wild shows we respect ourselves and our place in the world.
  • we love beautiful things and wild nature is a source of much beauty in the world
  • wild places, plants and animals have valuable cultural, historical and ancestral values which are part of our heritage and provide benefits for current and future generations
  • the natural world provides the raw materials for our development food, water, seeds, tools, medicines etc.
  • in the wild we may feel a sense of awe, inspiration and oneness with nature some call it spiritual

  • experiences in the wild can heal bodies or minds
  • we can exchange the tension of cities for the solitude and tranquility of the wild and experience unique opportunities for leisure and relaxation
  • wilderness can provide us with challenges that we do not normally meet in our daily lives
  • the natural world is a huge outdoor classroom with many new and exciting things to discover
  • the existence of wild areas helps reduce global warming and its effects
  • wildernesses are fast disappearing worldwide as human populations grow
  • we have a moral (and ethical) responsibility to ensure the continued existence of wild lands that are undeveloped, where natural forces operate without people's intervention, so that current and future generations can enjoy the benefits of wild nature, too.


Plan ahead

  • Obtain a map and find out as much as you can about the geography, weather, access routes, wild animals etc. of the wild place you are visiting.
  • If you are unfamiliar with the area, consider taking along someone who knows it well.
  • Prepare to be self-sufficient and accept that there are risks involved. Plan for emergencies and for how to get help if you need it.
  • Allow time to reach your destination in daylight for your own safety and for that of nocturnal animals on roads and paths.
  • Pack no-fuss equipment and meals to minimize impacts, fire risk and waste (e.g. gas/spirit cooker, pre-cooked meals, small spade, lightweight tent etc).
  • Take precautions against mosquitoes (pills, nets, repellent etc.) to avoid malaria

Minimise tracks

  • Use existing tracks, trails or pathways
  • Avoid driving vehicles off-road.
  • Drive slowly and keep to speed limits.
  • When driving or hiking, avoid making impacts on soft soils, wetlands, vleis etc. Rather choose durable surfaces such as rock, sand, compacted soil, dry grass etc.
  • Stand or sit still and wait for animals to come to you rather than walking or driving in search of them.

Camp with care

  • Choose accommodation that has a minimum ecological footprint and is wilderness-sensitive e.g. basic chalets or camping. Use official campsites if possible.
  • Avoid damage to trees, bushes, soils and rocks if making your own campsite.
  • Avoid camping in places used by large animals (on paths, beside pans where they drink or in favoured grazing areas e.g. alongside river beds).

Remove all litter and food

  • Never throw litter, cigarettes or food into the wild or from a vehicle.
  • Best practice : what you take in, you take out.
  • Use an empty can as an ashtray.
  • Carry light plastic bags for collecting all litter, cans, bottletops and left-over food (even that left by others) for later disposal.
  • Secure food and rubbish bags away from wildlife in a closed vehicle or tamperproof container (e.g. metal trunk). Wild animals attracted by food may lose fear, become dependent and sometimes aggressive, resulting in them being destroyed as problem animals.
  • Avoid discarding organics that biodegrade slowly (e.g. citrus peels) or contain seeds that could introduce non-wild plant species, (e.g. guavas, tomatoes etc). Bag for later disposal.
  • If you do burn litter, remove remaining plastic, tin cans, bones etc. for carry-out.

Manage waste properly


  • Avoid soap or chemicals and do not wash dishes in water sources. Fill a container with washing water and discard after use at least 100 paces away from water on bare ground where it will not affect plants or animals.
  • Prevent disease: do not urinate in rivers, lakes or pans.
  • Bury all human waste away from water sources and pathways in a small hole dug at least 15cms deep in soil with plenty of leaf compost around it. Carry a small spade for this purpose. Toilet paper is slow to biodegrade: use leaves if possible, but if not, burn soiled paper in the hole without setting fire to the surrounding bush. Cover carefully with soil and leaves. NEVER leave human waste or toilet paper exposed on the ground this is unhygienic, defaces the landscape, is unpleasant for others and harmful to animals.

Be careful with fires

  • Best practice: no fires. Use a gas or spirit stove.
  • If you must light a fire, keep it small and never leave it unattended. Bring your own firewood and use a designated campsite fireplace. If none, make a ring of stones. Clear an open spot away from surrounding or overhanging vegetation. Remove dry grass or leaves and use only fallen, dead wood. Do not break healthy branches.
  • Do not light a fire in a strong wind.
  • Always damp down glowing embers with water at night or if you leave camp.
  • Remove all signs of your fireplace when you leave.
  • Bury dry ashes and cover with sand.
  • Return stones to where you found them.

Leave nature natural

  • Leave all rocks, trees, plants, animals, pottery, archaeological, historic and cultural artifacts as you find them, so that future visitors may enjoy their discovery too.
  • Take only photographs, leave only footprints.
  • Carving or painting on trees or rocks damages and disfigures nature and is unsightly for other visitors.
  • Never remove or collect plants, as this can damage the whole biology of a wild area.

Give way to animals

  • Most wild animals and snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them, but they may attack if startled. Walk quietly in the wild with your senses FULLY aware. Use binoculars,  keep your distance, and try to pass downwind of large animals so that they do not catch your scent.
  • If you come unexpectedly close, stand still and stay calm. Try not to scream or shout for help. Wait for them to move off. If they do not, back off very slowly to a safe distance.
  • Learn to tell when an animal is aroused or distressed and get out of danger quickly and safely. If charged, do not run (lions will chase you) unless in extreme situations stand your ground, make yourself look bigger by waving your arms wide and shout loudly. If this fails, seek the nearest cover (tree/anthill etc.)!
  • Never touch the young/nest/eggs of a wild creature. It may abandon them.
  • Never interfere with nature's course. It may seem hard, but accept that it is natural for prey to get caught, killed and eaten, trees to get felled by elephants, the fittest to survive.
  • Do not swim or wade in water in wild places. Crocodiles are rarely visible and are the Earth's most successful and longest-surviving predators!

Enjoy peace and solitude

  • One reason why people seek out wild areas is to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and other people. Respect the need of others who wish to experience the tranquility of the wild.
  • Loud noises and bright lights can be disturbing to animals and other people.Avoid them. Do not shout, do not play radios/music, do not talk loudly on a cellphone, do not sound your vehicle horn.
  • Never use a generator when camping in a wild place. This is an act of extreme selfishness.
  • Do not crowd animals with vehicles or boats. Keep a respectful and safe distance and switch off your engine.
  • Sit still, watch and let your senses become sharpened by the peace and solitude of the wild. You will feel more instinctively in touch with your surroundings than ever before.

There is not much wilderness left in the world: let's look after it in Africa.



Related articles:-

How to stay safe in wild areas

A Guide to Ethical Wildlife Photography 

Codes of Conduct for Visitors to Mana Pools

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