Everyone probably has their own way of planning a safari. On the one hand, there are those that book a safari the same way they would a restaurant. They have heard a rumour that a particular restaurant serves good food and so they book without knowing anything else other than its contact details. They have some good meals and some bad ones.
Then there are some people who almost invariably eat at McDonalds. There is at least one in every town. The meals are inexpensive, the service is quick and you know what you are going to get. There are still others who know, well before hand, exactly what they would like to eat and, in fact, can probably tell you which wine they propose drinking with which course and why. They book well in advance and would rather eat one good meal a quarter than take potluck once a week. These are people who are often passionate about food, discuss it with their friends, read about it and, probably, cook themselves. Although they do not necessarily live to eat, eating for them is more than just about satisfying hunger pangs.
As James Mellon wrote nearly 30 years ago in African Hunter, the bible on hunting on this continent, ‘Oh what traps and snares there are in the wilderness of possible safari arrangements!’ Today, his comments are even more relevant as hunting has become a very expensive pastime. And the more sought after the trophy, the more expensive it becomes. At the end of the day, only an extremely wealthy person, with masses of time on his hands, can afford to book a safari without careful research. In fact, there are only three things you need to know about booking a safari – research, research and research.
My research begins with a decision to hunt one or more particular animals. Like many of the stories that I write, this begins with a vague idea which, every now and then, pops out of my sub-conscience. When this starts to happen with greater frequency, I start to pay attention and actively begin thinking about hunting those particular animals. I normally start my research with the animals themselves. I glean what I can from the record books, namely, Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game and SCI’s Record Book of Trophy Animals.
From there I turn to The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion by Skinner or some such other reference book and, of course, the internet and Wikipedia are also good if somewhat generalized starting points. Then, if I am still interested, I will dig further. By now, I have a reasonable idea of the animal, its habitat and, in which countries it can be found, and then I really get to work.
I confess, it is easy for me to become passionate about a given animal for a whole host of reasons. However, I try not to forget about the other animals that might occupy the same habitat as the one(s) I am particularly looking for or that I may find in the same vicinity. For example, you may be mad keen about hunting lesser kudu in Tanzania’s Masailand but there are also good fringe-eared oryx, gerenuk, Coke’s hartebeest and Patterson’s eland on offer. It would be silly to neglect these animals and, sometime later, have to book a second safari to the same area to complete a collection of oryx or eland, for example.