With game viewing being one of the main reasons visitors travel to South Africa, it's a pity that many do not know about the most engaging way to see game: by going on a walking safari.
The advantages are fairly obvious: no vehicle noise to scare away the animals, having as little negative impact as possible on the environment and being able to get so much closer than you would otherwise be able to do to the animals. So what's holding you back?
The simple truth of any walking safari is that they are unpredictable in what is potentially a very dangerous environment. No ranger worth his or her salt would enter the bush unarmed and all game viewers have rifles on them (you can’t see them on most pictures as they are behind the driver’s seat). Having a rifle/pistol is as sensible as having a fire extinguisher. Most likely, it will never be used but that’s not a reason not to have one.
The presence of the gun does not denote that it will be used to injure or kill an aggressive animal. It is an absolute last resort, akin to firing a signal flare from a boat at sea. I have many rangers who are friends and I have never heard of one using the gun to kill or injure an animal. If the gun is used, it’s normally first used to scare the animal (a shot is fired into the air, the noise alone being normally enough to ward off danger). Secondly, a warning shot may be fired near the animal and then only if the animal is actually charging, rather than just displaying aggression, would the animal be injured, normally on the lower leg.
One of my ranger friends maintains that if a ranger has to use his rifle, he’s already made many mistakes and shouldn’t have been in the bush guiding clients anyway. The argument stems from the fact that if you’re truly familiar with the bush and animal behaviour, you should already be able to pick up when you’re close enough or too close to an animal. Most dangerous encounters between humans and animals happen when the animal is surprised by the human. A good ranger already knows where the animals are and therefore doesn’t surprise them.
So for a ranger to actually discharge a weapon in the bush is a) something that they actively seek to avoid at all times and b) a major loss of face for the ranger if they did actually have to do so.
Walking safaris are possible in many reserves, public and private all over South Africa - contact us if you'd like to give it a try!