An overview of what to expect when visiting South Africa. & Understanding the myths and the reality of a beautiful continent
WHAT TO EXPECT IN SOUTH AFRICA
In the minds of many, Africa continues to hold sway as the continent of mystery and danger. Much of these expectations are simply due to popular media depictions and stereotypes. Africa is complex and developing, and from an outside perspective may be intimidating to some. Though, set your mind at ease and understand that your visit will not only be wonderful but contribute to the well being of people and of wildlife alike.
South Africa is a country with a rich history of many African indigenous peoples and of European settlers. Though this might have been a dual-edged sword in the past, today, the best of all cultures are mixed and celebrated. The cultural history of South Africa dates back to the earliest descendants of the human race itself, with migrations of people from central Africa and Europe contributing their own cultures much later in history. Ecologically, South Africa keeps a variety of landscapes and biomes that boast rich biodiversity. From east to west and north to south the country continually changes in appearance, and in natural and cultural diversity.
South Africa is classified as a developing nation, thus, one will encounter a dichotomy between what is developed and what is developing. Even so, the majority of areas you will encounter on your travels have modern infrastructure and services comparable to that of the first world. Since tourism plays a major role in the economy of the country, even remote areas off the beaten track will be able to provide safety and civility to travelers. It is a very welcoming nation, with people from all walks of life eager to please any visitors from abroad.
SAFETY There is no denying that certain areas of Africa bare risk for travelers. As with all continents, the stability of one region on a continent cannot be equated to other regions far away. This certainly applies to South Africa when compared to other troubled regions on the vast continent. The economic, political and social status of South Africa remains stable, and while there may be isolated incidents of strife it has a minimal to no effect on traveler security and trips.
In terms of war, severe political unrest, disease and other features commonly feared by travelers, South Africa is proudly free of such problems. Some concerns are valid and do require the traveler to be attentive. This is primarily one of petty crime theft which can be circumvented by simply keeping your belongings close or in a safe at your place of accommodation. Also, by avoiding the particularly unsafe areas and using transportation instead of walking at night. On safari in the wilderness, this is of no concern due to being in remote and protected areas.
Concerning medical affairs, South Africa bares low risk. Before traveling, typical inoculations provided by your trusted medical practitioner should be sufficient. Different countries and medical practitioners differ in what they deem necessary medical precautions. For example, American medical practitioners generally prescribe more than most European countries for travelers to South Africa. It is important to listen to your medical professional to provide insight into this subject. From a safari perspective, the main concern is Malaria in the summer months in certain regions of the country. Overall the risk of Malaria is minimal and easily prevented by simple means. Another common concern of international travelers is HIV/AIDS. This is easily prevented by not touching blood and practicing safe sex, so will not pose any threat to those with a sound mind.
AN ECOLOGICAL WONDERLAND
Our ecological diversity and complexity.
OUR ECOLOGICAL WONDERLAND South Africa is known as one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world with varying sources ranking it between third and twelfth most diverse. This amazing diversity outside of an equatorial area is due to multiple landscape features and the meeting of two oceans at the continent's southern tip. An array of landscapes, biomes, vegetation, and wildlife is to be explored in the country. From desert to grassland to semi-tropical regions, all with beautifully different environments and wildlife that call it home.
According to the South African Biodiversity Institute, the country hosts more than 100 000 species of plants, animals, and fungi with scientists believing another 50 000 or so species remain to be discovered or named. It is because of this natural wonderland that so many travelers come to South Africa. Besides the treasures of the plant kingdom, of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and ocean life, a favorite attraction remains the large mammals of Africa such as the famous Big 5 animals which includes Elephant and Lion. For the avid botanist, the country is home to more than 22 000 plant species. One of the six floral kingdoms of the world is only found in South Africa, known as the fynbos in the Cape region. Concerning birds, South Africa is home to more than 900 different species of birds of all terrain types and is a fantastic destination for any birding enthusiast.
The fauna and flora of South Africa are not only impressive in sight and number but wholly integrated into the many cultures that call the country home. Indigenous plants remain medicines, animals are the focus of folktales and songs, mountains and rivers are holy places, and wilderness is close to heart. Wilderness and wildlife are sacred to all those who wish to share its beauty with travelers from afar.
Where you make the difference. & What to avoid and what not for the sake of people and of wildlife.
WHERE YOU MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
Tourism in South Africa has increased significantly in the last few decades. As of 2018, it accounts for about 9% of the country's GDP which supports a myriad of local communities and wildlife. This continued growth comes as no surprise with such a rich ecological and cultural heritage to share with the world. South Africa is a leader in African tourism quality and standards. As inbound travel increases, so does the economy of South Africa, along with the well-being of its people and its land.
Your visit to South Africa and time spent enjoying the rich food, wondrous wildlife, adventure activities, historical sites, cultural entertainment, and other brilliant features bolsters the local community and wilderness. And for that, we are forever grateful.
WHAT TO AVOID AND WHAT NOT FOR THE SAKE OF PEOPLE AND OF WILDLIFE
The well being of people and wildlife is a priority for the tourism industries of South Africa, although, it may be difficult to judge what is ethical and what not from an outsider perspective. Some places and activities may seem harmless at first glance but can, in fact, do more harm than help or vice-versa. To simplify your decision making, here are some of the most common controversial tourist attractions and things to look out for.
