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The Emotional Nature of an African Safari

  • Mark Stodel
  • 2 December 2013

I have been designing and operating travel itineraries to Southern Africa for over 16 years. Because of that, I have been on safari in many regions on my own, with family, with clients, as a guide, as a tour leader and as a client myself.

Leopard relaxes at Elephant Plains Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand Reserve of Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa

A leopard relaxes at Elephant Plains Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand Reserve of Greater Kruger National Park. When you see her so relaxed, it is hard to believe that this is pound for pound, the most powerful of all the cats. Photo courtesy of Mark Stodel

It still gives me a real thrill to see what a profound and often life-changing effect an African safari can have on a visitor. And that got me thinking: The world is big, and for the travel enthusiast there are many jaw-droppingly gorgeous travel destinations from which to choose. So what is it about an African safari that makes it so special and has people coming back time and time again?

To begin with, every day on route visitors stop to marvel at the natural beauty of many safari locations – scenes that are just breathtaking. Obviously, seeing animals – from birds to the Big Five – in their natural habitats is in itself an unbelievable experience. Aside from this, many of the safari camps are beautifully designed and decorated, including accommodations and food that are simply out of this world. Add to that the local people encountered, some as staff, and the ever-knowledgeable game rangers passionate about what they do and you have the makings for a truly phenomenal escape.

A leopard feasts on an impala in the Motswari Private Game Rerserve in the Timbavati region of Kruger National Park, South Africa

A leopard feasts on an impala in the Motswari Private Game Rerserve in the Timbavati region of Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Joe Liburdi

Of course, there is something else at play, something “below the line.”

Many people are visibly moved and sometimes overwhelmed by a safari experience. They experience it emotionally. On a number of occasions on my tours in the beautiful African bush, I have had people sob uncontrollably for no apparent reason.

It begs the question: What is it about an African Safari that moves people?

This Is My Take

Some believe that it is the “rawness” or freshness of Africa that sets it apart. I am sure that is a factor, but after many years of pondering this question, it all clicked while I was on a recent sales trip in the United States. I was driving a rental car on a seven-lane highway with four zillion other people between Long Beach and San Diego, California. During this daunting experience it dawned on me that, in this paved-over world of ours, we are now very far removed from the natural world to which we belong.

Plentiful and often overlooked, impalas are quite beautiful, especially the babies

The staple food of most predators in Africa, Impala's are sometimes called the McDonalds of the bush. Plentiful and often overlooked, they are nevertheless quite beautiful, especially the babies that make us stop and look. Photo courtesy of Mark Stodel

In a world that has been tamed and manipulated to suit our human “needs,” an African safari offers an experience in an environment beyond our control. We need that. It reminds us that we are part of something bigger. While it may come across as cliché, it is not safe to believe that we control the world and all that happens in it. Money does not make the world go around. The world will continue revolving long after we have left.

In our modern times – and specifically in what we call First World countries – most people live in largely manmade environments, a material world that has been constructed on top of the real world. A concrete jungle!

As a result and without even being aware of it, people end up disconnected from the real world. Basic instincts, like survival, have become economic, not actual. The production of consumer goods and services has evolved and become the driving economic force that, in many respects, defines our very lives. The pursuit of groceries at a shopping mall using money as our weapon is how we hunt today.

A lion crunches on the bones of an antelope in the Motswari Private Game Reserve in the Timbavati region of Kruger National Park, South Africa

The dominant male lion of a pride of 10 gets crunches on the bones of an antelope killed in the Motswari Private Game Reserve in the Timbavati region of Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Mark Stodel

Yes, we have achieved amazing things but, in many ways, we often work against the forces of nature, rather than with them, to achieve our goals. Our natural world is bearing the brunt of this approach, but that is the topic for another article.

This Is My Answer

Africa levels the playing fields. On a safari, you soon become acutely aware that you are a visitor in the animals’ domain. You observe, you respect their territory, but you do not judge or try and intervene. Imagine chancing upon a pride of 10 lions crunching noisily on the bony remains of buffalo killed earlier in the morning. Or three wild dogs (one of the most threatened predator species) still bloodied from killing a steenbok, held in pieces in their mouths. There are scenes of both immense beauty and sadness, but we let them be.

In the Lion Sands Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand region of Kruger National Park, South Africa, wild dogs feast on steenbok

In the Lion Sands Private Game Reserve in the Sabi Sand region of Kruger National Park, South Africa, wild dogs make away with the pieces of a freshly killed steenbok. Photo courtesy of Mark Stodel

The animal kingdom also teaches us a lot about ourselves and about symbiotic relationships in this world. Every living organism needs every other living organism. We all need each other, from ants to elephants.

Through simple observation, and with the support of an expert safari guide, all of this becomes obvious. What hits home and moves people during a safari? It reminds us of our connections to nature.

For information about how to arrange tailor-made safari experiences with the author, visit mycapetownstay.com or email him.

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Mark Stodel

Mark Stodel is a Capetonian. Like many South Africans, he has travelled extensively, but realising that South Africa was his first love, returned to Cape Town in 1995 to pursue a career in travel. Fifteen years after starting Excape Tours and Travel, which he sold, Mark opened a boutique tour operating company called Edge Travel, now also the whl.travel local connection in Cape Town. Mark is passionate about Southern Africa and sees it as the ultimate travel destination.
Mark Stodel
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adventure travel, Africa, ecotours, game reserves, local knowledge, opinion, personal experience, safaris, South Africa, Southern Africa, whl.travel,

5 Responses to “The Emotional Nature of an African Safari”

  1. I have always been very enthusiastic about the wild safari at Africa but never could get the opportunity.Anyways, i liked your post nicely presented.

  2. Really awesome article!! We are so excited to visit Africa and we have several safaris on the list. Now to narrow them down… regardless, it looks amazing.

    • Mark Stodel says:

      Hi Lina
      Thank you for your comment. Let me know if you need help with the task of choosing the right safari. It can be pretty confusing as there is so much to consider.

      Regards

      Mark

  3. John says:

    wildlife sanctuary provides a chance to experience the thrills of watching animals in very natural way as this is totally different to watch them in the cage at any zoo.

  4. [...] An African safari can have a profound and often life-changing effect on a visitor. That got me thinking: The world is big, and for the travel enthusiast there are many jaw-droppingly gorgeous travel destinations from which to choose.  [...]

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