When I ask people what destinations or adventures are on their Bucket List, it isn't be long until I hear someone mention they want to go on safari.
And who can blame them?
Safaris are epic and magical endeavours, allowing you to sneak a peek at some of the most majestic and weird and wonderful creatures in the world. Factor in that they aren't cheap and that you usually need to fly to Africa, and you've got the recipe for a Bucket List's wet dream.
Now, If you’ve been reading this blog for a while chances are you know I’m vegan, so my stance on animal welfare is pretty serious. I don't go to, nor support others going to, zoos. As far as I’m concerned, animals are not here for our use or entertainment. Just like people, animals are complex, intelligent, weird, lovely things. They deserve to be respected and they deserve their freedom. Period.
When I went to Kenya last month, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go on safari. Giraffes, lions, elephants, weird birds, gazelles, other animals that look like gazelles – going on safari would be an amazing opportunity to see them all. Best of all, it would be ethical as I would be seeing the animals in their natural habitat. No bars. No cages Just a straight up peep show in nature. Perfect.
I soon discovered, however, that safaris may not be as ethical as I thought.
Are Safaris Ethical?
During our 3 days on in the Maasai Mara, we ended up face to face with a young male lion, we hurried alongside a rhino to get a good photo before he dashed into the brush, and we inched into some trees to watch lion cubs play as the pride watched. It was an incredible, mesmerizing, magical experienced…but then something finally dawned on me: we were getting too close to the animals.
I saw driver after driver – including our own – get questionably close to the animals over the course of the three-day tour. We were so close, in fact, that some animals actually got up, walked 5 feet away, and then sat back down to chill. You could almost sense the animals feeling awkward – THAT'S how close we were!
Drivers would speed away from the dirt road, kicking up dust as they bounced around the park in search of photo opportunities for their patrons. Roads were mere suggestions, used when convenient and discarded when the drivers wanted to get up close and personal. It was so bad, in fact, that, on our final day, our driver was actually fined $300 because he was caught breaking the rules.
(And the rules aren't hard to find. I literally just Googled them in about eight seconds.)
After only 3 days in the park, it was vastly apparent that our driver was not the exception. Every van I saw was chasing animals down so that their passengers could get that epic Insta photo. But in doing so, they were breaking the rules, going off-road, driving over plants (and even small trees!) all to get unethically close to the animals.
While it was incredible to be that close (you can check my Insta for photos!) it also was uncomfortable. I wanted to see animals in their natural habitat, but we were trampling that habitat as we explored the national park and forcing the animals to adapt their behaviour to our convenience. It felt wrong.
Maybe other national parks are different and enforce the rules more diligently. But I doubt that. With thousands of tourists visiting Africa every year, contributing million and millions of dollars to the economy, companies want to keep tourists happy. And as long as tourists keep making unreasonable demands, drivers will keep breaking the rules.
And the animals will be the ones to pay the price.
Have you been on safari? How was your experience? Share in the comments!