- Elephant Back Safari and Interaction - Elephant backed safaris were very popular attractions throughout African and Asia for many years. In recent decades this has changed as more pressure is placed by international animal rights activists on the industry. Certain elephant sanctuaries are just that, sanctuaries, where the exceptionally intelligent animals are treated with respect and love. They are either rescued or rehabilitated animals with no interest in returning to the wild and therefore prefer to play their part as ambassadors of their species.
On the other end of the scale, we see the abuse and exploitation of these amazing creatures. Many documented cases of abuse, lack of freedom and poor living conditions for elephants have been exposed in both Africa and Asia. However, in South Africa, very strict legislation and continued efforts of animal rights activists have brought these places to justice, while those that are true to their vision of being a sanctuary is promoted. This ensures that this complicated matter is kept in check, that the elephants are treated well and that their caretakers use empathy and reward, instead of domination and harm to work with the animals.
Therefore, many places that offer interaction with elephants are ethical and set in place to provide a form of income for conservation. The sanctuaries and the elephant handlers will not put any human or elephant at risk as the number one priority remains the continued beneficial relationship of rescued and rehabilitated elephants.
- Interaction With Lions - This is by far the most controversial of animal interactions for a multitude of reasons. Due to its complexity, it is difficult to gauge the ethical nature of any single sanctuary on face value. However, in many cases where playing or
walking with lions are allowed, these animals are bred for the industry. The most disturbing of which is the fact that the majority of the male lions when adults are used as trophies in canned lion hunts. This means that lions that were habituated to humans as caretakers are placed in small encampments to be shot by the international hunting market. This is as unethical as it comes. Other lions are simply slaughtered for the heavy demands of East Asian traditional medicine market.
Not every big cat sanctuary follows this model and truly have the best interests of their rescued or rehabilitated animals in mind. In these cases, any money received through entry or interaction with the animals is placed directly back into the care of their animals. It is vital to research any big cat sanctuary before your visit as to support those with good intent. - Shark Cage Diving - Shark cage diving is another popular, yet controversial tourism activity. Unlike the previously mentioned activities, this one relies on free roaming animals and is for the most part harmless. The only real concern here is the alteration of natural shark movements and hunting by luring them with chum. The harm this causes is widely debated and to some extent subjective rather than objective. Some providers of this activity may put profit before conservation, however, many are concerned with conservation and the well being of the oceans they traverse. Thus, a quick look at the nature of the activity provider will provide insight into the way they function, their ecological impact and their conservation concerns.
- Purchase of Animals or Animal Products -
The majority of countries will not allow one to leave with or bring home any animal products without proper legalities in place. This is for both health and conservation reasons. Certain animal products are legally obtained and sold, while other products are illegal to own and distribute. Even some legally traded products at less reputable establishments may not have been acquired legally. Therefore, it is far better to avoid any animal products you encounter. These include elephant hair bracelets, porcupine quills, feather decorations, animal teeth, etc. Even though some may be legally obtained, it is virtually impossible to know on the spot. And, with strict customs regulations are better avoided in the first place.
As for any living animal being sold, it is best never to buy. This is sometimes seen at roadside stops in rural areas, where individuals may try and sell tortoises, chameleons, and other small animals that were simply taken from nature. This is
illegal and best reported to the authorities immediately. Never purchase the animal, even with the intent of setting the animal free, as the vendor will only see this as a reason to do it again.
- The Hunting Debate - The hunting industry is by far the most debated wildlife activity around the globe. It is also one of the most difficult to gauge in terms of ethics and conservation value as both sides of the debate are heavily heated, often emotional and for the most part, misunderstood. With that said, it can neither be judged as purely good or bad due to its extreme complexity.
Hunting can be beneficial to the overall well being of the natural environment. For example, when a certain species of animal has an overly big population in an area, they impact the environment to such an extent that it endangers a multitude of other species. This diminishes the well being of the entire area, and when not kept in check will cause permanent damage to the entire system. Therefore, hunting is incorporated into the system of environmental management as a necessary tool. If an animal's population is to be reduced, it is better to have hunters pay for the experience and privilege to hunt. This allows the system to be brought to balance and the monetary gain to be put back into conservation efforts of primary concern. Not all hunting is transparent, and as with all industries may be corrupted. It is up to the potential hunter then, to carefully choose which professionals to work with on such expeditions.
This topic is exceptionally complex and therefore best to understand the official position statement of conservation specialists. For more information on this topic, we highly recommend reading the Endangered Wildlife Trust Position Statement on Trophy Hunting. They are the leading non-profit, non-government organization concerned with conservation in Southern Africa and will provide excellent insight into this topic. Find it HERE.
Traveling to South Africa can be daunting to some, however, there is a myriad of reasons why it could be the trip of a lifetime. We are here to help you understand all aspects of your travel and to provide peace of mind so that you may experience our wonderland with ease. Understand that you are safe, welcome and will directly contribute to conservation and community upliftment when supporting our beautiful country. As with all places, some things are best avoided, while others are a must-see. Let us help you understand what, where, how and why.
For more information, contact us here, for a gratis consultation or any further questions.