November 4, 2010
There is a basic conundrum of animal related tourism- who is responsible for being environmentally conscious the tourist or the tour operator? Should tourists be responsible to research the animals they are going to see and learn about eco-friendly tourism? Or is it the safari tour operators who are responsible for providing a truly eco-friendly experience. There are so many safari operators that some will bend the rules and possibly endanger animals in order to provide their guests with a more exciting experience therefore staying competitive and attracting more guests. After all if you are an uneducated tourist and one operator promises you active lions (even if the cost is throwing rocks at them) and the other can only promise you sleeping lions, that you may or may not get a glimpse of, you would probably chose the active lions as you do not know better.
When going on safari in Port Elizabeth, I cannot vouch for which company to go with, but I can suggest one to skip and it is actually the top rated in the area according to trip advisor. I went with Schotia Safaris and was just absolutely shocked by the experience. I did a two-part tour half the day in Addo National Park and half the day in their own private game park called Schotia. I am always a fan of going on tours, especially safaris, in smaller more intimate groups. This way you are guaranteed a window seat and can have control over where you go and how long you spend there. During our time at Addo we were in a very large mini bus with about 15 people. The car was very big and not everyone got a window seat stuck in the back. The car was so big that when we got to certain spots with lots of activity we couldn’t squeeze in with the other cars for a good view and had to settle on being much further back in not very good positions. Luckily I managed to get a window seat upfront next to the driver, but that came with its own set of issues. I’m used to jockeying for position with the other tourists with their semi professional cameras, but never before have I had to fight for my position photographing against the tour guide. I was shocked that our tour guide had 3 cameras at the ready and was hyper sensitive about me knocking into them, but had no problem almost breaking my 70-200mm lens when he whipped out his camera and completely blocked my shot. All I could think was shoot on your own time- I’m paying for this time to shoot not for you to shoot on my dime. It was shockingly abhorrently unprofessional.
When we got to Schotia we switched to a smaller open back car, which was a nicer safari experience, but the day actually only got worse. Our guide repeatedly broke internationally accepted rules of wildlife tourism like getting out of the car to attract the animals, throwing food to them and at one point even wanting to throw a rock at a bush near the lions to wake them up. The guide refrained from those actions while at Addo, but once on Schotia’s grounds all bets were off. When we approached a lake where hippos and crocodiles were present the crocodiles were on the other side of the lake and some of the people in my group were sad they could not see them up close. Our guide, quick to make tourists happy, threw some chips into the water to attract the crocodiles over. Is started to protest, but was met with frosty glares from my fellow safari-goers so I stopped.
However later in the day when my guide wanted to throw rocks at two sleeping male lions I couldn’t not speak up and the guide became very upset with me and then the rest of my group became were enraged, one even going as far as to say, the guide knows what he’s talking about and you (meaning me) don’t so let him do his job. This is exactly what is wrong with the tourism experience, most tourists don’t put the animals welfare above their own because they are just thinking of the experience, while they are somewhat at fault I really place the blame on the safari companies because they should be the ones taking responsibility to protect the animals, after all if they don’t protect them now they won’t have any animals to take people around to later.
It’s amazing the difference between a local company like Schotia Safaris and conservation based internationally reputable company like &Beyond. The first priority of the guides here is tourism dollars and I would say conservation is an afterthought, although for some it doesn’t even seem to be an afterthought it’s just non-existent. That is the problem I have with the private game parks of South Africa. I was also sad to see that there is a fairly large journey (proper use of group) of giraffes on the grounds. Giraffes are not naturally found in the area because there are not trees tall enough for them to eat and the constant strain put on their hearts as they constantly bend down to eat will cut their life span in approximately half. However my fellow tourists were thrilled to see giraffes here and when they asked why they aren’t in Addo (a SA National Park which only take animals naturally found in the area) they were just brushed off by the guide who said, “Oh we brought them in.”
There is very little regulation on these private game parks by the government and many of them put pleasing the tourist above respecting the animals. I do believe that tourists should take the responsibility to educate themselves about responsible tourism practices and choose wisely, because every right choice will slowly start to change the system. As I’ve said before, every time you spend money you are casting a vote so by choosing a responsible safari company you are voting for a system of more responsible tourism.