How to choose a sustainable African safari


Going on an African safari can be the chance of a lifetime to see some of the world’s most iconic wildlife up close, experience Earth’s extraordinary untouched corners, learn about new cultures and reconnect with nature.

A safari trip can also be the opportunity to make sustainable, responsible choices about how and where you travel, and to maximize the impact your travel spending has on conservation, community and environmental programs in various destinations.

Safaris are about more than luxury tents and thrilling game drives at Wilderness Safaris’ Mombo Camp. ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Many travelers decide where to go on safari in Africa based on their schedules and the seasonality in individual regions — both in terms of the weather and the animals they will most likely see. Others focus on sighting specific species, resulting in visits to places like Rwanda or Uganda to trek and see mountain gorillas or trips to destinations like Kenya to observe the endangered pachyderms at a rhino sanctuary.

Sustainability can be another excellent factor in determining where you should go on safari, though. Many of the most reputable safari outfitters and camps put sustainability front and center in their operations, combining environmental practices, conservation commitments and community outreach to create the ultimate holistic travel experience.

Doing a little research on the regions you are considering for a safari and the specific tour operators and lodges in your chosen location can make a huge difference in the effect your tourism dollars have on things like wildlife preservation campaigns, economic development in local villages and minimizing the overall environmental footprint of your individual journey.

Conservation is core to the missions of the best safari companies. ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Unlike some other forms of travel that let you book certain components — flights, hotels, cruises, etc. — a la carte by yourself, many safari companies require you to book the bulk of your trip (if not all of it) through them or a partner agency or operator. Because of this, you can ask these representatives about their sustainability track records and even specific programs while planning your trip. Any reliable operator should have materials on hand to send you to help you make your decision.

Here are some of the factors you can investigate to determine just how sustainable your safari can be, plus some of the safari companies undertaking meaningful measures in this sphere by weaving principles of environmental consciousness, wildlife protection and community development into their core ethos and operations.

Eco-sensitive camps

For North American and European travelers, going on an African safari typically necessitates carbon-intensive long-haul flights and sometimes additional bush flights to reach remote regions. In order to limit the rest of your carbon footprint while on safari, look into the eco-credentials of the camps or outfitters you are considering.

Many safari camps, for instance, now run mostly or even entirely on solar power. At both andBeyond Nxabega and andBeyond Xaranna in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, 80% of the camps’ total electricity consumption is supplied by solar photovoltaic plants and Tesla Powerpack battery energy storage systems.

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The solar array at andBeyond Xaranna in Botswana. ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Nearby, Wilderness SafarisChitabe and Mombo camps run on 100% solar (as do 17 of the company’s other camps), and Wilderness has plans to retrofit and invest in further solar power for all new camps and camp refurbishments. Not only is that great for the environment, but it’s also the best means of ensuring an uninterrupted power supply to guests in an area with little other infrastructure.

Cheetah Plains, an exclusive-use safari villa in South Africa’s Sabi Sand Nature Reserve, now uses Toyota Land Cruiser electric safari vehicles with Tesla batteries that are charged via solar power to whisk guests across the reserve’s thousands of acres, creating a zero-emission game drive.

In Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park, Usangu Expedition Camp is steering a different path, developing safari vehicles that run on ethanol, which is derived from molasses produced in the southern part of the country, instead of diesel. The staff even calls the vehicles “Gongos,” a type of traditional Tanzanian gin, since the ethanol looks and smells like the spirit.

Usangu Expedition Camp has created safari vehicles that run on ethanol. USANGU EXPEDITION CAMP

But alternative power and fuel are just the start. For its part, Chitabe recycled the wood from an old set of raised walkways to create a chic bar and lounge area for its current guests. What’s old is new again … and looking better than ever.

Many recently built and forthcoming safari camps are being constructed using both traditional materials and techniques, such as thatching and weaving completed by local artisans, and up-to-the-minute technologies like 3D printing and innovative recycling methods utilizing salvaged materials to limit their physical footprint.

