Arrivals & Departures Walking safaris in Africa: madness or a chance to get closer to nature?

Africa; Tanzania; Sanctuary Swala; Scenery
Photo of Angie Tomlinson

A walking safari can offer a new perspective of African wildlife.

A walking safari is a must-try experience for every safari guest, says Devon Meyers, a veteran guide of 12 years and camp manager at Sanctuary Swala Camp in Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park.

“Walking in the wild is the oldest form of safari and the aim is to enjoy nature in a natural, non-threatening way,” he says.

“More to the point, climbing out of a vehicle and stepping down to the same level as lions, elephants and zebra delivers an incredibly intimate insight into the intricacies of the African veldt, not to mention an opportunity to encounter some of country’s most exciting wildlife from a unique — and often thrilling, perspective.”

While a game drive allows guests to get closer to wildlife and with better photo opportunities, a walking safari is an opportunity to see lesser-known species including birds and insects. Mr Meyers says the experience is also a more visceral one.

His favourite animal to track is buffalo. “In any herd, there are hundreds of eyes, ears and noses, looking, listening and smelling for what may be around them. This makes them a very tricky group of animals to stalk and view without being noticed, and I really enjoy rising to the challenge.”

Among his most memorable sightings on a walking safari was seeing mating black rhinos and lion kills, but “watching a group of seven old buffalo bulls chase a pride of lions and force them to take refuge at the top of a tree was one of the most astounding. The lions had to wait until the buffalo had lost interest in them before they were able to come down and make for cover.”

He says like any interaction with wild animals, walking safaris have their risks. Guests are given safety briefing and an understanding of how to communicate on the walk, including the use of “hand signals or clicking of the fingers or tongue to communicate, as these are more natural sounds and therefore more likely to go unnoticed by the animals”.

Mr Meyers leads walking groups from the front and a ranger follows, keeping an eye out for wildlife from the rear. It is also a requirement by law to carry a rifle while guiding walking safaris in any big game areas to protect guests and is a last resort.

“In my career as a safari guide, having spent literally thousands of hours guiding guests on foot, I have never yet had to fire my rifle on a walking safari — and that’s a record that I endeavour to keep.”

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