Seeing wild animals with your own eyes is an exhilarating and unforgettable experience and one of Africa’s main attractions as a holiday destination. Luckily, the Masai Mara boasts some of the best game viewing that Africa has to offer. It comes with the territory that there’s no guaranteeing how close you’ll get to the animals in the Reserve. However, when it comes to spotting wild animals, there are certain things you can do to maximise your chances of seeing them. Top of the list is to make sure you explore with an expert. Our experienced rangers have learnt a few tips along the way and here are their best ones.
This may sound obvious, but ensure you book on tours which take you to see animals in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, there are many unethical and ingenuine wildlife tours that may sound more authentic than they are – opportunities to take rides on, feed or even stroke animals are clear signs of a venue that houses captive as opposed to truly wild animals.
In order to truly enjoy wildlife viewing, ensure you’re watching animals in their natural environment where they are protected and left to be as nature intended. Safaris, whale watching and snorkelling are some of the best ways to see animals feeding, playing and interacting in their natural home. Look for wildlife watching holidays and tours with a focus on conserving natural areas and which prioritise the protection of these animals, following clear safety and conservation protocols.
Often communities coexist with surrounding wildlife and that includes those within nature reserves and game parks. Choose treks and tours which employ local people as this way you are helping to support the local community and environment as well as ethical wildlife conservation. In this way, wildlife watching can overlap with ecotourism to make an active contribution to the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage of an area.
Whatever destination you choose, the time of year affects the species and number of animals you’ll have the opportunity to see. Consider which species or behaviours you want to see most by researching when is the best time to go wildlife spotting so you know when to go for the most rewarding experience.
Many African countries, including Kenya and Rwanda are home to a breathtaking array of habitats and there’s always something to see no matter what time you visit. Other countries have much more structured seasons, such as the Asian countries which often close national parks to tourists during monsoon seasons, or whale migrations in Australia.
The growth of nature tourism over recent years also means that there are spikes in tourists at certain times of the year, such as during holidays and festivals. While visiting nature reserves at popular times can’t always be avoided, try to opt to go at quieter times and for a more intimate wildlife watching experience instead of trying to jostle with numerous other tourists.
The time of day you choose to go wildlife spotting has a huge impact on the variety and number of animals you can see. The majority of wild animals are awake and active at antisocial hours, which means that you’re going to have to be willing to get up early or stay up late for the best chance of seeing them up close. Wildlife tours which operate at dawn and dusk are often reliable options as this is when a lot of animals feed. In hotter climates, many species rest during the heat of the day so you’re unlikely to spot many if you go wildlife watching during the daytime.
As much as you want to take in the experience of seeing wild animals with your own eyes, it is also a good idea to bring along some additional equipment to help you make the most out of your viewing experience. Bringing along a reliable pair of binoculars, spotting scopes or a digital camera with an impressive zoom lens can all help you to see and capture those mesmerising moments of seeing beautiful animals in the flesh.
When it comes to choosing what to wear, the more important thing to remember is to make sure you are comfortable. Wildlife watching is an awe-inspiring experience, so it is understandable to want to take pictures during your tour. However, wearing your best outfit might not be the smartest move. For certain tours you might be trekking animals on foot and might have to move stealthily in order to get closer to the animals, which is hard to do if you aren’t dressed for the occasion.
Bright, colourful clothing is also more likely to deter than attract wild animals. In nature, bright colours such as red, yellow and blue often warn predators that an animal is toxic or dangerous. So wearing vibrant clothing might cause animals to stay further away in fear of you being potentially dangerous. By dressing in earth-toned clothing, you can camouflage into the environment and be less noticeable to wildlife. It’s also a good idea to avoid wearing strong smells from colognes, perfumes and beauty products as these can be picked up by animals with keen senses of smell.
A little knowledge goes a long way when it comes to spotting animals, especially smaller ones that are hard to see at first. Bringing along wildlife spotting sheets and field guides can help you identify different species of animals much quicker, especially at a distance. They also give you an idea of the types of animals you can expect to see in that environment and what to look out for.
Reading up on the species of animals you might see will also help give you insight into the lives of the animals – what they eat, where they rest during the day time etc. This knowledge can help you to make smart decisions when wildlife watching and trekking that could prove the difference between being rewarded with an invaluable sighting and a no-show.
When you go wildlife viewing for the first time, it can be infuriating if it takes a while to spot your first animal. It’s important to remember that you are trying to see wild animals, not zoo animals in a cage. The animals may not be obviously visible at first, all it takes is a little patience and you’ll be rewarded with a sighting you’ve been waiting for. When you do see a wild animal close up for the first time, it’ll be totally worth the wait. Be aware of sights and sounds that can give you a hint that a wild animal is not far away, as often you will hear more than you see.
To finish off our expert tips for a better wildlife spotting experience, we’ve put together a list of essential things not to do on your trip.
At each of the Governors Camp Collection properties in Kenya and Rwanda, we tailor our activities to ensure that our clients have an enriching and spectacular wildlife spotting holiday. Located in some of East Africa’s more impressive Wildlife Areas, our luxury safari camps place you in the heart of breathtaking and unspoiled natural beauty. Not only that, but you’ll also be supporting the local communities thanks to the culture of sustainable ecotourism Governors’ Camp has been at the forefront of developing over the last 40 years. From day and night game viewing and walking safaris to cultural tours & gorilla trekking, each of our award-winning wildlife viewing and safari activities gives you the thrilling experience of seeing the magnificent animals in their natural habitat.
At Governors’ Camp, we always strive – where possible – to ensure the best opportunities for game viewing, so that all our guests encounter nature and the wild in the ways they dreamed they would. To find out more, explore our unique wildlife spotting experiences and safaris or learn more about our story here.
Header image by Will Fortescue.