Africa Destinations Travel Tips

Tips for an ethical South African Safari

A South African safari experience has long lured travellers to the country to catch a glimpse of the iconic wildlife.

While most companies practice ethical safari experiences, there are a few out there that don’t do it by the book. This dark side to wildlife tourism comes as more people are keen to get up close and personal with the animals in the wrong way.

For example, to cuddle with a Simba (lion cub), is attracting visitors to the unethical tourism practice of canned lion farms. These farms often take young lions from their mothers and allow tourists to pay to cuddle them. Tourists are fed with the lie that the lion cubs were abandoned, or their mothers injured, and they are there to be looked after until old enough to be released back into the wild. The truth is, these lion cubs will grow to be hunted and shot.

This is just one example of unethical tourism practices that travellers can fall trap to when visiting South Africa. The good news is, there are many ways you can ethically enjoy a South African wildlife and safari experience. You just need to be aware of what to look out for. Here are some handy tips to help guide you to making the right choices when engaging in a South African wildlife experience or safari.

Know who to book with

Sabi Sabi Selati Camp – Game Drive

Australian company and African Specialist, Bench Africa, is always delighted when its clients show an interest in conservation and sustainable practises when in South Africa and encourage them to get involved if the opportunity is there.

There has to be a certain amount of caution required though with ethical conservation activities as for many years there have been operators touting their conservation bona fides whilst engaged in unhelpful or harmful behaviour. Walking with the lions is one such example.  There is a large amount of due diligence required by both the client and the agent in regard to these activities to make sure they put their money where their mouth says its going.

Avoid interactive animal experiences

It is important to book with companies that uphold strict standards when it comes to this. According to Cameron Neill from Bench Africa, the company has a blanket ban on all interactive animal experiences.

“Defined, interactive animal experiences are activities that take animals away from natural behaviour and often from natural environments,” Cameron explained.

For example, the meerkat visits in South Africa are conducted in their natural environment with limited or zero contact with guests (which is of course at the animals discretion) and in these cases the animals are merely habituated to the presence of people, not trained out of natural behaviours.

This is similar with animals on safari, they remain wild animals in wild spaces but habituated to safari vehicles viewing them respectfully.  We try to educate travel agents as best as possible on the differences through our channels as well as through our reservations team.

Safari for the right reasons

Travellers often want to get involved, but it is important to do it for the right reasons. The difficult part is to distinguish the difference between actual conservation work (which is often less glamorous) and the faux conservation that trends so well on Instagram. Whilst the latter has been a big movement in the past the most recent trend is for engaged experiences with authentic activities and more about the experience itself, less about the sharing of it with an online audience.

There are companies that are doing it for the right reasons and in an effort to educate and conserve properly, not just to make a tourist dollar. In some cases, yes, there will be rehabilitation centres that will monopolise on their wildlife in an unethical way, however there are also centres that are doing incredible work to ensure the proper rehabilitation of the animals. Do your research before visiting any of these centres.

The same goes for tours. The good news is, Where Wild Things Roam Travel offer travellers ethical wildlife experiences in their tours that actually aid in conservation. Yes, you will get your hands dirty, but this hands-on experience aids in the very survival of these animals. All profits from these tours go straight back into conservation.

To learn more about wildlife experiences and safari’s in South Africa, visit South Africa Tourism’s website at

Kate Webster

Kate Webster is the founder and owner of Captured Travel Media. She is a world traveller, ocean lover and conservation warrior who is determined to make every moment count for not only herself, but the world around her. An editor and travel journalist, Kate travels the globe in search of vivid imagery and compelling stories that capture the essence of the people and places she visits. She is a passionate conservation advocate, sustainable traveller and always travels with reason and cause.