The best safari destinations in Africa. Which country is best for hunting, photography and for the big five? Expert Professional Hunter Robin Hurt reveals the top spots for superb safari.
Best safari destination; is it Zambia or Zimbabwe? Cameroon or the Congo? Once the British shooting and hunting seasons have drawn to a close it is time to think foreign game in warmer climes. Whether you have a hunting or photographic safari in mind the big five are becoming harder to pin-point. So which is the best safari destinaiton in Africa? The very best person to take advice from is Robin Hurt, currently enjoying his 51st season as a Professional Hunter. Here is his expert guide on where to go and what to see.
Africa encompasses desert, rainforest, swamp and savannah. The wildlife ranges from a seven-ton elephant bull to the royal antelope, which can fit in the palm of a man’s hand.
What follows is a list of the main countries that allow safari hunting and some that don’t.
BEST SAFARI DESTINATIONS
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR)
One of the best safari destinations for hunting but in the throes of a religious civil war. Habitat consists of rain-forest and savannah woodland. At one time one of the best countries in which to hunt for a forest elephant with huge tusks. Elephant here are mostly poached out. Hunting is not closed but anyone venturing here should check with their home country as to safety. A top safari destination for bongo, Lord Derby (giant) eland and other forest and savannah game. A vast country with low human population.
Politically unstable at this time.
Another of the best safari destinations for hunting. Similar to CAR with regard to wildlife and habitat. No major unrest. Excellent bongo-, forest sitatunga- and giant eland-hunting.
Politically mostly stable.
The last stronghold of the forest elephant. The elephant population has been reduced from 80,000 three years ago to half that number today. Unchecked poaching the cause. No safari hunting allowed.
Wildlife includes dwarf buffalo and elephant. Hippo are readily spotted along the Atlantic coast. A must-see for the adventurous.
Politically mostly stable.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (formerly Zaire)
Has been ravished by poaching. Little wildlife remains except in extremely remote areas where, no doubt, forest animals such as bongo survive. Elephant have almost been eliminated by commercial ivory poaching while the bushmeat trade has dramatically reduced all other wildlife numbers. Home to the okapi antelope of the Ituri forest, now critically endangered.
A top hunting safari destination. A beautiful country with a fine wildlife conservation policy. Heavily populated by humans but wildlife remains abundant in well-policed, protected areas. The diverse habitats, including forested mountains, swamps and lakes, desert plains and vast mountain ranges, lead to a wide-ranging species count. The premier trophy animal in this country is the mountain nyala. Elephant-hunting is closed (Ethiopia has some of the biggest tuskers left in Africa). Other native animals include the Simien ibex, Simien wolf and Gelada baboon – all heavily protected .
Wildlife numbers remain abundant in the Danakil, Omo and other remote areas. Good choice for plains game such as gerenuk, lesser kudu and Beisa oryx. Superb giant forest hog and huge leopard. Crocodile often exceed 17ft.
Politically stable except where it borders Somalia and South Sudan.
Newly independent. The wildlife has been ravished by civil war but pockets remain. The Boma plateau still has the annual white-eared kob migration numbering almost a million animals. The elephant population has been destroyed by poaching and only some thousand animals survive in the in-accessible Sudd swamp. The northern white rhino has been poached to extinction.
Habitat ranges from rainforest to savannah woodland to swamps. Closed to safari hunting.
Habitat consists mostly of true desert with some savannah woodland. It is a prime destination for Barbary sheep and Nubian ibex in the Nubian desert and Red Sea hills respectively.
In the Sahara desert, the scimitar oryx and addax are extinct – hunted out by people using Jeeps and automatic guns.
One of the best safari destinations for photographers. Some bird-shooting with a licensed guide but closed to hunting since 1977. Wildlife numbers have since been depleted by human encroachment on the wilderness but mostly through poaching. In the Kenya of my youth, we had islands of people surrounded by a sea of wildlife. Today the opposite is true. Game populations generally have dropped by up to 70% over the past 38 years – all in a period of no legal hunting.
