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GAME DRIVES

Game drives are great way to experience the sights and scents of the African bush. Most safari lodges offer early-morning and late-afternoon game drives in specially adapted off-road vehicles that have low sides, no windows and tiered seats, a combination of features which ensures guests have unobstructed views of wildlife. In protected areas many of the larger wild animals can be approached quite closely, and safely.

An additional advantage of open vehicles is that guests are able enjoy the fresh air of the bush, hear bird calls clearly and sometimes even smell the animals which are encountered on the game drive! This helps create an intimate sense of “being in the bush” rather than merely passing by in a closed vehicle.

In protected areas many of the larger species can be approached quite closely, and safely, because elephants, lions and other animals view vehicles as inanimate objects and as a result are not disturbed by the people sitting inside them.  All drives are conducted by experienced rangers who have a sound understanding of the bush and wild animal behaviour.

Most safari lodges offer two game drives a day, each of which lasts roughly three hours, but this may vary depending on each safari lodge’s operating procedures.   The morning drive usually departs soon after dawn and the second a few hours before dusk because these are the best times for spotting game.

In most areas the afternoon drive only returns to the lodge after dark which gives guests the opportunity of seeing nocturnal animals and birds. The ranger uses a spotlight to illuminate any wildlife encountered but will be careful not to shine the beam directly at the animals because the powerful light may damage their sensitive eyes.

Before departing on a morning drive guests are usually offered tea, coffee and juice as well as biscuits or other light snacks. Many rangers will also ask if guests have any particular interests, such as birding or botany, and will try to point out interesting examples during the drive. The open vehicles are spacious and most lodges are usually careful to limit the numbers of people per vehicle so as to allow guests adequate space to use cameras, particularly those with telephoto lenses and binoculars in comfort. It is best to pay a visit to the bathroom before the drive but ranger/guides will accommodate any emergencies along the way.

Rangers always know the best game viewing spots in their area but wild animals can, and do, show up anywhere in protected areas.  The converse is also true – wild animals sometimes move into thick bush or other areas and there is no guarantee that they will conveniently present themselves for perfect photographs.  At some lodges rangers have radio contact with each other which allows them to exchange information

about animal sightings so guests are ensured a better than average chance of good game sightings.

In addition to the ranger who drives the vehicle some lodges also make use of a tracker, who usually perches precariously on a small seat at the front of the vehicle, whose job it is to look for game, which, for the untrained, can sometimes be hard to spot amongst the vegetation. The tracker will also keep an eye open for animal footprints (tracks) broken branches and even listen for particular bird alarm calls which may provide clues that big game is around.

In some areas game viewing vehicles are allowed to drive “off-road” into the bush which enables rangers to take their guests closer to wildlife.  Most safari lodges have access to a good network of dirt (sandy) roads which are usually more than adequate for great game viewing.

The morning game drive usually arrives back at the lodge between 09h00 and 10h00 when guests are treated to a relaxing brunch followed by a long period of leisure before the afternoon drive. Times vary depending on the season, local conditions and the lodge’s operating procedure.

Afternoon game drives kick-off with tea and coffee as well as snacks at around 15h30-16h00 and follow a similar pattern to the morning drive.  The drive is usually broken at dusk with a stop for sundowners which are carried in a cooler box in the vehicle.

After returning to the lodge in the evening your ranger usually joins guests at dinner where, invariably, the days’ exciting game viewing dominates the conversation.

Although most game viewing vehicles have canvass roofs, some are completely open and with or without a roof, it is essential to take along sun-screen, sunglasses and hats.  Early morning and evening drives can also be chilly, even in summer, so your lodge will ensure that blankets are provided. Although the game vehicles have a high ground clearance many lodges ensure that they have steps or small platforms that facilitate easy access to the vehicle. Rangers will also happily assist anyone who finds it difficult to get into the vehicle.

Most lodges have some restrictions with regard to young children on game viewing vehicles so it’s best to check with your safari consultant about the rules before booking.

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