Tanzania, an East African country renowned for its spectacular landscapes, pristine beaches, and magnificent wildlife has long been a dream destination. And whether you’re interested in trekking Mount Kilimanjaro, soaking up the history and sun on Zanzibar Island, or visiting Oldupai Gorge Museum where a 1.75 million-year-old primate skull is housed, chances are a safari is high on your list.
For many, a game drive is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. One that conjures up breathtaking images: the wildebeest great migration, a herd of majestic elephants grazing on lush green grass, a lioness stealthily hunting for prey in the open plains, a mother giraffe and her calf nibbling on tree leaves. It’s all quite magical until you realize you’re in their home….uninvited and that human traces are always left behind. The good news – there are ethically responsible safaris where wildlife conservation is key and as Tanzania is home to over a dozen national parks, the country is well-positioned to offer an array of adventures.
But, researching the plethora of tour operators available can quickly become overwhelming. Read on for tips to help narrow your options.
Inevitably, flying contributes to the world’s carbon emissions, but getting to the African continent likely necessitates air travel. Fortunately, there are other ways to reduce our footprint, and that’s where ecotourism comes into play. As the term implies, ecotourism factors environmental conservation, community development, and tourist engagement at its core.
More than a marketing gimmick, it’s important to dig deeper when checking out a company’s website. For example, do the lodging alternatives include camping (self tent with a sleeping bag) or glamping (fixed structure with a bed)? Are resort style villas with spacious verandas and private pools the only images shown? Or do they also offer modest accommodations, like a simple sleeping area and small bathroom? Going beyond sleeping arrangements, consider dining options: buffet dinners versus full scale waiter service; bagged lunches or private chef for the entire trip duration.
Further adding to your responsible safari adventure is relationship building. With more than 120 tribes in Tanzania, there are many ways to help support these communities. When researching tour operators, ask about their civic engagement vis-a-vis those living near wildlife areas. Opportunities for tourists could include spending an afternoon with an indigenous tribe learning about their customs, stopping at a local market where handmade wares are sold, buying fruit from roadside vendors, arranging a visit to one of the village’s schools. This last one can be planned in advance with options to make donations of needed supplies.
Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs)
What happens when human and animal populations are not always friendly neighbors? Villagers whose crops have been raided by a herd of elephants or whose livestock have been killed by predatory carnivores may be less inclined towards conservation efforts. For these local communities the damage hits very hard – it’s a matter of significant household income reduction. On the other side of the equation: wildlife whose natural habitats suffer due to increased human population, deforestation, and agricultural expansion. Therefore, addressing the threat of this human-wildlife conflict is crucial.
Enter Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). The concept of wildlife conservation is not new; however, it wasn’t until 2003 that Tanzania embarked on a pilot program to establish 16 WMAs around the country. What exactly is a Wildlife Management Area? As the Tanzanian Tourism’s website notes: it is “an area of communal land set aside exclusively as habitat for wildlife by member villages.” Within this framework, not only do local communities benefit economically, but they are also empowered by being involved in decisions impacting the use of their natural resources.
Here’s a closer look at the concept in action. The tour operator works with a WMA to offer unique experiences for travelers. Two interesting ones are a guided game walk with a local tribe member and a village bike tour. Both are environmentally friendly (ditching the gas-guzzling vehicle for a few hours), allowing for a very different kind of adventure. Exploring the East African bush on foot can be intimidating and riding a bike around a local village can almost make you feel like you’re a resident. Either way, both allow you to get up close and personal, in a respectful way.
For a deeper dive into Tanzania’s WMAs, check out their Community Consortium website.
Support Local – Manage Expectations
News flash: African safaris are big business. But being a lucrative industry is all the more reason to be super selective in researching Tanzanian outfitters. With many foreign companies already established here, it becomes a question of how local is local? A tour company that has operated in the country for the past two decades very likely has built solid community relationships, meaning hiring local workers, patronizing village shops and contributing to the regional economy. All positive things, indeed, but as socially responsible travellers we want to ensure that a larger percentage of our money stays within Tanzania.
Sometimes the mass-marketed tour operators sell their services touting the famed Big 5 – rhino, lion, leopard, elephant, and buffalo. Of course, it’s not as if these beautiful animals decide which safari vehicle they prefer. Most of us want to see as much wildlife as possible, but it’s important to manage our expectations. Besides, the best surprises are revealed when least anticipated.
Support local brings that popular slogan “Think Big, Shop Small” to mind. Instead of going with a large scale international entity with hundreds of online reviews, check out some of the smaller, lesser known folks. Sometimes bigger isn’t necessarily better. Another thing to look out for is the company’s address and contact telephone number (Tanzania’s country code is +255). If the information isn’t immediately noticeable on the website, take a look at the contact details of the person who responds to your query. Also, spend time on the about us section to determine what commitment they have to supporting the larger community [outside of tourism].
Tanzania Safari General Tips
Outside of our tour operator, there are many simple ways to act responsibly in the African bush. A few to get you started:
- avoid plastic bags (same for flatware/cups)
- carry your eco-friendly refillable water bottle
- reduce toilet paper waste (one option for women: kula cloth)
- use cloth napkins (instead of paper ones)
- pack a solar-powered flashlight
- skip the wet wipes (baby wipes)
- choose a biodegradable soap
Tanzania is a mecca for wildlife exploration. Making your dream safari a reality here will leave a lifetime of memories, and doing so ethically will make it that much sweeter. Remember to appreciate every moment in [and out of] the bush. As the locals say, Hakuna Matatizo.
This is a guest post contributed by Lola Rosario