Kenya had Africa’s finest wildlife numbers and species. Recently, limited user rights have been restored to landowners so they can manage and cull some species of wildlife on their own land, with quotas and under supervision of the wildlife service. This is a step in the right direction. One of the best photographic safari destinations for the “ Big Five”. The Mara, Meru, Aberdare, Samburu and Tsavo are the most popular parks but private conservancies such as Borana and Lewa Downs are growing in popularity, in particular for their rhino conservation programmes. Rhino numbers (combined black and white) are about 800 animals. Elephant numbers stand at just over 20,000. If, as rumoured, Kenya reopens safari hunting, there will be a rush of hunters wanting to hunt the biggest buffalo in Africa.
Politically northeast Kenya is unstable.
Another of the best safari destinations for photography and a limited amount of hunting. In this beautiful country, heavily populated by people, the game fields are restricted to small “islands” of protected areas. There are specialised hunts for plains game, Uganda kob and both East African and island sitatunga and superb viewing of mountain gorilla in the Virunga National Park. Murchison Falls is a must-see. There are significant big-game numbers in this park again, having recovered from the destruction of wildlife under Idi Amin’s reign. A rhino relocation project is up and running in Murchison Falls Park. Queen Elizabeth Park is also well worth a visit.
Politically northern Uganda is unstable.
One of the best safari destinations for hunting and photography. The last of the traditional East African safari countries open to classic big-game hunting. The best country in Africa for buffalo, lion, leopard and plains game such as gerenuk, lesser kudu, sable, roan and sitatunga. Elephant trophies cannot be imported into the US. Elephant poaching has led to a large decline in numbers. The government has hugely stepped up anti-poaching efforts. Black rhino numbers remain at fewer than a hundred. There are no white rhino. Hunting areas are allocated to safari operators on a five-year basis. Hunting companies are obliged by law to have community programmes to encourage local people to steward the wildlife.
Tanzania has more lion than the whole of the rest of Africa put together and is one of the best countries to safari in. The country ranges from high montane rain forest to Brachystegia (Miombo) woodland to open savannah and plains and swamps. Home to some of Africa’s finest national parks and game reserves, including the Selous, Tarangire, Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Ruaha, Katavi and Rungwa, and friendly people.
Perhaps the most expensive hunting safari destination, being one of the last countries to offer remote wilderness, huge game populations and traditional safari camps under canvas. You certainly get what you pay for.
One of the best safari destinations for hunting. Big-game numbers were ravished by civil war although the remote Nyasa Reserve was, until recently, relatively unscathed. Civil wars and wildlife never have a happy ending, the elephant ivory being used to pay for arms and meat from other game to feed troops.
But Mozambique’s wildlife has made a remarkable recovery apart from the elephant herds in the northern areas on the Ruvuma river, where there is unchecked poaching. Habitat ranges from open gallery-type savannah woodland to coastal rainforest and swamp. A good destination to hunt for buffalo, lion, leopard and plains game such as nyala, sable and kudu.
REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA
Another of the best safari destinations for hunting and photography. Has a reputation for “canned” hunting. This does occur but is by no means applicable to the whole safari industry; most operators offer fair-chase hunting. South Africa is currently the number-one safari hunting destination.
Lots of game and diverse habitat. The wildlife conservation policy is exemplary in that it allows private ownership of wildlife. This has led to a hugely profitable wildlife industry and a dramatic increase in wildlife numbers. For example, prior to the First World War, there were only a handful of white rhino surviving south of the Limpopo river. Today there are an estimated 20,000-plus although poaching is accounting for a loss of three animals a day. One of the few African countries where all the “Big Five”can still be hunted. Good destination for kudu, nyala, gemsbok and eland.
Politically stable but crime rife in some big cities.
A top hunting and photographic safari destination. Great elephant- hunting. Game available on licence includes elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, hippo, crocodile and plains game. The US dollar is now the legal traded currency for the country and safari costs are reasonable when compared to other prime destinations. Victoria Falls is spectacular and a must-see.
Hunting is on both government hunting blocks and private land. Varied and beautiful landscape. Wilderness is mostly unspoilt.
Politically stable in the main.
A top photographic safari destination. Limited hunting. Bordering Zimbabwe on the north side of the Zambezi river and sharing the Victoria Falls, this country has re-opened safari hunting. However, elephant, lion and leopard remain closed. Plentiful hippo and crocodile. Lots of buffalo.
