For most wildlife photographers, its at the top of the bucket list. Here's how to plan your excursion
Picture yourself, camera in hand, in the vast Serengeti ecosystem of Tanzania, where millions of zebras, wildebeest, and other grazing animals migrate annually—in the shadow of their predators. Or the Masai Mara in Kenya, where lions are so accustomed to human company they’ll frequently rest in the shade of Land Rovers.
Or imagine shooting in the highlands of Rwanda, where you can be among a select few humans to share the thin, high-altitude air with one of the last handfuls of mountain gorillas. Each is a breathtaking fantasy—one that, financial considerations aside, is completely within your reach.
Choose Your Outfitter
Planning a safari requires the services of qualified expedition organizer—no simple task. The Internet is frothing with companies eager to introduce you to the thrill of the African wild. Wildlife shooter Boyd Norton, owner of Wilderness Photography, advises caution. “It seems nowadays that anybody who can afford a Land Rover can hang out a shingle that says, ‘I’m a safari guide,’ and this can be very dangerous,” he warns.
Check out their background and seek endorsements from past clients. Norton has heard plentiful tales of one-truck operators stranding travelers in the bush for days. Then ask each one:
-How many hours each day will be spent photographing?
-How many vehicles will be in your group? (Fewer are better, obviously.)
-How many people are in each?
-What’s the pace? (The slower, the better, says Norton: “You need time to watch and smell and listen to get a sense of the place and to experience the unexpected.”)
Choose a Destination
Safari countries can be divided roughly into three regions: Southern Africa includes Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. East Africa means essentially Kenya and Tanzania. Central includes Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), Rwanda, and Uganda.
Though Kenya’s Masai Mara was long the destination of choice for American travelers, political unrest in recent years has shifted much of the safari trade to Tanzania. “Crime and corruption in Kenya were getting so bad that I felt it was not safe to bring groups there anymore,” says Norton. He now brings groups to Tanzania exclusively.
Kenya, however, remains popular with other organizers. “Kenya is really what most Americans think of when it comes to Africa,” says Nicky Glover, who, along with her husband, wildlife photographer James Weis, runs Eyes on Africa. “Most people go for the migrations.” Tours are typically two weeks long, including travel time, and when to go really depends on where and what you want to shoot. The “short rains” (December to March) and the “long rains” (April to June) are key to which animals you’ll see and where you’ll see them. To help you choose, visit safari.go2africa.com.