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Game Drives and Bush Etiquette

John Llewellyn comments on a recent email from a member regarding game drives and bush etiquette

A Member e-mailed Reception and shared the following:

“I don’t like to moan but we had an incident on the tower on Argyle, and I thought maybe John could just put out a reminder to Members, that if there are people there having drinks at the top, it would just be bush etiquette to drive on, not to park your vehicle at the bottom, leave it running and climb the stairs to use your cell phone. Not even a hello, do you mind, just so entitled to do what they want and I was told by the person that she was not disturbing me and basically I should be quiet……………….. it was interesting!!!! We were so gob smacked ?

Another Member, who’s parents have owned at Ingwelala since its inception, shared with me her belief that older Members should set the example to the younger Members when it comes to behaviour at game sightings, especially where sightings are of a sensitive nature. An example was mentioned where people got out of their game viewers at a leopard and cub sighting. The leopards were not that close to the vehicle but her feeling was that should not matter. Animals should not associate people with vehicles.

I thought it may be an idea to re-visit the Ingwelala Bush Etiquette, which is essentially asking all Users to approach wildlife in a particular way to minimise our human impact and influence on our wildlife. I have chosen to comment where necessary on the purpose of the of points listed in this document.

  • Prevent overcrowding at sightings. Once you have had a good view of the sighting, move off to give others with a poorer vantage point, a chance.
    JL: Most commercial lodges practice a rule of no more than three to four vehicles present simultaneously at a sighting. This is an indication when determining “overcrowding” at sightings. Topography and circumstance can affect this rule of thumb, sometimes it may be that only two vehicles have a good view.
  • Respect other people’s sensitivities when approaching an obvious sighting. Switch off unnecessary lights and spotlights and be sensitive to those who have been waiting for the sighting to better show itself. Be quiet, and ensure that your vehicle is positioned so that others can move away if they wish. Don’t move more than a vehicle width off the road. If you are the most recent arrival on the scene and if your vehicle would overcrowd a particular vantage point, switch off your engine at the earliest opportunity, be patient, and await your turn for a better position.
    JL: This goes hand in glove with the point above, where basic considerateness towards other viewers and the wildlife is the tenant of courtesy.
  • Do not stand up in a vehicle while viewing game or hang over the side of the vehicle. People should remain within the vehicle so as not to break the shape of the vehicle while viewing game, this is imperative when viewing dangerous animals.
    JL: Animals don’t recognise the individual shapes within a vehicle, they see the basic outline as one form or shape. Therefore, to protrude over the sides or sit on the roof of the vehicle is not good, because it breaks the basic shape of the vehicle and this stresses the animals, enough to influence behaviour change. Animals naturally fear humans, so when you break the shape of the vehicle they feel threatened, and so behaviour can become defensive and/or aggressive.
  • Do not call, whistle or throw things at animals to get them to react.
    JL: This is to respect their space.
  • The noise level on the vehicle is to be kept to a minimum for the benefit of the animals and other vehicles.
    JL: Covered in the above point.
  • Do not shine spotlights in animals' eyes; shine on the ground in the front of or on the back of the animal. The use of coloured filters on spotlights is encouraged as this is less disruptive to the night vision of the animals and their activities.
    JL: Spotlights blind the animals and so they become disorientated. In prey, this lends to an unfair advantage for predators who may be hunting/stalking and this man influence is unnatural.
  • When following predators which appear to be hunting, limit your intrusion so as not to interfere with the animals' hunt. This implies keeping a good distance, avoid shining unfiltered spotlights directly onto the scene and keep all noise including that of the engine, to a minimum. There should be no jockeying for better positions. Once the kill is made, spotlights may be used.
    JL: Within reason, still avoid shining spotlights directly into the eyes.
  • Do not follow an animal whose behaviour is aggressive or if they are agitated. If you are unsure about the possible reaction or temperament of an animal, be cautious and remain at a safe distance. It is often sensible, once a sighting has been made, to observe the animal from a distance before considering approaching. Approach animals slowly and consider your exit route especially in regard to elephants in which case the vehicle should if possible be turned well in advance to face an escape route.
    JL: It is essential at any elephant sighting to have an escape route. Circumstances can change in a flash, and elephants are highly mobile, intelligent and enormously strong. You do not want to be on the wrong side of an angry elephant, with no escape route. The youngsters who are in “play/inquisitive” moods can often agitate the older cows and bulls who interpret the presence of a vehicle as a threat.
  • Do not block the escape route of an animal you are viewing; or that of another vehicle, as the animal may become stressed and unpredictable.
  • Do not try and make an animal act unnaturally for photographic opportunities.
  • Learn to anticipate the behaviour and movements of the animals and avoid making them move if they are not inclined to. Try not to enter the ‘comfort zone’ of the animal.
    JL: Every animal has a natural “flight or fight” zone, stay within the “flight” zone, moving too close will place it in the “fight” zone and this provokes unpredictable and aggressive behaviour.
  • Drive around animal droppings and not through them to prevent killing dung beetles and other insects.
    JL: There is a hive of hidden insect activity in animal dung, an integral part of ecology and nutrient cycling. Avoid driving over dung, irrespective of its age.
  • When finding the road blocked by a tree having been pushed down, please return to a point where an alternative road can be used and then report the blockage to Reception as soon as possible. By merely bundu-bashing around such a blockage we widen existing roads or create extra unwanted roads.
  • Rhinos are sensitive animals, do not use spotlights on them at night.
  • Please do not allow passengers to hang out of your vehicles while moving.
  • Avoid the use of tracker seats as they pose a serious threat to the occupier.
    JL: This was reviewed and should read “tracker seats may not be used”.
  • Respect the privacy of occupied units.
  • Keep noise and movement to a minimum at waterholes.
  • Enter hides quietly and make no sudden movements.
  • Respect the environment you are in and other members who share in the joy of it with you.
  • Expect the unexpected.


by John Llewellyn