Wide Open Spaces

Safari Then and Now

The word ‘safari’ finds its roots in Arabic and Swahili words meaning ‘to journey’. The original safaris undertaken by people across Africa had practical goals – mainly hunting, trade (including the slave trade) or migration. Today, the notion of a safari might conjure a number of different images: pith-helmeted Victorians hunting big game; moneyed sophisticates sipping champagne from the verandas of luxury lodges or eco-conscious travellers shooting wildlife not with guns but with cameras.

For intrepid westerners in the nineteenth century, travelling into the depths of Africa was an adventure like no other. It pitted their resilience against terrain and elements that were gruelling at best, lethal at worst. But the rewards were abundant. Ornithologists and naturalists such as William John Burchell and Thomas Ayres forged a safari tradition that was about exploration and discovery, identifying and naming species as they went.

Sadly, along with these benevolent observers of nature came more bloodthirsty safari-ists. These were hunters keen to demonstrate their prowess at the expense of Africa’s wildlife. Horns, hides and heads were proudly kept and displayed as gruesome mementoes of these trophy hunts – many of which claimed conservation ‘culling’ was at their heart. Unfortunately, although this sport is in serious decline, it still carries on today in many African countries, with foreign hunters paying vast sums to bag everything from zebra and crocodiles to rhinoceros and elephants.    

But as public disapproval and shaming of big-game hunters push safaris of this sort deeper underground, a new sort of conservation-driven approach is becoming predominant. It might seem logical that fewer – rather than more – visitors would benefit the preservation of wildlife and delicately balanced ecosystems. 

But not so. Anecdotal evidence suggests that when tourism is abundant in an area, poaching falls. More feet on the ground means more eyes to witness illegal activity. It also provides more reliable income for locals. 

Travel companies – like STC Expeditions – build symbiotic relationships by supporting the work of local conservation organisations. Travellers learn from researchers and scientists and in turn the work of these conservationists is enabled by tourism income. The long-term goals encompass the preservation of natural habitats, protection of animals from poachers and development of farming techniques that let people and wildlife live together harmoniously. 

If that’s what 21st-century safari looks like, count us in.