Make the most of your game drive by following a few simple rules. You can’t expect to become an expert on wildlife behavior overnight, but park rules devised by the Kenya Wildlife Service are designed to create a healthy respect for wild creatures, and keep you safe.
1. STAY IN YOUR CAR
In most national parks and reserves in Kenya it is forbidden to leave your vehicle except in designated areas. Opening your door or climbing on the hood are not smart when lions are about, plus even designated picnic areas can entice primates (who snatch food out of your hand) or Cape buffalo behind a bush. Buffalo seem docile from your car, but they do not like to be surprised by humans on foot.
2. WILDLIFE HAVE RIGHT OF WAY
Observe speed limits (30kph) and never follow a stalking cat too closely. Use a telephoto or zoom lens. Maintain 20 meters distance. Last year a lioness moving her cub by the neck was surrounded by vehicles in Nairobi National Park. She had left two other cubs hidden in the grass, and became stressed, dropping the cub. When a KWS ranger tried to explain male lions sometimes kill cubs to make the female come into estrus, he was shouted down. There are reasons behind the rules.
In parks like Amboseli where vegetation is fragile, driving off road is forbidden. You usually receive a list of park rules when you pay your entrance fee. Adhere to them carefully. Breaking the rules can result in a fine, being banned from the park, or a driver guide losing his license. If you see bad behavior, report it. There should be a phone number on your receipt.
3. DO NOT REPORT LOCATIONS OF ENDANGERED SPECIES ONLINE
If you post on social media, do not report locations of rhino, big tusker elephant, or bird nests, especially owls. Delay your post by at least 24 hours, and be vague. Poachers troll; a National Geographic report inspired offers of illicit trade in the comment section.
4. DO NOT TEASE OR FEED WILDLIFE
Some people bang the side of the vehicle or whistle to get an animal to turn their way. It’s not a good idea, and you may endanger other people in your group. Annoyed rhino and elephant charge vehicles. You will find it more rewarding to sit quietly and simply watch. The longer you stay and whisper, the more natural behavior you are likely to see. Patience allows you time to study the light and anticipate a great photograph.
Keep windows of your vehicle up when near wild primates. Do not give them food.
5. DO NOT LITTER
Do not throw trash, plastic bottles, or cigarettes out your window. Organize a system inside your car for collecting trash and dispose of in a bin near park gates.
6. BEWARE HIPPO
Hippo are faster on land than you might think. Should you come between them and water, they can attack. In a canoe, stay in shallow waters giving hippo deeper waters. You may encounter the occasional rogue or the injured in pain. These are times when your safari guide is golden. Some know animals individually, and can steer you from danger.
7. DANGER AFOOT
Walking safaris are allowed in certain areas. Getting the feel of Africa beneath your feet provides a different perspective, but it demands agility. You may laugh when told, “If a rhino charges, climb the nearest tree!” If you cannot climb a tree, you may put yourself in danger, or cause an animal to be killed.
Baboons can do a lot of damage with their canines: the best defense is to back off. With some animals, throwing up your hands and shouting may cause them to retreat. Signal by body language that you do not intend to come closer. However, never tempt big cats or mountain gorillas with the opportunity of a chase.
Treasure your chance to see these creatures. Your visit can help protect them. Be kind to wardens and rangers; many risk their lives and don’t have time to tell you all they have seen.
worked with the world’s top wildlife filmmakers for the British television series Survival and is a member of The Explorers Club.
PARK RULES – SHORT LIST
- Stay in your vehicle at all times, except at designated areas.
- Respect wildlife, this is their habitat.
- Don’t crowd animals or make sudden noises or movements.
- Don’t feed animals, it upsets their diet and leads to conflicts.
- Keep quiet and whisper; noise disturbs wildlife and fellow visitors.
- Keep below the maximum speed limit (30 kph/15 mph).
- Never drive off-road, this damages habitat.
- Keep a minimum distance of 20 meters from wildlife.
- Leave no litter; never leave fires unattended or discard cigarettes.
- Do not post exact locations of endangered species online.