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Jochen

Self-drivers vs OSV's

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Hey all,

 

For the record; OSV = Open Safari Vehicles. In KNP these vehicles have a guide behind the wheel, and then 10 passenger seats (one next to the guide, 3x 3 rows of seats at the back). They differ from game viewers on private reserves, in the sense that the OSV's are obliged to have a front window, side panels and a (canvas) roof. Also the back side needs to be closed with canvas.

 

Just came back from a short trip to Kruger National park. We stay mostly on our own farms (in Balule, a private reserve), but if students stay for two weeks then we also take them on a short trip into KNP, with an overnight at a campsite of one of the restcamps. It is the first time I join such a trip (as this group was rather small). Normally I stay at the lodge while the students are gone, and do repairs, administration, etc.

 

Anyway... I know there's a bit of rivalry between self-drivers and tour operators, but I've never experienced it myself. In particular; if you follow any of the KNP-related Facebook groups (like "Kruger, best place on earth", or "Friends of KNP"), now and then you come across these posts from self-drivers complaining that a guide is misbehaving (cutting them off, hogging a sighting, ...).

 

I now have experienced this rivalry first hand. But what I experienced was very different then what's being written on those Facebook groups. I don't mean to pick a side, but to be honest there's no wheeling around this; for me it was the self-drivers that were the "problem". To give but a few examples;

 

- We were followed almost constantly by a few self-drivers, and it was clear they were hoping to "cash in" on the "expert" eyes from our guide as he was trying to spot the animals. Whenever our guide stopped, they would rush in often and park in front of us.

 

- At one point our guide stopped on the road to exchange some info with a guide coming from the other direction. They exchanged maybe 5 sentences. It lasted less than a minute. During that minute one self driver had to stop behind the other guide's vehicle. Maybe he had to wait for 30 seconds before he could drive on, but that was enough to get him angry. As he passed us, he shouted "get each other's phone numbers then you can talk as long as you want", followed by some swear words. Our customers were shocked.

 

- Almost any time on the tar road, even if we were close to the maximum allowed speed limit, lots of self-drivers would fly by, going way faster than what was allowed. In only those two days, we counted more than 10 occasions where - because of that person driving too fast - he/she missed a very beautiful sighting of a big 5 animal. One time a person flew by a cheetah right next to the road.

 

- It seemed none of the self-drivers was aware of animal's needs, or they simply didn't care for the animals' wellbeing. To give but one example; at Kumana dam, we stopped to let a buffalo herd pass the road on their way to the dam. Self-drivers squeezed in front of us and some even parked smack in the middle of the herd and the dam. When a portion of the herd turned back, afraid of the vehicles, that was the sign for yet some other self-drivers to speed past, causing some animals to run off even further.

 

- None of the self-drivers seemed to be aware that the sound of their engine has a serious negative effect on the stress levels of animals. That roaring engine is a sign of aggression to them! In two days, I've seen more annoyed elephants, rhinos and lions than I've seen on Balule in a whole year. What's even worse is that almost everyone had their AC going, which makes the engine noise even louder. Note that it is the dead of winter now, and while we were there a cold front rolled through. I mean; driving with their windows open would have had the same effect as running their AC.

 

I could go on but I guess it's clear; my guests as well as ourselves were really shocked by all this, and it seriously impacted our KNP trip experience in a negative way.

 

My questions to the ST gang;

- have you experienced the same in KNP or in any other reserves any where else in Africa?

- if you are a self-driver, are you aware of the impact your engine noise and the position of your car have on the animal you are watching?

 

Thanks,

 

J.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hi @Jochen

 

we we have been on a few self drives in KNP over the last few years. What I definitely noticed on our last trip was a much higher number of OSVs than ever before. My observations of them is that they seem to hunt in a pack, on a pretty set route. They did not stop for long at sightings. I didn't notice them being "tailed" but they were clearly in communication with each other. There were four male lions on the berg-en-dal entrance road and during our time at the sighting at least 10 OSVs appeared and then left again - lions, tick. Including one who drove almost completely off road and into the shots of those from the camp side ☹️

 

In general, there are more self-drivers than OSVs and so statistically you are more likely to see bad/inappropriate behaviour from self-drivers. Alot of people do a drive in KNP as part of a tour of RSA and have no idea about Safari etiquette or animal behaviour. Having said that, apart from people not turning off their engines, the number of instances of bad behaviour that we have encountered are very small and usually involve lions.....