The best hunting areas are in the Luangwa Valley and in the Kafue region. The Benguelu flats offer the finest sitatunga-hunting and black lechwe. The long-horned Kafue red lechwe is prolific in the Kafue flats while areas bordering the Kafue Park boast Africa’s longest horned sable antelope (apart from the endangered and protected Angolan giant sable).
A wildlife paradise, Zambia also offers great photographic safari opportunities. Relatively low human population means low encroachment by people into the wilderness.
A top photographic safari destination and home to the only inland delta in the world – the Okavango.
Until the end of 2013, this country was one of the finest for hunting safaris. Today all hunting is closed, except for plains game-hunting on private land. However, with an elephant population of 130,000 and growing in the Okavango region, one wonders how long the ban can last. My guess is that out of management necessity elephant-hunting will be reopened within the next few years. Meanwhile, this country is intolerant of poaching and uses its well-equipped army effectively against poachers.
One can understand the putting aside of the whole Okavango delta for photographic safaris as this beautiful, waterland paradise is eminently more suited to this activity than hunting. But the surrounding Mopane woodland holds too many elephant in an area totally unsuited to photographic tourism. Let’s see what happens.
Habitat includes the Kalahari desert, the Okavango delta wetlands and the Chobe river wetlands. Wildlife is varied, ranging from the big cats to oryx and springbok in the desert and elephant and buffalo in the delta.
One of the best safari destinations for photography and hunting. The most “hunter friendly” country in Africa and the continent’s new hot spot for tourism, Namibia is Africa’s leader in community wildlife conservation projects. The country is home to almost 3,000 free-ranging, desert-adapted black rhino.
Private ownership of wildlife is encouraged, resulting in huge and growing numbers. There is hunting on private land and government-allocated concession areas. The “Big Five” can be hunted, subject to CITES and local quotas.
The habitat consists of desert, savannah woodland and riverine wetlands in the Caprivi (now Zambezi district) along the Chobe and Kwando rivers.
Namibia can be justifiably proud of its conservation through wise use policy and serves as an example to other countries of how to manage wildlife for the betterment of humans.
Poaching of rhino and elephant occurs but with strict game laws and a corruption-free wildlife department, one is hopeful that this will not escalate. There are around 500 white rhino in private ownership. Elephant numbers in the Caprivi are increasing and there are more cheetah than in the rest of Africa combined. Leopard are common but shy.
As the least densely populated country in Africa with just over two million people, there is little threat to wildlife habitat through encroachment on the wilderness.
Photographic opportunities abound with the Skeleton Coast, the Atlantic seaboard, the Namib desert and the northern wetlands offering a unique African vista.
Politically stable .
Another wildlife paradise ruined by civil war. Currently not one of the best safari destinations due to unmapped land-mines in the bush. Officially not open for safari hunting but not banned by law. Wildlife numbers are increasing and from what Angolan game guards told me recently on the border shared with Namibia, poaching is not tolerated. Along that border we saw a large amount of wildlife, including elephant, buffalo, sable antelope and other plains game.
Operators are seeking concessions from the government but success will also depend on CITES issuing quotas. Angola is home to the rare and magnificent giant sable antelope.
Politically stable in most parts but remote areas should be treated as risky.
Liberia, Ghana and some other western African countries allow a limited amount of hunting. Not having been there, I can’t comment.
SAFARI HUNTING OR CONSERVATION?
Robin Hurt delivers his considered opinion.
During my last 51 years as a Professional Hunter I have witnessed much change. Human populations have increased dramatically and are in conflict with wildlife while, north of the Zambezi river, poaching pressure – particularly on elephant and rhino – has led to a staggering decline in wildlife numbers. Southern African countries largely escaped this poaching menace until recently.
I have been fortunate. My business and way of life has led me to safari in most of Africa’s premier game fields. Some countries are now closed to hunting or their wildlife populations mostly poached out. On the other hand, some of the best safari destinations offer increasing wildlife numbers resulting in superb hunting opportunities.
What I have learnt is this: if people living in the bush neighbouring wildlife don’t receive financial benefit from this resource, they won’t keep it. There are many ways to achieve sustainable use and longevity of species. Safari hunting is one of the best. It has been shown that countries that do not allow hunting have simply closed the door to legitimate use only to have it replaced by illegal use through poaching. Legal hunters don’t like poachers – their livelihood depends on healthy, thriving wildlife populations. The presence of safari hunters in the bush helps discourage poaching.