The bar area at Wilderness Safaris’ Chitabe camp was constructed from reclaimed wood. ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Time + Tide Chinzombo in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park was designed to be completely dismantled if necessary so as to leave a minimal trace on the landscape, and Wilderness Safaris is currently constructing a new tented camp in Botswana’s Mbabe concession called Mokete that can be completely disassembled as if it had never been there.

Simple measures can have a large impact as well. Camps like Wilderness Safaris’ DumaTau and sister Little DumaTau in Botswana’s riverine Linyanti region provide guests with Healing Earth’s all-natural, biodegradable bath and body products during their stay to minimize harmful runoff from the camp’s water management system.

Biodegradable Healing Earth products at Mombo Camp. ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

For its part, the Elewana Collection of lodges in Kenya and Tanzania launched its “Ban the bottle” initiative in 2018, giving guests reusable water bottles that they can fill up at stations in the camps. The outfitter estimates that doing so in just six of its Kenyan lodges saves around 160,000 plastic bottles from going into landfills each year.

The view from the deck at Elewana Collection’s Sand River Masai Mara camp in Kenya. ELEWANA COLLECTION

Elewana also dropped plastic straws the following year. Even more fun for Elewana guests is the opportunity to toss out seed balls (little nutrient packs that encase seeds of Indigenous plants) during a walk or game drive somewhere along their journey so they’re doing their little part to help revegetate the wild places they are enjoying.

Wildlife conservation

It seems obvious, but without wildlife, there wouldn’t be safari camps. For that reason, many safari companies actively support and participate in wildlife conservation efforts, some of which are specific to individual regions while others are more widespread.

One of the luxurious cabins at andBeyond Tengile River Lodge. ANDBEYOND

Guests at andBeyond’s Tengile River Lodge and Kirkman’s Kamp, which are near each other in South Africa’s Sabi Sand Nature Reserve, can certainly get a thrill sighting the area’s thriving lion and leopard populations on game drives. However, guests may not know that their guides are also logging those sightings and providing the information to Panthera, an organization dedicated to tracking and protecting big cat populations around the world.

A lion surveys his domain near andBeyond Nxabega. ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Various other andBeyond camps, including Phinda Private Game Reserve and Ngala Safari Lodge, help fund rhinoceros anti-poaching units. Guests at Ngala can even observe researchers tagging rhinos’ ears with microchips to help monitor the highly endangered animals. These are individual initiatives, but they are all part of andBeyond’s overarching commitment to conservation and community projects that it supports through its Africa Foundation.

Likewise, Elewana Collection has a charitable arm called The Land & Life Foundation that underwrites various efforts such as the Wildlife Warrior Program, which has clubs in primary schools throughout Kenya and Tanzania. The children who join can take part in activities to learn more about environmental and animal conservation. The club currently counts around 2,200 members and even provides primary and secondary educational scholarships to many of them.

Many safari companies, including andBeyond, Elewana Collection and Singita, support rhino anti-poaching and conservation efforts. ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

High-end safari company Singita, which has lodges in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Rwanda, established its Singita Conservation Foundation decades ago with a 100-year plan to protect Africa’s wildlife and wilderness for future generations. These days, it partners with other nonprofit trusts and funds on a plethora of projects, including rhino reintroduction and protection in the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve in Zimbabwe, land management and anti-poaching efforts in South Africa’s Kruger National Park and combating invasive vegetation as well as helping in the recovery of megafauna like elephants and buffaloes in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park.

Community improvement projects

Without buy-in from local communities, conservation efforts would go nowhere. Those who live in or near game reserves and national parks need to benefit from the tourism revenue that these natural wonders generate. That’s why many safari companies’ conservation drives include community-based components.

One telltale sign that a safari company is supporting the communities where it operates in a meaningful way is simply through employment. Specifically, whether its camps employ people from the villages or regions that surround them in high proportions. Not only is this a boon for economic stability and growth in places that might otherwise be destitute, but it ensures that tourism dollars stay in the area and benefit the people who live there.

