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Planning your east African Safari

Costs: The costs for an East African safari can be broken up into three major components:

Park fees. These include entry fees per head (between 60 to 80 US$ per head per day for non residents), Vehicle entry fee per day, Lodging concessions etc. These are all the fees that have to be paid to the government. 

There is nothing one can do about the Park fees so it’s best to ignore it.

Accommodation and meals. Generally speaking, better locations have more expensive camps. Sometimes this may be irrespective of the luxury offered. There would be many camps, lodges and resorts that are located in “not so good” locations. These usually offer great deals, luxury and comfort. 

Since most of the reserves are huge, it is better to be in a camp / lodge that is closer to the action, even though it may be more expensive. The safaris start at sunrise and finish at sunset. So if you not close to the heart of the action you will most probably spend the early hours of the mornings and late evenings “commuting” instead of taking pictures. I personally would prefer to rough it out in a public or private campsite, close to the action, with my own dome tent than stay in a fancy resort two hours drive away.

Safari vehicle and guides. There are essentially three types of cars that do the safaris in east Africa. Toyota Vans and Toyota Land cruisers / Nissan Patrols. The vans are the cheapest to rent (about 125 to 150 US$ per day) while the Land cruisers / Nissans are the most expensive (about US $ 300 per day or more). Beside these two kinds of vehicles, many camps / lodges run safaris in Land rover Defenders. These vehicles are almost always based in the reserves, as they are not very good for taking you from one reserve to another. If you have a trained and registered guide as your driver then it costs about US$ 25 per day more. Drivers, who “claim” to be registered guides, drive most of the vehicles in east Africa. A proper registered guide would have an ID card from the Kenyan Professional Safari Guide Association (KPSGA). 

You can save a lot of money by hiring a van but these are not so good for photography or serious wildlife viewing. The vans generally tend to stay on the established dirt roads and tracks inside the reserves. There are many rougher tracks that the vans cannot go on. These established tracks and roads are the busiest parts of the reserves. The only decent vehicles for the more serious people are the Toyota Land Cruisers, Nissan Patrols or Land rover Defenders – I call them the “big three” and they are specially modified for the safaris. These usually seat 7 or 9 people (including the driver) so one-way to cut costs is to share the vehicle between 2 to 6 people. I would recommend not more than 4 (plus the driver) in a vehicle and ideally just 3 if all three were photographers (as all of them will get window on either side of the vehicle to shoot from plus the entire “pop up open” roof top). In no case would I recommend more than 6 people (plus the driver) in one vehicle.

Sunworld Safari Land Cruiser

Sunworld Safari Land Cruiser - These are some of the best vehicles for an African safari, specially when they are driven by a KPSGA approved guide.

 

Photographers: For someone who is going to east Africa for the first time, someone who just wants to see all the different big mammals (the “big five” variety), someone who is not into serious photography and does not mind large number of vehicles around – vans are not a bad option at all. For someone like this the location of the camp / resort / lodge does not matter either. In eastern Africa you are going to see a mind-boggling number of large mammals, come whatever may.
However the above plan will not work if you are either into some serious wildlife viewing or a photographer. In this case, you have to be based in a good location and have to have your own Land Cruiser / Land Rover / Nissan Patrol. In most parts of the world you have to pay more for “prime wildlife” and this is particularly true for east Africa, more so for photographers. “Cheap” is an option that a wildlife photographer just cannot afford. When you go “cheap” you still end up spending a lot of money without getting many great pictures to show for it. You might as well spend a few hundred dollars more per week and get it right. If budgets are really tight then spend a few days less and few dollars more while you are there. Especially since the difference between cheap and great is just about US$ 50 or so more per day.

Mileage restrictions: Most of the trips that are offered by tour operators and lodges run only the morning and evening safaris, to save on costs and make the itinerary cheaper. Most such people fix (what is locally known there as) "mileage restrictions" on the vehicle. This is normally 80 or 120 kilometers a day. To stay within the mileage the drivers usually stay close to the camp or lodge, which is never ideal. Make sure you have a vehicle with unrestricted mileage.

Standard Safari v/s Private safari: The standard east African safaris that are offered by most tour operators or lodges / camps include stay and all meals usually in places that are pretty far away from the action. Depending on the money you pay the stay can be cheap (under US $ 100 for stay and meals) to very expensive (over US $ 500 for stay and meals). Besides you will get two safaris, one in the morning and one in the evening, in either a van or a four wheel drive vehicle (again depending on the money you pay) with other people who are sharing the tour or staying in the same place. The vehicle will almost always have a mileage restriction. Most people who visit east Africa end up with doing something similar.

