How to Plan a Responsible Safari

Strategies for a conscientious experience.

By Véronique Jude

Thanks to the star-studded live-action Lion King reboot this July, all eyes are on the African savanna, where more than ever it’s up to travelers to help conserve the circle of life. Read on for tips from outfitters who raise the bar for ecotourism.

Get involved with conservation efforts.

“If you want to see wild animals thriving in their original habitats, you need to support those habitats,” says Les Carlisle, group conservation manager at andBeyond, a tour company that operates safaris. Sometimes you can do both in one go. Having reopened last fall in South Africa—where more rhinos are poached than born—after a two-year renovation, andBeyond Phinda Homestead’s private game reserve is the site of a species-expansion project. Here, Rhinos Without Borders is helping address the threat by translocating endangered animals. Guests can assist the antipoaching unit tag the animals and collect data for monitoring.

Go in alternate seasons.

Every July, travelers flock to East Africa for the Great Migration, when more than two million wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles move through the Serengeti and Masai Mara ecosystems. But travelers inadvertently create a ferocious predator in this fragile ecosystem: overtourism. It’s possible to observe these creatures in action throughout the year; while you might catch wildebeest crossing the crocodile-infested Mara River from July to October, January and February bring the quieter calving season, when newborns take their first steps. Consider Abercrombie & Kent’s Tailor Made Journeys, which track the migration year-round and often include stays at Tanzania’s new and mobile Sanctuary Kichakani Serengeti Camp, whose rustic-luxe tents pack up without leaving a trace .

Be smart about supporting locals.

“Far too many travelers arrive in a village and randomly hand out pens or sweets,” says Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (AKP) executive director Keith Sproule, “and there are still operators who insist the entire school emerge to sing and dance for them.” Instead, support locals by choosing operators that have nonprofit arms invested in long-term projects with community partners. AKP recently helped set up a bicycle shop employing marginalized women living on the outskirts of Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park. Elephant-happy Sanctuary Swala, fresh from a revamp, hires the shop’s bikes for guided two-wheel tours. Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy also started a Safe Water for Schools initiative that introduced LifeStraw filters to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, where Sanctuary Olonana, set on the Mara River, just emerged from a locally informed overhaul.

Bike rental at Sanctuary Swala in Tanzania.
Bike rental at Sanctuary Swala, in Tanzania.
Photo: Sanctuary Retreats

Look beyond the main safari loop.

According to Dr. Neil Midlane, Wilderness Safaris’ group sustainability manager, “many undiscovered gems need tourist support, plus you’ll have a more exclusive experience.” Wilderness Safaris just launched the sustainably designed Magashi Camp, in Rwanda’s last protected savanna. The little-known, wildlife-rich Akagera National Park aims to boost local economies via ecotourism. A few priorities: reintroduction and monitoring of key species, removing alien plant life, and supporting postgraduate conservation research on rare shoebill storks and other vulnerable indigenous species.

Take the kids.

“The next generation is going to be crucial in ensuring the future of our planet,” says andBeyond CEO Joss Kent. “I encourage everyone to get their children traveling early and expose them to the people, food, and real culture of your destination. Don’t airbrush the experience—it can change their lives through opening up a new universe of learning.” Having practically grown up in the bush as the son of Abercrombie & Kent founder, chairman, and CEO Geoffrey Kent, he would know.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: July 2019