The RIGHT way to be a wildlife tourist in Zimbabwe.
YES you read that right. There is a right and wrong way to be a wildlife tourist.
We all love animals. It is in our nature to care for animals.
We want to know more about them.
We even want to interact with them and that’s where our misguided love for wildlife becomes problematic and detremental to the animal.
Riding elephants, walking with lions and taking photos WITH wild animals sounds fun, but in reality, these are unnatural ways of interacting with wildlife.
The truth of the matter is that you need to be wide eyed and alert to unethical behaviour throughout the entire safari industry.
The problem with the so-called ‘intimate’ wildlife encounters.
The major problem with such kinds of ‘intimate’ wildlife encounters is that they sometimes rely heavily on breeding wild animals in captivity without a clear plan for release back into the wild.
At worst, they also rely on inhumane handling of wild animals under the guise of ‘training’ them and making ‘safe’ for human interaction.
How else would you train an elephant without separating it from its mother while it is young and instilling fear in it? How else would you make a lion safe to walk with, pose for a selfie with and touch without declawing, drugging it or simply keeping it in habituation.
Clearly, paying huge sums of money to interact with wild animals in this manner is the wrong way to be a wildlife tourist in our country and anywhere else in the world.
Instead, the right way to be a wildlife tourist is to ensure that your own interaction with wildlife is ethical. Here are three ways.
1. ENSURE that at all times, you are viewing wild animals engaging in natural behaviours in their natural environments.
In the same vein, if you want to see lions, go to Hwange National Park and observe them in the wilderness.
Who knows, you might see a lion hunting for its next meal and that will surely be a much more interesting encounter than taking a selfie with a lion in captivity.
2. LOOK out for red flags
At times, we view animals in places called Wildlife ‘Sanctuaries’ and ‘Orphanages’.
Whilst some of these places are doing a good job to conserve wildlife and protect it, some of them get sloppy and begin to exploit the animals they purport to save.
Your job as a wildlife tourist also is to scrutinise the welfare of wildlife kept in these places.
Question whether or not the environment is appropriate for the animals.Be sure to observe shelter, and check if there is ample space for the animals to live comfortably and rest.
Also observe whether or not they have a secluded place to retreat from crowds.
Observe the appearance of the animals themselves. Are they injured? Are the animals being forced to perform for tourists like giving rides and posing with them.
Most importantly, ask when the animals will be released back into the wild and check if the sanctuary has released any in the past.
A lion cub which has been handled by hundreds of humans can almost never be successfully released into the wild according to Conservation Travel Africa, an organisation dedicated to bridging the gap between wildlife conservation and community development.
3. ACT responsibly
When viewing wildlife in their natural habitat or otherwise, you have to act responsibly so that you do not cause distress to the animals.
For instance, when on Safari, dress appropriately – in khakhis, dark greens and browns so that you blend in with natural environment.
Bheki Jiyane, a tour guide with a Safari operator in the Matopos National Park, advises wildlife tourists to “make very little noise and turn off camera flashes so that your presence is less distressing for the animals.”
Loud and unnatural noises distress wildlife.