Safari in Africa with Rebecca Hall I Doğa Bilim Talks

Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Originally from Toronto, Canada, I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life dedicated to the arts until I decided about 2 years ago that I wanted to quit my work life and travel around the world to hike in different locations, take photographs and experience new cultures. I left Canada in March 2020 and decided first to start in Nepal and then make my way down through East Africa. I had no idea at the time that corona virus was about to shut the world down and I was forced to stay in Nepal for 7 months until the airport opened for international flights. Since then, travel has been more difficult but still possible. After Nepal, I travelled to Turkey where I stayed for 3 months, hiking the Lycian way and enjoying the beautiful beaches, amazing food and culture. I decided after to move to East Africa to experience the wildlife and beautiful nature. This is where I am now.

Where does your interest in nature come from? We know you visited a large number of countries.

I think I’ve always felt a connection with nature. When I was a young girl growing up in Canada, my family had a cottage in Northern Ontario which we would spend summers at. I loved exploring the forest and lake, searching for chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more adventurous, seeking out remote locations and more challenging experiences. There is something very special about seeing a wild landscape, far away from civilization, to me, nature is peace. My favourite places are the ones that you have to hike for hours or days to get to. It almost feels like a secret discovery when you find a beautiful location far away from human development. 

What is the “Big Five Safari”? Have you been able to see all of these animals?

Going on safari in East Africa, the goal is usually to see the big 5 animals which are: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino. I was lucky to see all of these animals recently while on safari in Tanzania. Spotting leopards and rhinos is definitely the most difficult.

Can you describe your one-day safari adventure? For example, what time do you get up in the morning and what time do you sleep at night?

Sure. Usually, the safari will begin very early as this is a good time to see the animals while they search for food and the weather hasn’t become too hot. Breakfast is prepared for you by the cook in your safari group and once it’s over, you pack your things into the safari jeep and head out in search of animals. The driver of your safari jeep is also your guide and based on their experience, they have a good idea where to find certain animals in the parks. The other safari guides stay in contact throughout the day in case they see something really special like a leopard, rhino or a lion with a fresh kill. They will share the location of the animals with each other and often assist if anyone has car trouble. The roads can be very rough in the parks. You spend the day driving through the park in search of animals. The guide will stop the jeep when they spot something to allow the passengers a chance to see the animals and take photographs. Some parks like the Serengeti, don’t allow passengers to get out of the jeep when animals are around so, most jeeps will have a roof that raises up to allow you to stand up and look out of the top. If you’re lucky, your day will be full of exciting encounters with animals. At the end of the day, your guide will drop you off at your camp for the night where they serve you dinner and you can share your experiences from the day usually over a campfire.

Did you find the opportunity to meet the local people?

Yes, quite a few actually. One thing that I love about East Africa is that the people are so welcoming. Everyone is happy to meet you and you’re often greeted with a smile wherever you go. It’s easy to make connections with locals.

What is your favorite animal in Safari?

The leopard siting we had was really amazing but I actually really liked seeing a cervil cat and the tiny dik dik antelope. These animals aren’t as talked about or sought after but to me they were unique and special. Everyone has a photo of a lion but people don’t talk much about the other, smaller cats in the savannah. They are more difficult to spot because they hide in the tall grass. The dik diks are just fun and playful and interesting to watch.

What advice would you give to those who want to go on a safari?

My advice is to get a good recommendation for a guide because having a guide who is really dedicated to making a good experience for you, will make the safari so much better. Also, the safari doesn’t need to be really expensive. People pay a lot of money to stay in very luxurious lodges which makes going on safari out of the budget for most people. Staying in the safari camps is just fine and in the end, everyone sees the same animals. 

How do you feel while on safari?

I think you just feel really inspired and excited most of the time! Seeing these incredible animals in person, in their natural environment is a life changing experience. I became a little emotional when I saw the first elephant, it was unbelievable! It’s amazing how many animals there actually are in these parks, there is such a variety and in such abundance it’s unbelievable. By the end of the safari, its common to feel a little protective over the animals. When you see them yourself, you realize how special they are and how important it is that they remain protected.

