I have a secret ambition, which is to be a wildlife photographer going into the unknown to capture wild animals in images and making an adventure of it. Wishful thinking perhaps, but there is a way to make the best part of that dream come true with ecotourism specialist Wilderness Safaris. General manager Charles ven Rensburg was in Singapore recently to tell us about the company’s Travel With Purpose itineraries, and its conservation and community building efforts across Africa. When your life and conscience are at stake, I reckon the right way to do an African safari is with people who know the heart of Africa and truly care about it.
What is the first thing people should know about going into the African wilderness?
That it’s not a petting zoo nor a theme park ride, and the animals are not there for your entertainment. You have to go in with respect because it’s their territory. Unfortunately there are those who think the fees they pay entitle them to pose with wild animals without risk of life or limb, with grievous consequences. Our guides brief our guests thoroughly and are alert to any potential danger because they are experienced in reading animal body language and moods. Even so, wild animals can always be unpredictable and dangerous.
So which are the most dangerous animals out there?
You may be surprised but they aren’t always those with sharp teeth and claws. Herds of buffalo, elephants and hippos can be hard to read. One of the deadliest is really quite small: the mosquito. So it’s best to get your malaria shots before you come.
We’ve seen horrific pictures of people hunting animals for sport on social media. Is enough being done by the authorities to curb big game hunting?
This is a rather controversial topic. We definitely disagree with trophy hunting. It’s a big no-no because it is irresponsible and disrupts the gene pool of some of the most endangered species and communities of animals. Hunting is illegal in the national parks, but in some of the buffer regions of Africa that are not designated for agriculture, hunting can actually be good for the land as part of game management strategies and providing an income to a population that would otherwise have no other means of eking out a living. It is first about food and livelihood security for the people who live in these areas.
Tell us about Wilderness Safaris’ Travel With A Purpose itineraries.
Our vision is to conserve and restore Africa’s wilderness and wildlife by creating life-changing journeys and inspiring positive action. We operate camps and safaris across eight countries, including Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Recognising that conservation is as much about people as it is about the the environment, our operations and work ethics are guided by a Four Cs strategy – Commerce, Conservation, Community and Culture. This year, we celebrate our 35th anniversary by offering a slew of special itineraries. Without giving too much away, I’d like to share with you that many of our clients have found themselves and their views and attitudes towards life transformed by our journeys. And they keep coming back with us to learn more about this mysterious and wonderful continent.
About Wilderness Safaris
Wilderness Safaris, partner of Asia’s luxury travel organiser A2A Safaris, will be expanding its ecotourism footprint with the opening of a camp in the incredibly beautiful and fragile ecosystem of Akagera National Park in Rwanda at the end of this year. The six-tented luxurious Magashi Camp overlooks Lake Rwanyakazinga and offers guests access to some of the most scenic savannah in east Africa as well as unique wildlife species such as the bizarre-looking shoebill and critically endangered eastern black rhino, which were reintroduced to the park last year.
A2A Safaris, with offices in Singapore, Hong Kong and Manila, has also partnered Wilderness Safaris for its sixth edition of its Travel With Purpose, a year-long series of impactful and adventurous itineraries. The “Frontier Ecotourism Presence” journey in October takes guests to Zambia’s million-hectare Busanga Plains where they will participate in the collaring of lions and road counting surveys of large mammals. Special activities include hot air balloon excursions where guests will drift aloft the expansive plains at sunrise for a bird’s eye view of wildlife in the area. All proceeds will be channelled into conservation and community projects in the places visited.