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Technology, guides and Game drives

When planning a safari to Africa there are numerous things you may wish to take with you, from sun cream (essential) to khaki shorts and wide brimmed hats. However, in our tech savvy world, the need to integrate technology with all that we do can make the experience more interactive. As such a safari experience can easily be enhanced by taking along the right gadgets for the ride and using the right Apps. As a guest though, do you really want your guide to also be using his smart phone and apps? Each lodge may have their own policy regarding this but if this helps our connection to the bush and a better understanding of it……why not?

Seems as though everyone has a smart phone these days, including kids that know how to use them better than their parents. They can come in very handy when abroad through their ability to cross language barriers and offer access to information at the push of a button or rather touch of a screen.

Some awesome APPS……

The night sky in Africa is always a sight to behold and the remote darkness allows you to fully appreciate it. With a mass of stars and constellations to see as well as planets, apps like Google Sky Map for android and Star Walk for iPhone can assist. Others include Star Walk or Stellarium… the live feed also comes complete with diagrams, assisting you to see the various constellations and as you move your phone across the night skies these change to show you which constellations they are.

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There is also a wide variety of wildlife related apps that can be very useful in the field. Two of the most popular for birding are The Sasol and Roberts bird guides, which can be more useful than a text book and saves you carrying around a heavy book. They offer good quality photos and have the bird calls available. For guides, the calls can be used on drives or walks as a demonstration for your guest and to assist people in identifying birds by their calls, but it’s important to remember, guiding ethics as well as the policy of the reserve. BirdLaser, is an amazing app that helps you keep track of your birds lists in various areas, countries, reserves, parks and conservation areas. You can boast to your bird watching friends and keep track of the number of rare and endangered birds you have seen.

Similarly the eGuide to Mammlas of Southern Africa can make for a great companion when people need to identify the many mammals of Southern Africa and offers more insight into the animals.

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When it comes to tree’s, the Tree ID (eTrees of Southern Africa) can also be very helpful and a great way to look up and remember specific species. As a guide you can show your guests pictures and explain their medicinal properties with references.

Game Drive is an amazing app to learn about southern African animals while on safari. Developed as an interactive tool to get the most out of a visit to a game reserve, the app includes animal tracks, quizzes, a checklist, animal comparisons, game drive tips, animal sounds (of the animals that make sounds), as well as beautiful images of African mammals and birds.

The obvious and classical additions………

  • Binoculars – One of the must have pieces of safari tech is a decent pair of binoculars. You may find yourself just metres away from an amazing sighting and to get close up views of these animals can enhance the sighting. It’s here that a good pair of binoculars can really make a difference. These are also fantastic for birding and stargazing.
  • Camera – These days most people are using their smart phones to take photos. However, for those serious wildlife photographers you can save your incredible safari moments and capture them with an extraordinary picture. When on game drive there will be daily game drives that present the opportunity to take some beautiful wildlife shots. For some guides who have taken a particular interest in Wildlife Photography, it can add to their range of skills and employability but giving lodges content for the website, blogs and social media platforms. Not only this but their photos can turn into a profitable hobby by selling prints in the lodge curio shops or going blogs and write ups for various magazines. They also have a better understanding of what their ‘photography’ guests need and what their requirements are.

Unexpected options……..

  • Night Vision Binoculars or Monoculars – If you are into night drives and prefer to see the more primal side of the African Bush, a good pair of Night Vision Binoculars or Monoculars can give you this ‘new view’. Not only will you get a great view of the game you can do so without disturbing nocturnal animals with spotlights.

For guides looking for an extra advantage!

  • Trail Cameras – If you want to know what’s happening around camp when you are not out on drive you or use this for live streaming on your website, a trail camera can provide the answers and keep you up to speed with animal movements. Equipped with a motion sensor and capable of taking stills and video, a trail camera can capture the hidden wildlife interactions that would otherwise go unseen should humans be active in the area.
  • Laser Pointer – a concentrated beam of light that enables a guide to point of out specific stars or features, such as Omega Centauri or the Andromeda Galaxy. However, as with all things, one must be ethical and safe when using this equipment because such is the strength of the beam it can easily blind someone if accidentally shined in their eyes.  The beam on a standard laser pointer can reach in excess of 10kms and there have been issues with people shining them at airplanes, thus disturbing pilots, and are no illegal in some countries.
  • An ultra violet torch is a great aid on a summer’s night as all scorpions’ glows with a fluorescent yellow/green light when exposed to the beam. This is an invaluable tool to help find some of these nocturnal masters of disguise!  No one really knows why they glow like this but the various theories include intra-species communication, an advanced form of aposematic colouration and mate attraction.

Both can be picked up at any outdoor/camping shop for a very reasonable price!

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While a safari is very much about getting back to nature, integrating a little bit of technology into the mix can add a fun new dimension that can truly enhance the safari experience.

However, with the access to technology comes a certain amount of responsibility, as has become evident in the Kruger National Park over the past few months. Sightings apps have become very popular to assist people in finding out what sightings there have been in the park and where. This has in some instances led to overcrowding at sightings and people making use of the information to speed from sighting to sighting. The response from the South African National Parks is to look into potentially banning the use of these apps, as the bad behaviour of a few have had a negative impact for many, including the Parks Board other visitors and most importantly the wildlife.

Remember, time spent in the bush should be a learning experience, it should involve a bit of luck, a bit of intuition and a good guide to get the sightings you hope for, sightings which should never be guaranteed. While technology has created many great opportunities, we need to keep in mind that technology used properly can benefit us all but technology abused will negatively affect us all.

2016-01-26 09.10.00