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  • Writer's pictureJolene Botha

Your Custom Safari... Will that be with Gorillas or Whales?

Most safari agents attend international trade shows where they make deals with ground operators in each region, based largely on price and commissions. Few of them ever get to see the places they are selling or, if they do, it will be like a rescue dog on an obstacle course.

Quite different are custom safari specialists like Bushtracks, the kind of people you’d go to if you wanted to retrofit your father’s old Harley. Just as you’d like the mechanic to know his valve stems from his rocker arms, you’d want your safari agent to know her monkeys from her apes, cheetahs from leopards, and the cultural differences between the Maasai and the Samburu. First prize would be to find people who had grown up in, or at least regularly visited, the African bush.

A custom safari should begin with finding out what kind of person, couple or family is travelling, when they plan to travel, how adventurous they are and what level of luxury they expect. These are all vital considerations in a place that is full of dangerous predators and where it could be stone dry or under water at different seasons.

Africa is a really big place, nearly as big as North and South America combined, comprising (at last count) of 48 independent countries excluding islands. There is savanna, what is generally referred to as the bush or bushveld; there are snow-capped mountains, extensive deserts, and forests including what we think of as jungle. There are also some of our planet’s most exquisite beaches.

On a custom-built safari you get to cherry pick exactly what you want to do and see (given that no-one can guarantee exact animal sightings).

Bushtracks Expedition travelers view the sunset at Serengeti National Park

First-time visitors to Africa will naturally want to see at least some of the hot spots, but you’ll need the deep local knowledge of a custom safari operator so as not to get caught up in the throng of vehicles and telephoto lenses that can amass like wildebeest trying to cross the Mara River. There are predatory safari agents lying in ambush to take your money. But with a little finesse you can have the rest of the Serengeti, for example, virtually to yourself. Mass operators do not do subtlety, whereas that is the natural behavior of the custom safari operator.

All this aside, perhaps the very best – although not always obvious – aspect of a custom safari is the ability to recognize the needs of local people, the health of the natural environment and conservation issues. In safari areas most people live in remote villages where human-wildlife conflicts are endemic.

Relative poverty and conservation challenges are part of the safari parcel and it would be naive to ignore them. Rather than turn a blind eye, find out how you can invest your holiday spending in the future of these remarkable but vulnerable places. If your safari operator does not have solid on-ground community or conservation alliances, find one that does. With awesome places come awesome responsibilities.

This article was originally written for our custom catalog.  Link through to read and download it here: 2020 Custom Catalog.

The first version of this article was posted on 24 Oct 2019 at 10:42 AM.

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