Come for the gorillas, stay for the community projects at Volcanoes Safaris’ Virunga Lodge in Rwanda. BRIAN KELLY/THE POINTS GUY

Many safari companies’ commitments to communities go beyond employment, though. Praveen Moman, who grew up in Uganda before his family had to emigrate to the United Kingdom, founded Volcanoes Safaris in 1997, pioneering the high-end safari experience in both Uganda and Rwanda.

While the Volcanoes Safaris’ lodges have become mainstays for both gorilla and chimpanzee trekking, it is perhaps the company’s nonprofit organization, the Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust, that will be its most lasting legacy. The trust supports preservation efforts for the great apes of the region, but it also underwrites innovative, community-based programs that guests are encouraged to explore during their stays at the lodges.

Volcanoes Safaris has donated more than 500 sheep to local families around Virunga Lodge. VOLCANOES SAFARIS

“When I set up Volcanoes Safaris in 1997 in southern Uganda and then in 2000 in neighboring Rwanda, the area was just coming out of the Great Lakes conflict,” Moman told TPG via email. “This experience made me realize how important it was to not only focus on the lodges we were building and the gorilla and chimpanzee experience that we wanted our guests to enjoy, but also that local people need to get tangible economic benefits from conservation and ecotourism for them to support the great apes.”

“Therefore,” he continued, “I felt that it was important that the lodges should be connected to the communities around them. In each lodge, we have set up different community projects.”

At Volcanoes Safaris’ Virunga Lodge in Rwanda, for instance, guests can take a guided afternoon walk through several villages near Lake Bulera to see firsthand the impact of projects such as the “One sheep per family” program, which provides one sheep to each family in three nearby villages (more than 500 so far), thereby supplying them with sources of meat and milk along with natural fertilizer for their sustenance crops.

The lodge has also donated 250-plus water tanks to families in these villages, which help in the catchment of the region’s abundant rainfall and ensure that there is a steady supply of water for drinking and crop irrigation during the dry season.

Volcanoes Safaris has also donated 250-plus water tanks to provide local villages with clean drinking water around Virunga Lodge. VOLCANOES SAFARIS

In Livingstone, Zambia, near Victoria Falls, Tongabezi, which is an elegant lodge along the banks of a tranquil stretch of the Zambezi River, has underwritten the Tongabezi Trust School (also known as Tujatane) since 1996, providing education and meals to children who live within walking distance of the academy. There are currently nearly 300 children between the ages of 3 and 17 enrolled, all of whom can take advantage of the classes and curriculum, as well as the music, sports, arts and computer facilities. What’s more, the school provides funding to send some of the children on to secondary schools and even universities, ensuring a new generation of leaders and professionals with a commitment to the local community.

Children who have benefited from Tongabezi’s support of Tujatane. TONGABEZI TRUST SCHOOL/FACEBOOK

In Botswana, both andBeyond Nxabega and andBeyond Xaranna share several community-based projects, including the drilling of water boreholes for the communities of Gogomaga and Tsutsubega so that their inhabitants have steady sources of usable water; and funding a school in the rural farming village of Sexaxa near Maun (where the area’s main airport is) so children no longer need to walk three hours, some of it through dangerous terrain, to attend the nearest school.

Longer-term development

Ongoing outreach and individual community projects aside, several safari companies have established philanthropic organizations or arms with a broader purview of economic development and social services not just in the areas where they operate, but in entire countries or regions.

Micato Safaris is one of the best-known luxury safari operators, partnering with premier lodges from multiple companies in Africa and Asia to create bespoke itineraries for its guests. However, it also underwrites AmericaShare, which was founded by a Micato Safaris employee named Lorna Macleod more than 35 years ago to support both community development and access to education in Mukuru, one the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya.

Today, the philanthropy operates the Harambee Community Centre, which has library and computer facilities as well as recreational grounds, in Mukuru itself. Residents can come for a quiet place to study or work, look for employment and take advantage of other services. AmericaShare also supplies fresh, drinkable water in the area via multiple distribution points.

Guests who go on safari with Micato in Kenya get to visit the community center to learn more about its efforts and meet students who have benefited from AmericaShare’s various educational undertakings during their stay. Those include supplying school uniforms to local children, sponsoring scholarships to primary and secondary schools, and sending some of the most vulnerable children to private boarding schools around Nairobi. In fact, for every safari the company sells, Micato provides the funds to send a child to primary school.