 

wrt speeding, this seems to be mainly staff/service/delivery vehicles in my experience

 

some people are inherently selfish and there is nothing that you can do to change their behaviour, so you just need to be philosophical (and laugh at the amazing things which they have missed).

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yes, I am one of those self drivers who has been visiting KNP regularly for more than 12 years, I must have spend a total of a 100 nights or more in one of their camps and naturally my view is slightly different than yours

 

I don't have the time nor the urge to reply to each of the points you made, just a few thoughts:

 

- I guess it's up to each driver himself if she or he decides to take it nice and slowly, covering less distance in the same amount of time and thereby risking to miss a sighting because it is further up on the road or to drive at maximum (allowed) speed, thus risking to miss a sighting like that cheetah you mentioned

 

- I, too get annoyed when drivers of OSV chat each other up and thereby block the entire road (maybe this guy you mentioned lost only half a minute because of your encounter but maybe he had lost more time previously)

 

- yes, ideally you even let ants and bugs pass but hey, we don't live in an ideal world. In my own experience a herd of grazing buffalos does not mind too much if you carefully drive through them (I've seen official SanParks Trucks do it and since then I sometimes do it, too)

 

- "beautiful sightings of a big 5 animal" - for most of your students (and for most of the paying customers in these OSV) any lion, buffalo and elephant is a great sighting; for those who travel to Africa regularly perhaps not so much; I hardly ever stop for elephants and buffalo and not even for each and every lion, especially not if these animals are just grazing or dozing

 

However, I totally agree with you about those who do not switch off their engines and ACs (and yes, these are usually self drivers). It not only irritates the animals, it also spoils the sightings for other drivers. And although I have seen speeding OSV as well, the majority of speeders seem to be self drivers. The problem in my opinion is that SanParks still does not adequately deal with problem; people hardly ever get a ticket.

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My experience is very, very limited but a couple of points 

 

1) The first thing any photographer asks or does when they stop is switch off the engine. Engine vibration is the last thing you need so for a change don't blame us!!!!

 

2) When on my first ever safari in Tsavo East my first encounter with other vehicles was when 4 guided ones drove past us at speed heading for the park gates. No problem there then. Further up the road we passed them all as they had stopped at a wood carving place presumably as it was in their interests if they got customers through the doors. Further down the road they passed us again at speed as we had stopped to take photographs of a Long Crested Eagle, not one bothering to stop to take a look and only the last one slowing down to even consider what we were looking at. Once inside the park we were still passed by everyone, presumably within the speed limit but certainly leaving us in a cloud of dust as guided vehicles rushed their clients to see a Lion sighting which apparently is a bit of a rarity. Hardly saw a self drive vehicle either in Tsavo East or West.

 

3)Etosha. I was there as a self driver but never went anywhere near the speed limit and by and large neither did anyone else other than on the tar road were service vehicles including park vehicles were actually breaking the limit as well as self drivers. As you can't drive off road and viewing at the waterholes is on a first come, first serve basis you are free to take whatever position was available. Traffic was light so it wasn't a problem but we did see quite a few coaches and they tend to leave the engines running as do lots of the guided vehicles. Can't be the air con on guided vehicles because they are open sided. Many only stopped for a matter of 30 seconds and were gone again so I guess that was the reason for not switching off.

To be honest, I drive so slowly taking in what might be around I am hardly likely to be held up by traffic, and if I'm holding it up I always try to let the following vehicle pass at the first opportunity. Guides exchanging tips isn't a problem, I would probably ask them what they had seen as they went past. 

I rarely use air con either, prefer having fresh air through an open window.

 

4) Yala NP Sri Lanka. Again you are limited to staying on the road and 99% of traffic is guided vehicles so you can't blame self drivers. All the guides know what's about as they listen to each other either on radios or phones I guess. The driver is in a cab so you can't always hear what's going on. What I do know though is that it's a free for all when it comes to Leopard and Sloth Bear, absolutely awful bunfight as all these guided vehicles jockey for position and the minute one moves someone else is trying to take it's place, usually coming from the opposite direction so total chaos on a narrow road. It's so alien to watching wildlife for me that I just told our driver to leave...... when he could extricate himself. 

