Africa is a wonderful continent that contains a vast range of animals. My fascination with Africa is honestly as a result of the wonderful array animals that can be found here – especially the predators.
Before we delve into this article, it’s important to point out that it’s very unlikely that animals will pose a threat to you whilst out and about in Africa. Animals are shy and tend to keep themselves to themselves. Humans are not on the menu – no, seriously, we are not normal prey! However, they are not harmless and there have been some unfortunate events where there have been conflict between animals and humans.
If you’re like me and want to be prepared and keep safe whilst exploring Africa, you may find these 5 tips very handy. I know, I sure did when I was informed about them!
IMPORTANT: I'm not going to include this as one of my tips as this really should be a given but number 1 rule of being in Africa is never get too close to any animal. They are wild and should be treated with respect. If you drive or walk right over to a wild animal, you are asking for trouble. Would you like to be pestered when sleeping or hanging out with friends? I didn't think so. The animals will become either scared or irritated and a startled animal is not one you want to be near. I mean, my cat gets hella sassy if I give her one too many a cuddle so I hate to think how a full-grown lion or elephant would find it if I bothered them.
Don’t forget these tips also benefit the animals too. Do you think animals want to be startled by you? OK – so let’s begin!
1. Make Lots of Noise
My first tip would be to make lots of noise when walking through the bush. Sing away! I know right, counter-intuitive as if an animal didn’t know you were there, surely they’ll know now? Chances are, they already know you’re there. Animals’ senses are much more powerful than ours and they are perfectly camouflaged with their surroundings – they may be watching you without you knowing. Making lots of noise should scare them off; you certainly won’t seem like an easy meal. Even the smaller animals such as snakes should be well put-off.
2. Step On Objects, Not Over Them
Speaking of snakes, these reptiles often hang out in small crevices around rotten logs or rocks. Therefore, it’s important to know that if you find a log or rock in front of you that you should step on it, not over it. The reason being is if you step over it, the snake could be hiding just round the other side and you are therefore in striking distance if the snake feels threatened.
Stepping on the log then means you can take a large leap to safety. The snake cannot easily bite you and won’t come chasing after you. They only bite if they feel threatened. Imagine if someone crashed down right next to your house? You’d be pretty scared, right?
3. Wear High, Thick Shoes
Tall, thick shoes provide many benefits.
First of all, if a snake was to lunge at you, your ankles are protected. It’s not guaranteed protection but it’s better than nothing. If your shoes barely covered your ankles, you’d be in big trouble as there’s no protection. The thickness of shoes also helps in this as you’re hoping a snake’s fangs aren’t long enough to pierce through your thick shoes. I wear Timberlands but it’s important to remember that I’ve never actually tested this.
The other benefit is if you unfortunately stand or nearly stand on a poor critter like a scorpion, at least it won’t be able to sting you. A scorpion sting won’t be able to penetrate the sole of a Timberland boot or the stele toe-cap.
Finally, boots which cover your ankles offer protection from pesky mosquitos. Yeah, not the first animal you think of when walking through Africa but these guys are never to be underestimated. Malaria is the biggest killer in Africa so it’s so important that you are appropriately covered and protected. Ankles are surprisingly tasty and mosquitos will always go for your ankles, which brings me onto my next point.
4. Wear Insect Repellent
You will have undoubtedly heard of insect repellent before but I’ll just go into a quick overview of why they are useful before going into my handy tips. Insect repellents are chemicals you can spray onto your skin which make you smell bad to mosquitos and other insects and they are therefore less likely to bite you.
Now, when visiting countries like Africa, it’s recommended that you wear very high DEET (very strong chemical that mosquitos hate), as high as you can get. That’s sure to keep you completely protected from mosquitos and midges but DEET is incredibly toxic. It can melt your flip flops, for goodness sakes!
My partner and I both have sensitive eyes and so strong chemicals can cause us eye irritation. As a result, I went to Africa with a natural insect repellent made from eucalyptus and alcohol (I purchased this one here). I wore this every day and the smell is actually quite pleasant. Anyway, I didn’t get a mosquito single bite on my trip – trust me, that’s saying something as normally I attract every mosquito within a 40 mile radius to me. Lol, this is not sponsored by the way. Just trying to be helpful!
It’s important that you don’t take my word for it here and throw all your DEET in the bin as travel clinics are reluctant to steer you towards natural solutions as they are not as strong as DEET, on paper anyway.
If you are considering using natural solutions, I recommend bringing them and DEET as a back up (that’s what I did). You can then use DEET in the worst areas (malaria zones) and the natural repellent in non-malaria areas where catching illnesses from mosquitos are not as common.
5. Don’t Run
This is perhaps the most tricky point to implement but when out in the wilds of Africa you must never, ever run. Say you need the toilet in the night and it’s a bit of a walk from your tent. You feel uneasy, you just have no idea what could be lurking out there and so you are tempted to quicken your pace so you can return to the tent faster. Don’t.
Predators do not see humans as food. Often they will see us and want to move as far away as possible from us because let’s be real, we are pretty irritating and weird. However, all predators have almost like a switch in their brains. If they see an animal running, it will suddenly become prey. If they see a person running to the bathroom, although naturally you will not be food, suddenly you have become food, triggering something primal within the animal’s head.
So what do you do if you are having a nice stroll, you round a corner and find yourself face to face with a lion?
It’s like Mufassa says in the Lion King “Don’t turn your back on me”. Damn right, don’t turn your back on a lion. Slowly – very, very slowly - back away from the animal making noise and ensuring you are looking bigger than the animal (like don’t crouch down, okay?). You want to show that you are not food but at the same time that you are not a threat.
But I’m not a lion whisperer and I’ve never been in that situation so don’t treat this like some guru-written scripture, okay? Basically, you don’t want to find yourself face to face with a lion on foot so please stay safe and take each step into the bush with caution.
So those are my top 5 tips for staying safe in the African bush. These tips apply for if you are walking around your campsite as well, not just hikes into the bush. In Africa, animals could be literally anywhere. I hope you found my tips useful! Who knows, they may come in handy for you one day. Stay safe and stay adventurous!
Do you have any additional tips for staying safe in the bush? I'd love to hear them. Please leave a comment and join the discussion :)