If you want to do it in style then go for what is known as a private safari – which means that you will have a four wheel drive all to yourself. Besides, this vehicle would be driven by a guide (and not a driver), will not have any mileage restrictions and you will almost always be staying in great locations. Private safaris are obviously more expensive but one way to make them affordable is to get together a personal group of 3 to 6 people.

masai mara

Locational advantage and example: The main action in Masai Mara specially during the annual wildebeest migration is in the parts that are highlighted within the bold yellow line. If you not staying within or close to this highlighted part then you are too far off for serious photography. It often takes two hours or more to drive from some of the more distant camps / resorts to this action spot. 

Seasons Greetings

Merry Christmas and a Happy New year from the team at the Bagh Safari.

 

Aditya Singh's interview in Education Times

Publication: The Times Of India Mumbai;  Date: Dec 20, 2011;  Section: Education Times;  Page: 44 


EXPERT EYE
Snapshots in the wild
Giving up a high salaried conventional career in civil services, Aditya Singh followed his heart to become a wildlife photographer. Seema Khinnavar trails his journey

    Winner of this year’s Sanctuary Call of the Wild Photography Award, Aditya Singh, is a true case of following one’s heart. Like every ‘good’ student, Singh was readying himself for a steady income job in the civil services. However, he soon realised that civil services was not his true calling and moved to Ranthambhore to set up a tourism business. He talks about his passion for wildlife photography.

How was the transition from engineering to civil service to wildlife photography?

While studying for civil service exam, I did not really know what I wanted to do in life. I cleared the exams and even completed my training. However, I soon quit and moved to Ranthambhore to practice my hobby of wildlife photography. What started of as a hobby became a serious passion and I am now trying hard to turn it into a profession.

What is the scope of a career in wildlife photography?

Wildlife photography on its own does not offer many career opportunities. There are less than 20 professional wildlife photographers in the world. However, spin offs of wildlife photography is becoming big business all over, even in India. These include business of running photography workshops, photo safaris and so on. One has to keep in mind that wildlife photography is a specialisation in the larger field of photography. There are lots of career opportunities in photography and they are growing.

Photographic skills apart, what other qualities that wildlife photographer should have? Is there a specific course for wildlife photography?

You have to be a naturalist to be a wildlife photographer. If you do not know the subject (wildlife in this case) then chances are that you will never become a decent wildlife photographer. You also need to be very patient. Success will not come overnight and it may take years to get a decent portfolio of wildlife images. There are lots of courses for photography but sadly none for wildlife photography in India. Most wildlife photographers all over the world are self taught.

What kind of assignments can students interested in wildlife photography take up?

Lately many Indian media publications are offering

paid assignments for wildlife photographers. However, most of the times one is shooting stock images that may or may not be published. One usually gives these stock images to image libraries for sale and gets paid as and when they sell.

What advice would you give to those who want to pursue wildlife photography seriously?

Learn the technical part of photography, which I think is the east part, before you even head to the field. Keep at it and keep experimenting. It takes a long time to get good. And yes it is very expensive so get a budget together.

What are you working on currently?

I do a lot of work as a field assistant for documentary film makers and right now am working on three such projects. These documentaries will soon be broadcasted on National Geographic, BBC, Discovery and Animal Planet. I am also working on building up my photo base of Ranthambhore, something that I have been doing for a decade.

Does tiger tourism really help in the conservation of the forest or is it a mere nuisance for the animals?

Yes. Whether we admit it or not wildlife tourism is the most potent conservation tool in India. See the tiger population. It has stayed stable in the popular tiger parks for over two decades, while tigers were getting decimated in the lesser known reserves. The popular tourist parks are saturated with tigers and have stayed that way for over two decades while the increase in numbers could not be absorbed by adjoining forests where tourists do not go. Tourism all over the world is seen as a potent conservation tool while in India it is seen as a menace. I find it surprising that something that works all over the world fails to do so in India. There must be something wrong in our policy for that to happen.

 


Aditya Singh’s award winning picture of a confrontation between a mother sloth bear and a tiger

 

 

bear tiger fight in Ranthambhore India

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