Tented camp in Serengeti

How was your relationship with local officials during the safari? Were they helpful?

The local officials are extremely helpful. Everyone takes conservation very seriously. The park rangers work hard to protect the animals against poachers ans we heard a few unfortunate stories of rangers being killed by poachers while on duty. They are very strict with the rules and have a lot of respect for the animals but are also very happy to see tourists come into the park. I think they feel a lot of pride in their work and want people to see how special their country is. 

We saw that you are photographing a gorilla. What is the story of this? Did you go to see a gorilla on your birthday?

I went into Uganda a week before my birthday because I wanted to hike the Rwenzori Mountains and because I heard that the Ugandan government had reduced the price of the gorilla trekking permits for a few months due to the lack of tourism this year. Gorilla trekking is usually very expensive so when I heard that it was half price, I took the opportunity to go and see them. Gorilla conservation is very serious, there are only around 1000 mountain gorillas left in the world and they can only be found in 3 locations. Bwindi Impenetable Forest in Uganda has half of the world’s population of gorillas. So, I went with a small group of friends to Bwindi. When we arrived at Bwindi, we went through a briefing with park rangers about the safety measures that you need to take in the park and around the gorillas. Most of the gorillas in the park have been habituated so they’re used to humans but it’s still important to keep your distance to avoid spreading potentially deadly viruses to the gorillas. We hiked for about 3 hours in the deep jungle towards the location where the gorillas had been last spotted. Because the park sends rangers out in the morning to locate the gorillas, there is a 90% chance of seeing them even if it means an intense hike through deep jungle. When you hike, you are accompanied by 2 armed rangers who protect you in case you come across any unhabituated gorillas or forest elephants which can be aggressive. Rangers never shoot the animals, they fire a shot in the air to frighten them if they try to attack you. The hike itself is in deep jungle which requires a machete to get through and is extremely challenging at times so it really feels like you’re an explorer on a deep jungle expedition. The gorillas are very large but so calm and peaceful. At times, we were only a few meters away from them. It’s a completely wild experience! If you’re lucky, you can get a clear view of them through the jungle bush to get a nice shot on your camera. We were lucky to see the silverback gorilla which is the head male in the group. It’s important not to put too much pressure on the gorillas so you’re only allowed to stay with them for one hour. It’s enough time though to have a nice experience with them and take some beautiful photographs. When it’s time to leave, a second group of armed rangers will stay with the gorilla family until the evening to remain aware of their location and protect them from poachers. It was an incredible experience and I feel so lucky to have been able to see the gorillas in the wild!

Doesn’t it scare you to be so close to the animals we watch in documentaries such as lion, elephant and giraffe?

In the safari parks, the animals are used to seeing safari jeeps and I think they see the jeep as just another animal. If you were to get out of the jeep it would be much different! It can be a little dangerous when you encounter elephants, buffalo, hippos and rhinos. You have to be careful not to get too close to these animals because they might see the jeep as a threat and charge. At one point in our safari, we found a group of hippos bathing in the river. We got really close to them and our jeep got stuck in the mud. The jeep almost tipped over when we tried to work our way out of the big mud patch. It was a little scary being trapped so close to the hippos! Luckily, my guide was experienced and managed to get our jeep out of the mud and move along safely. 

How are the possibilities to stay on safari? Is it safe?

Yes, the safaris are very safe. If you stay inside the parks at night though, sometimes hippos or crocodiles or other predators will be around. The people who work at the lodges will escort you to and from your room to keep you safe. 

Finally, what do you want to say?

Travelling in Africa has been an amazing experience for me and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is a little adventurous and loves beautiful landscapes and amazing animals. Ive learned a lot about the local culture in East Africa as well which has really enhanced my experience. Travelling as a woman alone can be a little challenging at times especially when you have an addiction to hiking in remote wilderness! But, Ive found the people in both Tanzania and Uganda to be amazing and extremely welcoming and helpful to visitors which has made my trip more relaxing and enjoyable. If you want to find a place to photograph amazing wildlife, culture and landscapes, I would highly recommend East Africa!  

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