Origin Of African Safaris - WILD VOYAGER
Origins of African Safari

Origins of African Safari

Out of all the places, Africa is chosen as the number one destination to enjoy genuine safaris due to its richness in flora and fauna. African safaris have a huge impact on the continent’s tourism industry. Millions of tourists from all around the globe visit Africa to witness the beautiful wildlife species in the wilderness. Whether it is the animated movie ‘The Lion King’ released in 1994 or the documentary safari movies such as ‘BBC Africa’ of 2013, people are aware of the African continent’s overflowing beauty.

Giraffes in Tanzania
Giraffes in Tanzania

During the earlier times, African safaris were captured in films and photographs. Only the privileged were allowed to travel to Africa and embark on safaris.  However, the African safaris of the past were entirely different than what we see today. Having an understanding of the origin of African safaris is helpful in enhancing the next trip to the continent. Here is a brief history about safaris in Africa:

The meaning of ‘Safari’

Safari is a Swahili word which means ‘journey’. It originally emerged from the Arabic noun ‘safar’ which means travel, journey, or trip. The verb ‘to travel’ when translated in Swahili is ‘Kusafiri’. In its original context, safari is referred to long travel distances people would undertake for trade or any type of migration. Presently, safari is often connected with luxury lodges, tents, game drives, backpacking and more.

The origin of African safaris

Today, African Safaris are defined as overland journeys undertaken to observe diverse animals residing in their natural habitats in different parts of Africa. However, this was not the case hundreds of years ago.

Elephant tusks being traded during the colonial times in Africa
Elephant tusks being traded during the colonial times in Africa

The earliest record or the primary interest of safaris was focused on trade or trading routes. The African and Arabic culture was closely intertwined, indicating that people or traders travelled long distances across different cities to spread their culture.  It was during the 18th century that trading flourished and became a successful business. Unfortunately, along with commodities, people were also traded and sold. During the colonial period, European safari caravans came into picture wherein large scale operations, such as huge crews, supplies and weapons, were involved.

Fortunately, this safari synonymous to slave trade ended before the 20th century and changed its focus from business to exploration. Missionaries, adventurers and explorers wandered throughout Africa and marveled at the richness of the continent. Early naturalists redefined the purpose of safari and helped in discovering, identifying and studying various species of animals, birds and plant life.

Hunting safaris

With the new change in safaris, however, came about hunting expeditions born in East Africa. The word ‘safari’ was attached with a negative connotation- a journey enjoyed to hunt or hunting of animals. Instead of the elaborate safaris seen in the present, Europeans embarked on wildlife safaris not just to witness animals up-close but also to hunt them. So, along with naturalists came the hunters and safari was commonly associated with ‘hunting’. These hunters collected animals like trophies and boasted about conquering them. In many cases, there were year long expeditions where wealthy western travelers explored Africa with a rifle strapped onto their back.

Ernest Hemmingway during one of his hunts in Africa
Ernest Hemmingway during one of his hunts in Africa

The event of hunting safaris or trophy hunting was greatly seen during the years 1837 to 1901 (the Victorian era). Explorers, traders and aristocratic sportsmen generally bought back stories about the epic adventures of hunting animals in Africa which fascinated the common people. Hunters such as William Cornwallis Harris not only targeted the big game which are lion, leopard, elephant, black rhinoceros and the African buffalo but also documented his killings to showcase to the people. Similarly, writer Ernest Hemmingway hunted different animals and described his experiences in the novel ‘Green Hills of Africa’. These instances that romanticized hunting in the African continent was immensely enjoyed by the members of privileged classes of America and Europe.

A shift to modern safari 

While Harris was famed for his infamous hunting, he was also responsible for introducing the movement of conservation which helped saved pillaged areas of Africa and the local wildlife. Protecting the wildlife also meant changing the customs of the local cultures in East Africa. Few indigenous groups hunted the lion as a tradition to perform rituals. As animal species became endangered, the local government started co-operating with local tribes to put an end to such hunting practices.

One of the many conservation projects in South Africa
One of the many conservation projects in South Africa

African safaris in the present times

Going on safaris today takes on a different connotation. Modern day safari in the present means actively participating in sustaining African economies, supporting wildlife conservation and the local communities. Safaris continue to take place in the African savannah with the objective of wildlife viewing but instead, the animals are captured through cameras and not weapons.

A modern day African safari
A modern day African safari

Safari companies actively contribute towards conservation projects or generate tourist revenue which is used to manage game reserves and wildlife schemes in Africa. The emergence of eco-tourism has led to development of environmental friendly safari travel. In addition to game drives, visitors can enjoy experiencing local African cultures, exploring natural wonders, sightseeing and participating in various outdoor activities.

A ranger observes an elephant at Djuma Game Reserve, South Africa
A ranger observes elephants at Djuma Game Reserve, South Africa

The African safaris of today are all about conservation and strengthening the local communities. There are several positive trends transforming traditional safaris for the better. Some of them involve empowering local women, stronger community action, anti-poaching innovations, emergence of lesser-known safari destinations in Africa, and sustainable sightings.

The 21st century African safari offers unforgettable memories in the African bush, once-in-a-lifetime animal encounters and authentic cultural interactions. As Jonathan Safran Foer aptly remarks, ‘If the thrill of hunting were in the hunt, or even in the marksmanship, a camera would do just as well.’


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Wild Voyager Team

The blogging team at Wild Voyager. We are explorers at heart and we love to share our travel stories and destination knowledge with you, which often serve as an inspiration for the life changing journeys we curate. When you decide to embark on one such life changing journey, our travel experience designers at letstalk@wildvoyager.com will be happy to get you started.

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