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A beginner's guide to safari holidays

GDB

100+ Posts
#1
Your First Safari ?...
I hesitate to advise anybody on safari-type holidays…. they are so variable in more ways than one. It depends very much on your expectations. My personal vision of a safari was a group of people sitting in a dusty old jeep in the middle of nowhere looking at a herd of buffalo or maybe those wildebeest that everyone seems to know about. And yes, it can be just like that……..
For Lions, and other cats such as Leopards, Cheetahs and the smaller cats, along with the huge variety of other birds and beasts on the menu, Africa is the best place. No travel company or travel writer would guarantee you seeing a particular species of wildlife anywhere…. simply, the wonder of wild animals is that you go to see them in their home, where they are free to wander and do exactly what they want, and when. Whilst tourism is rightly criticised, it does help the economy and limits the time for poachers getting in and out unnoticed, but for us it habituates the animals, i.e. they get used to us, and providing we adopt the rules of the guides, safe distances, etc., they are not dangerous and you can often experience these creatures quite close….. remember that cats (big and small) are inquisitive by nature…. they will often come to inspect you!
So, where to go in Africa….. a big choice.
There is Uganda and Rwanda if you have a burning desire to see Mountain Gorillas. Just to see them on a short 3 /4 day trip is very expensive; to extend it with general wildlife would be better value. Please remember, you will be told that there are guides who will carry your bags and camera gear if necessary , but you may have to trek for 2/3 hours on fairly rough tracks and it is very hot…you need to be quite fit.
Many holiday companies will offer you Namibia and Botswana ….. names like Chobe National Park, Etosha National Park, and more recently the spectacular Bale Mountains in Ethiopia are all musts on any wildlifer’s bucket list, but maybe not for the first trip.
For a virtually guaranteed abundance of wildlife viewing, Northern Tanzania is hard to beat. The vast plains are home to a huge variety of animals; probably the best place to see the ‘Big 5’. From the Western Corridor, near Lake Mwanza, through the Serengeti, Ngorogoro Crater, Tarangire to Lake Manyara, and Arusha near to Mount Kilimanjaro, is a magical journey through variable terrain of breathtaking beauty….. the term ‘animal paradise’ is not misplaced here.
India for tigers….
For Tigers, there is only one place… India. There are Amur (Siberian) Tigers in the wilds of Eastern Russia and China, but that is for the very experienced and they are rarely seen; definitely not your first wildlife holiday. The other big cat, the Asiatic Lion, can be seen in the Gujarat in Western India, but again this is a little remote and difficult to link in with other destinations in that vast country.
So, if Tigers are THE most important animals on your bucket list, and you only have one opportunity, you must include Bandhavgarh National Park on your itinerary. It has always yielded good sightings for us over many trips, but you need 3/4 games drives over a period of 2/3 days to maximise your chances. There are a number of good National Parks in the same state of Madhya Pradesh; they are … Kanha, Pench, Panna and Satpura. Combining some of these will minimise internal journey times, but India is a huge country and even those places mentioned are quite a few hours apart. If you wish to combine some culture with your wildlife, Ranthambore NP in Rajasthan, with visits to the Taj Mahal, Jodpur and Jaipur are in most travel companies’ brochures.
Other places…
South America, Brazil for example, has the fabulous Jaguar and a myriad of exotic birds. Chile has the equally wonderful Puma. Either of these locations are well tried and tested. We can talk about these another time.
So, the important things :
If this is likely to be your one and only safari, think seriously about what you would ideally like to see. Are you a ‘birder’ ?.... a big cat lover ? ….. or just a lover of all wildlife?
Then, where is the best place to go ?…. for how long ?… and, importantly, what time of year?
Identify the type of vehicle(s) you will be in for the duration; this is important, particularly if you are a photographer.
What type of terrain you will be covering, and importantly ensuring you are fit enough, even if it is only climbing in and out of a jeep.
All good wildlife travel companies will advise you on clothing, footwear and other essentials, but don’t forget vaccinations…. make sure they are all up to date with your GP.
Think about the cost last, as this may put you off before you start your initial planning. It is difficult to compare ‘like-for-like’ anyway, unless you prepare a bespoke itinerary and get more than one company to quote.
Source a specialist wildlife tourist company. Many UK travel companies will ‘subcontract’ you out to a local company. This can be risky if you do not do your research. There are a number of small touring companies that we have used based in the country you want to visit. They are used as ‘ground agents’ to the larger UK based companies. By going directly, it can make the holiday affordable.

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#2
Yes, the really nice article I read ever on wildlife. I love tiger and our group always make a trip to visit and enjoy wildlife. Basically, I am from India and a recommend members for taking the amazing experience of Indian wildlife tours.

Below I listed some best wildlife Places to visit In India.

1. Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan
2. Sunderbans National Park, West Bengal
3. Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand
4. Gir National Park, Gujarat
5. Bannerghatta Biological Park, Karnataka
6. Kaziranga National Park, Assam
7. Periyar National Park, Kerala
8. Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
9. Hemis National Park, Jammu Kashmir
10. The Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh
11. Tadoba, Maharashtra
12. Nanda Devi, Uttarakhand


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GDB

100+ Posts
#3
Yes, I am sure you know your stuff; you are a wildlife tour operator, but I would stand by my recommendation for a first-time safari. For those who have not experienced the heat and the protracted journey times, it can be very wearing. I do not run tours of any kind; I am just an avid wildlife enthusiast, photographer and conservationist, who knows his way around India.
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#5
No, there is no tiger in Nanda Devi. But there is no doubt that The highest Mountain of India, entirely within India, is Nanda Devi in Uttarakhand. Common larger mammals are Himalayan musk deer, mainland serow and Himalayan tahr. Goral are not found within but in the vicinity of the park. Carnivores are represented by snow leopard, Himalayan black bear and perhaps also brown bear. Langurs are found within the park, whereas rhesus macaque is known to occur in the neighboring areas of the park.
 

GDB

100+ Posts
#9
If you do decide to venture further afield, you may see someone like this. The Brazilian Jaguar has the strongest bite pound for pound of all mammals.....
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GDB

100+ Posts
#11
Quite right Eleanor, but like all cats Jaguars would take you or I as a last resort, unless we were being really stupid. Us humans think we are superior in all respects, including being a tasty meal. The truth is that in the case of a lion or tiger, a deer would be the much tastier choice, and the jaguar, a capybara ( the largest rodent).
It doesn't alter the fact that they are incredibly dangerous and have to be treated with respect. I sometimes reflect back to my childhood and the old Tarzan films, where Tarzan successfully wrestles a big cat. In reality his only chance of survival might have been a suit of armour!
By the way, this is a jaguar's favourite meal..... the Capybara. Remember the old song about 'rats as big as pussycats', well these water rats are much bigger than pussy cats !
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GDB

100+ Posts
#12
Of course if you do venture into the wilds of South America, you may be fortunate enough to see something that you would not have thought possible..... that is one of our furry friends actually killing a Caiman crocodile. This shot was taken on the Piquiri River in the Pantanal; probably the largest wetland in the world. We were on a boat some 50 yards away, and this young Jaguar had just been hunting along the bankside. Although it is dangerous for the big cat, she can kill a full size crocodile with one bite. Size wise, the jaguar is similar to a Leopard..... but maybe a leopard on steroids!
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GDB

100+ Posts
#14
No safari in India or Africa would be complete without the sighting of a big crocodile. Here is a large Mugger, and as the name suggests he tends to ambush his prey by lying just beneath the surface of the water or under cover of bankside vegetation. I think this one was just relaxing, which is what they spend most of their time doing.... He/she was about 3.6m / 12' so it was probably a male. They can grow up to 15/16'. They are not aggressive generally, but don't get too close !
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GDB

100+ Posts
#16
Maybe 25 yds, but we were in a jeep. I think the cheeky grin on his face makes him look quite benign as well. The truth is if you approached him on foot, or you walked too close he would attack you.... to him it would be self defense.
But, as you know, it you abide by the rules, virtually all wild animals are relatively harmless. If you get inadvertently get too close and surprise them, get between a mother and her offspring, then you will be in trouble. If you go with a reputable company and secure an experienced driver / naturalist, listen to him and all will be well. In India, no matter who is driving or accompanying you from the lodge or travel company, there will always be a forest guide allocated to your vehicle, so your safety is 99.9% certain. It is normally the same in South America, but in parts of Africa where you can drive yourself and there are not necessarily educated guides, you will occasionally see some stupid human behaviour..... even then the animals can be quite forgiving.
 

GDB

100+ Posts
#17
This is the other type of crocodile you will come across in South America.... it is the Caiman. They are a slightly smaller species but still with some wicked looking teeth. They can be seen sunning themselves on sandbanks, or lurking just beneath the water line......
The first one was quite young and he had just been fishing for catfish; the second one was just warning us for getting too close.. we thought !
The floating hotel (just a big boat) that we were staying on is semi permanently parked by the bankside of the Piquiri River in the Pantanal (Brazil); it had a narrow walkway at just above water level for access to the cabins. We had seen birds and other small creatures going to/from the front of the boat, when we noticed this rather large crocodilian person lurking by the bank.... maybe 2 yds away! We noted later that he and other friends lurked there regularly for fish and other food scraps thrown in by the catering staff...... and we thought he could have been waiting for us.... that was a relief!!
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GDB

100+ Posts
#18
The other less fiercesome water creatures you will find in the rivers of South America are the Giant Water Otters.... having said that, whilst the jaguar will prey upon the otters, he does show them quite some respect especially when they are in a large family group. They can be quite formidable.
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GDB

100+ Posts
#19
But back to Africa where I would like to point you in the direction of for your first safari.... yes, there is plenty of big game to be seen on the short grass plains, but there are a number of places where you will see the big 'cuddly' Hippos. There was a large herd of them bathing in this particular pool. We thought these two might be having pleasant dreams.....
 

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GDB

100+ Posts
#20
And of course on the short grass plains at a certain time of the year, around February and March, you will see a lot of these Wildebeest. There is supposed to be over 1.0M of these animals migrating northwards to the Masia Mara in Kenya from the Serengeti in Tanzania. We were there last time in October when the migration is finished.... we had stopped for a quick break in the middle of the Serengeti where it is flat and you can see for miles at 360 degrees.... we asked Bernard our guide just many Wildebeest were we actually seeing (assuming we could count them) ...... he suggested 50,000 ! Whilst, if you are desperate to see the migration in full swing, February/March is probably the best time to go, don't let anyone tell you that you won't see these animals if you don't go then.

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