Your Health

Wild Safari

IMAGE A safari can be the trip of a lifetime. However, some precautions are in order. The key to safari success is knowing what to expect before you go.

Anyone who loves nature and wildlife may dream of going on a safari to sneak up behind elephants strolling across the savannah, watch hippos bathe in a river while, nearby, a giraffe nibbles at a treetop.

Such memorable sights and experiences are almost guaranteed on safari. There, there are layers of decisions that must be made however. Which country to visit—Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya? Where might you encounter civil unrest? How do you choose a tour operator? How big a problem is malaria ? What if an elephant charges your jeep or you step on a snake?

Health Concerns

There are a range of safaris to choose from—with some being more creative than others. Conventional options include walking, driving, and photo taking safaris, but, tour companies also offer hot air balloon, canoe, cultural, and spiritual quest safaris, which focus more on sacred sites than wildlife. Regardless of which variety you choose, your safari will be an adventure. It is important that you pick a trip suited to your abilities. A walking safari, for instance, can take you through low-lying areas, or on trails higher than 10,000 feet, which can be an issue for travelers with heart or respiratory ailments.

During the day, you can expect hot weather in almost every destination with a big cool-down in the evening. Some safari companies even recommend a winter jacket. However, when it is hot, it is blazing hot—hats, sunglasses, and high-SPF sunscreens are essential.

For travel to many African countries, immunization is recommended against many diseases. For example, if you are going on safari in Kenya, the United Stateas Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that:

  • Your routine vaccines are up-to-date.—These vaccines include influenza , chickenpox , polio , measles/mumps/rubella (MMR), and diphtheria /pertussis/tetanus.
  • Most travelers get vaccinated against:
  • Some travelers get vaccinated against:
  • Malaria —Talk to your doctor about taking medications before, during, and after your trip to Kenya. This is especially true if your itinerary includes any area under 8,202 feet (2,500 meters) in altitude. Since no medication is 100% effective for protection, you will need to take other measures to avoid mosquito bites.

Talk to your doctor about where you're going, your length of stay, what your general plans are, and if you are traveling from a country outside the US. This information, along with your overall health, will help determine what vaccines you need before your trip. You should start this process as soon as you know your itinerary. Some medications may require time to build up in your system in order to work properly. Some vaccinations require shots in a series, which can take up to six months.

And in Africa, it cannot be repeated too often—use insect repellent generously and drink only bottled water. Sleeping under a bed net is not a frivolous act; it can prevent you from contracting yellow fever, dengue fever , serious infections that affect the brain, and malaria. In some countries, malaria is on the rise. Learn as much as you can about the area you are visiting and take the appropriate antimalarial medication. Typhoid fever, hepatitis A, and cholera are food- and waterborne diseases, largely preventable with normal precautions, like using bottled water and thoroughly cooking food.

Common prescription medications may not be available in some African destinations, especially in rural areas. Be sure to bring a good supply of your prescription drugs and supplements, as well as antidiarrheals, spare eyeglasses, and personal hygiene items.

If you become seriously ill or injured, contact the nearest US embassy or consulate. An officer can give you a list of reliable hospitals in the region and English-speaking doctors. They will also inform your family in the United States that you are ill. Since most doctors and hospitals expect immediate payment for treatment, consider buying travelers' health insurance for your trip.

Safety in the Bush

The level of your safety on safari depends on many factors, including the country you are visiting, your guide's experience, the amount of responsibility your touring company assumes, and the behavior of both the animals and the participants.

It should go without saying that the wildlife are not tame circus or zoo animals. They are in their home territory and you are the intruder. Most of the large animals you see on safari will attack if they think you are a threat.

No safari company can absolutely guarantee the safety of its customers. Some companies are quite open about the risks involved. A safari operator in Botswana, for instance, may provide you with armed protection against lions and leopards as you sleep out under the stars.

In some countries, civil unrest due to political, religious, or ethnic tensions can threaten visitors' safety.

In all African cities, walking alone is risky, especially in the evening. Snatching jewelry and other objects through open car windows while motorists are stopped in traffic is a common crime. Leave your jewelry at home and place your money, passport, and other documents in a shirt or belt pouch where they cannot be seen. Carry a duplicate wallet with a little cash (no more than $20). If you are robbed, hand that over to your assailants.

Your best strategy for avoiding such catastrophes is to research every aspect of your trip before you leave. Be sure the safari company is a responsible, established tour operator, and ask that your safari be conducted with at least two vehicles traveling together. Know the country you will be visiting, and take all personal safety advice seriously.

Time to Plan

If you already know which country you want to visit or which touring company you want to travel with, begin researching and planning. For the latest health information, visit the CDC's Traveler's Health website , where you can search by country. The Bureau of Consolar Affairs website is also a great resource on a country's safety, crime, and medical care. Country-specific guidebooks also provide objective information on safaris.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    http://wwwnc.cdc.gov

  • US Department of State

    http://travel.state.gov

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Public Health Agency of Canada

    http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

  • Health information for travelers to Kenya. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/kenya. Updated November 25, 2013. Accessed January 14, 2014.

  • Learn about your destination. US Passports & International Travel website. Available at: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country.html. Accessed January 14, 2014.

  • Malaria prophylaxis for travelers. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 27, 2010. Accessed January 14, 2014.

  • Mosquito avoidance. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 30, 2013. Accessed January 14, 2014.

  • Wilson B. Cholera exhausts Zimbabwean health care system. National Public Radio website. Available at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100416070. Published February 9, 2009. Accessed January 14, 2014.