23643673990_d97cbe0f04_b.jpgYala N.P.     Sri Lanka by Dave Williams, on Flickr

 

No doubt we all look to blame someone else when things are not to our liking whatever the situation might be.

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You must have been very unlucky @Jochen if all of the self-drivers you encountered failed to turn their engines off or were aware of the animals needs! We enjoy both being guided and self-driving and must admit have rarely encountered bad behaviour anywhere-save the Masai Mara where 15 guided vehicles surrounded a leopard in a tree! On  Our Feb trip to the Kruger we perhaps saw 2 instances of slightly selfish behavour-both not giving an elephant enough room to pass on the road, but that  caused the elephant to move off road and denied the driver a sighting. The OSV's did seem to "hunt" in  a pack but several stopped us to report sightings and we would do the same for them-as indeed did the self-drivers.in fact several self-drivers seemed to go out of their way to give us a better view. We adopt the same tactic-hardly rocket science- as we do in the KTP-if we see a car stopped, we slow down, approach very slowly so as not to spoil a sighting, get excited in case it is something very wonderful, and try to spot what it is so as not to block a view.We will wait a few minutes to see whats what.We then found people making room or pointing-it is very pleasing to show someone else your "spot"-"look at our lions" for example! 

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Glad your experience was different, @Towlersonsafari. I was actually really worried after my recent experiences in KNP.

 

@Dave Williams; seems OSV's in other parks behave really badly then. Are these parks that mostly have nothing else than OSV's though? I mean; I see you don't mention them for Etosha. I've been there myself, both on self drive and in a guided vehicle (from Onguma lodge), and indeed the low volume of vehicles means that there's hardly anyone doing something stupid. You know, maybe I got to see what I saw in KNP because there's simply too many vehicles there, and because this park has tar roads. 

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

3 hours ago, Jochen said:

 

 

@Dave Williams; seems OSV's in other parks behave really badly then. Are these parks that mostly have nothing else than OSV's though? I mean; I see you don't mention them for Etosha. I've been there myself, both on self drive and in a guided vehicle (from Onguma lodge), and indeed the low volume of vehicles means that there's hardly anyone doing something stupid. You know, maybe I got to see what I saw in KNP because there's simply too many vehicles there, and because this park has tar roads. 

 

 

 

 

@Jochen Few people take their own vehicles in to Yala NP as few tourists are brave enough to tackle the roads in the built up areas in Columbo ( with the exception of @xelas the intrepid! ) and the locals all seem to arrive in bus loads ( avoid the weekends, especially Sundays) so consequently most foreign tourists get picked up by safari tour companies from their hotels etc. A local park guide is also collected at the park entrance and then I think it's a case of those getting the best views get the best tips so the resulting bunfight is about getting just that. May well be the same thought process elsewhere be it Africa, Sri Lanka or anywhere else in the world but it's only apparent when there is a lot of traffic otherwise viewing isn't a problem.

Etosha on the other hand was a quiet period when we were there in January but as mentioned before those who left their engines running at the waterholes included guided jeeps, buses and private cars. The speeding vehicles on the two main tarred roads were , from appearances, delivery vehicles and private cars driving to and from the main camps and entry gates and not guided vehicles. 

Edited by Dave Williams
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To me, there are good drivers and bad drivers, as there are travellers and tourons! My own experiences from one only trip to KNP resulted in not one situation that I might complain about, yet the northern part of the park must have much less visitorshen the southern part.

Etosha this year was bussier, with one elephant car jam on the road, where bad self-drivers (tourons) and OSV acted in unison to distress the animal ... luckily he was an old bull and thus he probably saw it all before many times.

I did have "followed" a car which looked like the driver knows what he was searching for, in Kgalagadi. To my defense, there are only two roads so following someone is not that suspecious as it might be in Etosha or in Kruger.

@Dave Williams, interpid is such a nice name. Some others called me stupid and suicidal :huh:. It  is allowed to drive your own car inside Wilpattu and Yala and maybe also other parks, yet you should get a locar ranger on board. And not even Alex the Interpid would try those roads if not in a proper 4x4 Tata. Which is impossible to rent in Sri Lanks, at least not officially.

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