Animals, big or small, and man have respected one another and lived in harmony for centuries. Inherently, animals are wary of people. If a certain line is crossed, at a distance unknown to us humans, most animals flee, no matter whether they are insects, reptiles, mammals or birds. Even snakes, lions and elephants prefer to make themselves scarce, because man is the most dangerous and merciless predator on earth.
When we visit national parks and wildlife sanctuaries we are guests of nature and should behave accordingly. In the urban spaces where we live we already abuse the environment with incessant exhaust fumes and other types of air pollution, with noise pollution and at night with light pollution, not to mention the waste and waste water that we produce. We must do our utmost to avoid this abuse in the outdoors where nature is still reasonably intact.
Animals at the bottom of the food chain depend on their senses – hearing, smell or sight – to detect possible dangers in time. If we arrive at a waterhole in a park and keep the engine running because the air conditioning system is supposed to cool the vehicle’s interior, we pollute the air with exhaust fumes and with our own smells, we disturb the peacefulness with engine noise and possibly mask the sound of approaching danger. As soon as elephants or predators are seen at waterholes in Etosha National Park, numerous tourist vehicles are rushing to the scene in no time at all. Thanks to modern communication technology it takes just a few minutes for travellers, or tour guides in particular, to inform each other by mobile phone, and the next moment vehicles come speeding from all directions towards the waterhole in question. The passengers of the vehicles contribute to the noise pollution by excited talking and shouting, demanding to be shown where the animal they so desire to see actually is or by loudly explaining to others where to look.
The many noises and smells, and vehicles jostling for the best position not only disturb the animals but also those visitors who calmly want to enjoy the animals in peace and quiet along with the sounds of nature and pure air. Amazingly, many wild animals have gotten used to the behaviour of humans but they are still disturbed by certain types of behaviour. Added to that, animals lose respect for humans, which can result in dangerous situations where the animal is always the loser. We are only guests in nature reserves and ought to leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but memories and photos.
How to behave at waterholes
- Always approach a waterhole slowly, do not come rushing in. A slow approach scares fewer animals and keeps the vehicle’s noise down. If the engine isn’t very hot, the electric radiator fan will turn on automatically less often.
- Not only the fauna and flora deserve your consideration but other visitors as well. They have also gone to great lengths to see indigenous animals in the wild.
- Park the vehicle swiftly and quietly at a suitable spot and turn off the engine. Unnecessary noise disturbs man and beast.
- Animals do not like human voices. Talking loudly must be avoided. It is quite possible to communicate in a subdued voice or just in a whisper. Unnecessary conversations should in fact be avoided altogether because the reason for stopping at a waterhole is to watch animals. Tour guides must follow the rules and ask their group to be quiet.
- Radios and music systems must be switched off, and radio devices and mobile phones must be set on low volume.
- Calling and waving to attract the attention of animals is inacceptable behaviour – it is forbidden to disturb animals. Animals come to waterholes to quench their thirst. While doing so, many of them are in great danger because predators often lie in wait there.
How to behave at the wayside
- Animals seen at the roadside are usually there to feed or they are resting. Therefore, the same rules apply as at a waterhole. If it is prohibited to drive off the road, it is important to comply with the regulation.
- If it is permitted to drive off the road you must always keep enough distance to allow the animals to feed or rest without disturbance. It certainly is frustrating if, for example, lions laze around the roadside all day and do not move. You want a photo of a lion moving, but lions and other animals have a right to rest and should not be interfered with. After all, we are in their “space” and have to behave accordingly.
- Always refrain from feeding animals at the roadside or anywhere else in the park. Firstly, they may not be able to digest the unnatural food that we offer them, and secondly, some animals may start to rely on us, the tourists, to feed them. As a result, such animals either die or have to be killed. Ground squirrels in Etosha National Park, which got used to being fed at the roadside, later ran into the road expecting to be given food whenever a vehicle was approaching. Many of them were run over. Other animals, like jackals or baboons, became bold and a danger to people. The result: these animals had to be destroyed by nature conservation officials.
What to do with garbage
- Tins, plastic bottles, beverage cans, glass bottles and various food containers always find a place in the vehicle while they are full. But as soon as they are empty, making them light and in many cases smaller as well, there is no space left for them! We must start to take our garbage back to where we brought it from, or at least dispose of it in the cities.
- We should not leave our garbage in the dustbins in the parks, but take it with us out of the park. Whatever we discard in a park usually stays there. Often enough, dustbins are ‘emptied’ more regularly by animals than by the staff responsible for it. In Namutoni the emptying is done by banded mongooses, in Halali by birds and honey badgers and in Okaukuejo by black-backed jackals. The dustbins at the so-called toilets between the rest camps are also frequently visited by various animals, from elephants to small creatures, because neither the gates nor the fences are in a good state of repair. Garbage is scattered everywhere.
- Garbage must definitely not be buried anywhere in the bush – animals will dig it out faster than it was dug in.
- The way to deal with cigarette butts is to flick them into the camp fire in the evening, or else leave them in an ashtray, in a garbage bag or in your back pocket. No cigarette butt must be carelessly tossed away or dropped on the ground and quickly covered with sand.
Why the speed limit is 60 km/h
The maximum speed in most national parks is limited to 60 km/h. This is intended for the safety of people and animals. There have been numerous accidents in Etosha National Park where tourists overturned their car because they were speeding and either lost control in a bend or tried to avoid an animal. There have also been collisions with elephants, rhinos and antelopes.
- At high speeds more dust swirls up, which then settles on the vegetation next to the road and causes animals to feed further away. This is a disadvantage for visitors.
- At high speeds far less animals are spotted next to the road and, above all, small animals (snakes, agamas, lizards, birds, etc.) are not seen in time and get run over.
- Animals have right of way in the parks; driving at a high speed you will not be able to brake in time when you suddenly become aware of an animal.
- Animals, especially the young, still get frightened by vehicles speeding past.
- Speeding poses a danger to other road users who focus on watching animals and on the road.
Author: Dirk Heinrich