How to stay safe in wild areas

Wild Zambezi • 6 October 2018

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Two tragic accidents (one fatal) involving visitors and wild elephants, which took place in Mana Pools and in Victoria Falls in September 2018, have prompted Wild Zambezi to issue some cautionary words of warning.

Wild animals are just that…. WILD…. and, no matter what some irresponsible individuals in the tourism industry will tell you, UNPREDICTABLE.

• Just because you’ve seen extraordinary close wildlife encounters in documentaries, movies, or on Social Media, don’t think it will work like that for you. 

• Wild areas are not Zoos.  And most tourism destinations in the Zambezi Valley (including the  Victoria Falls) are in wild areas (even the towns of Victoria Falls and Kariba).

• It is not worth risking either life or limb for “that perfect photograph”.  You are being irresponsible and are endangering yourself, those accompanying you, and the animal itself.

If you unexpectedly come face to face with a wild animal, there are many variables which come into play in a matter of seconds. Every wildlife interaction is unique and very contextual.  Each wild animal has its own radius of discomfort which in itself varies according to its life-experience, its mood at the time, its family responsibility and its prior experience with people.

So the best advice is:-

USE COMMON SENSE When in the wild do not even think of taking risks - even for that perfect photograph


DO NOT WALK IN THE WILD unless you are highly experienced in wildlife situations, or accompanied by a fully qualified, professional guide who will use his weapon only in an emergency situation

AVOID CLOSE ENCOUNTERS wherever possible.
If your safari guide leads you into a close encounter situation with a wild animal, where you feel nervous or uncomfortable, do not be embarrasssed to say how you feel and ask the guide to back off.  

DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR VEHICLE TO APPROACH WILD ANIMALS.  Disembark from a game-viewing vehicle only at a designated parking area or look-out point after making sure that no animal is close by.  Even then, remain constantly alert.

RESPECT AN ANIMAL’S SPACE – whether you are in a vehicle or on foot.  All wild animals have a “fight or flight” instinct.  If you approach too close they may choose “fight” instead of “flight”.

ALLOW WILD ANIMALS RIGHT OF WAY across roads or paths

ALWAYS REMAIN QUIET, CALM AND RESPECTFUL  when wild animals are near.


AVOID CROWDING OR SURROUNDING ANIMALS – all observers should stay within the same quadrant (see graphic), at a safe distance preferably downwind where the animals cannot scent you

NEVER FEED OR BAIT WILD ANIMALS  If you are camping in the wild, keep all foodstuffs securely shut away in your vehicle.  If you are staying at a safari camp where the guides or staff are tempting animals in with food, in order to create that perfect “photo opportunity” please ask them to stop doing this.  Feeding wild animals leads to over-familiarity with humans, dependence behaviour and trouble in the long term.  Ultimately the animal will have to be destroyed.

NEVER WALK AT NIGHT IN WILD AREAS  This is when the predators hunt.


RELATED ARTICLES:  Here are some other useful articles on

Codes of Conduct for Visitor Behaviour:  Mana Pools
A Guide to Ethical Photography
Walking with Wild Sense

Comments (2)

Cant believe the behaviour of the absolute morons blocking the road in front of the elephants. Staggering ignorant behaviour that could have caused carnage and guess who would have been put down, yes the innocent elephant not the dumb stupid pathetic humans.

Neil McDonald20 April 2019
Thank you for your comments Neil. All wild animals are unpredictable, even in Mana Pools where many of the elephants appear to be remarkably tolerant of the presence of humans. Every situation is different, of course, but caution and sensitivity to wildlife is always the best policy.

Excellent and valuable advice for those visiting safari areas within Africa, thank you for this. Having experienced in the order of three hundred individual game drives/walks/water safaris in southern Africa the divergence between a guide who knows their oats and the rookie with a John WAYNE attitude is incredible ! Zimbabwean guides are amongst the worlds very, very best and have an almost intuitive manner when guiding their guests.

Colin J FRYER.8 October 2018
Thanks Colin.

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