Micato also supports other efforts like Huru International, which supplies sanitary kits and reproductive health education materials to young women (more than 210,000 to date) throughout East Africa who might otherwise have to miss school or work due to the lack of reproductive health services in rural communities. By empowering women to take their health into their own hands, Huru helps them support their families and communities (not to mention cultivating their own careers) in ways that would not otherwise be possible.

Workers make female reproductive health kits at Huru International. ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

For its part, one of the most targeted yet impactful ways Wilderness Safaris carries out its conservation mission beyond the day-to-day and lodge-specific measures it takes is through its Children in the Wilderness program, which was founded in 2001.

The program aims to cultivate new generations of homegrown conservation leaders in Africa’s rural communities by hosting student clubs at schools with activities that focus on environmental sustainability and wildlife education. Children in the Wilderness even brings kids to one of its camps on a yearly basis (7,800 to date) so they can learn firsthand about the importance of wildlife conservation. The program provides scholarships to high-achieving students, and some even return to become guides with Wilderness Safaris.

On a recent trip to Botswana, my guide at Little DumaTau, Segopotso Oja (See for short), was a former participant of Children in the Wilderness. “I was born and raised in a small village called Eretsha, located in the eastern Okavango Panhandle,” Oja told me later by email when I contacted him after my trip to ask more about his experience with Children in the Wilderness.

Wilderness Safaris guide Segopotso Oja participated in Children in the Wilderness on his path to becoming a safari guide. WILDERNESS SAFARIS

“Wilderness works closely with the community in this area, and when I was 10 years old, I was given the opportunity to join a Children in the Wilderness Eco-Camp,” Oja continued. “Here I grew to learn about and love the wild, and recognize the importance of protecting our wilderness, and this experience inspired me to pursue a career as a guide.”

Spending time in the bush helps combat some of the negative portrayals of wild animals that village children are typically taught, Oja told me. “Once they explore the wilderness, this opens their minds and changes their way of thinking to realize the value of conservation and that there are other career opportunities available to them in the conservation and hospitality space.”

Talking over the day’s sightings at Wilderness Safaris’ Little DumaTau. ERIC ROSEN/THE POINTS GUY

That’s the path that Oja himself took. He has since worked as a guide not only at Little DumaTau, but also two other Wilderness camps, Vumbura Plains and Mombo.

Oja also views his continuing role as an ambassador for Children in the Wilderness as crucial to the work he does and the future of conservation. “It gives me a chance to meet with youngsters when we host them in our camps,” Oja said, “and pass over the love of being a conservationist to the younger generation.”

Minimize your footprint and maximize your impact

Aside from picking a safari company with sustainability efforts you want to support, there are a few things you can do as a traveler to make your safari adventure more sustainable.

Long flights produce a lot of carbon, so you could consider a carbon offsetting scheme to reduce the footprint from your journey to your safari destination.

Don’t overpack since bush flights on small planes mean your luggage will be restricted anyway. What’s more, many safari camps provide free daily laundry, so you don’t have to bring too many outfits along. Plus, by limiting your luggage, you’ll reduce the amount of fuel burned on the planes carrying you to your various camps.

Among those clothes, make sure you bring some made from fabric with sun protection factor. That will reduce the amount of plastic-packaged sunblock you need to bring along. Opt for mineral-based sunscreens (look for those labeled as “reef-safe”) rather than conventional ones since the latter have chemicals that might be harmful to the environment as well as your own body chemistry, according to an increasing body of scientific evidence.

You might also want to leave your usual shampoo and conditioner at home since safari camps tend to provide eco-friendly, biodegradable products that are easier to manage waste-wise in the fragile ecosystems where they operate.

Finally, while safaris tend to be expensive, think about whether you can factor in a charitable donation to your budget. After all, if you’ve done your homework and picked a company with sustainability efforts you support, you might want to do just a little bit more good during your trip by making an unrestricted donation to the measures the group has underway.


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