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Bush Survival 101

Trekking through the African bush may seem like an exhilarating, once-in-a lifetime adventure for many people. While it is definitely that, being in the wild is certainly not your usual “walk in the park”. What this means is that it is highly important to arm yourself with the adequate knowledge and preparation to support you when undertaking such journey.

Even if you are taking the trip with experienced guides, knowing how to look after yourself will always come in handy and make your experience even more enjoyable. Having this information will also give you a better peace of mind and you can avoid panicking in unexpected situations.

Here are some of the things you may encounter while hiking the bush and the best way to address these situations.

1. Dehydration

Travellers to Africa can often overlook the importance of drinking adequate amounts of fluids. The different climate in the region makes it much more necessary to ensure that you are hydrating and replacing the water your body is losing. While people can survive without food for a maximum of 3 weeks, you can only survive without water for 3 days.

How to avoid dehydration:

Make sure you drink a litre of water before starting your day, especially if you are hiking. Pack enough water with you and check whether there will be a water source along the way where you can refill. A stainless steel or aluminium bottle is a good idea for remote areas so you can boil and purify natural water.

Don’t make the mistake of miscalculating how much water you need to drink because there may not be a safe water source during your journey.

2. Animals

Wild animals may seem cute or enchanting from afar but don’t make the mistake of trying to see them up close unless you have an experienced guide who tells you that moving closer is not going to be a problem. The animals you will encounter in the bush are so much different from those you see in the zoos, so be aware that you must protect yourself. Here are some animal examples and how to take care of yourself in case of an encounter.

It is generally the case that people cause the problems in the first place, so listen to your guide who will explain the comfort-zones and pressure-zones of all the animals.

Lion – Never run or they might think you are prey. Instead, you can stand still until it goes away. If it still tries to charge you, your only chance is to put your hands above you to make you look bigger and make lots of noise to scare it away.

Elephant – If their ears are fanned out, that’s a sign the elephant is uncomfortable and it’s time for you to back off. This could also be a sign of a mock charge. If the ears held back when the elephant is stressed then this could mean they are going to charge for real. Do not run but stay close to guide and listen to him/her. Sometimes making yourself bigger and making loud noises can result in the animal moving away.

Leopard – Never approach a leopard especially with its cubs, and for that matter, never approach any animal, particularly if it has young. Don’t run because even if you’re a fast runner, you can never outrun a leopard. Making noise and making yourself bigger is also a potential way to ward it off. You can slowly back away while still facing it but stop if it takes a step towards you.

Buffalo– Can get very aggressive very quickly but your guide will avoid buffalo encounters when you are on foot, but watching them from a safe distance is an amazing experience. The only way to survive a buffalo attack is if you can climb a tree. It is best to avoid these unpredictable animals altogether when you are on foot.

Rhino– Only admire rhinos at a safe distance to avoid confrontation with them. In case you are confronted with a rhino charging, try to put as many obstacles between you and the animal as their eyesight is relatively poor. Black rhino are said to be much more aggressive than the White Rhino. This may be due to the fact that Black rhino are browsers and feed on leaves in the thicker bush. As a result, they are more likely to be startled than a White rhino which is a grazer and feeds on grass in the open. Both are incredible animals to observe, and you can do this relatively closely (50 meters or more) if you are with a guide, very quiet and very still.

Crocodiles – Be watchful of crocodiles especially if you are near a water source. Air bubbles in the water usually mean they are nearby. A safe distance from a Nile crocodile is 5 meters away and 2 meters higher than it!

Hippopotamus – The deadliest large land mammal in the world. Avoid going between a hippo and their water source and always observe from a distance with your guide. If charged by a hippo, don’t try to outrun it as they can run up to 30 km/hour, instead, find an obstacle where you can go for cover and hide. The best way is to avoid it altogether and retreat at first signs of any hippo around.

3. Bushfires

Bushfires can be ignited when the weather is very hot and/or the land is very dry. It can also be caused by human activity.

How to protect yourself

If you encounter a bushfire, don’t think that you are at a safe distance already. You have to run away as fast as you can and put as much distance as possible between you and the fire. When flames engulf the landscape, wind can make the fire travel very fast.

Most well managed game reserves and rural area will create ‘fire breaks’ by deliberately lighting fires in certain locations. These burnt strips of land are excellent at preventing a bushfire spreading.

4. Lost & Stranded

If you find yourself away from your group and you are lost in the bush, a lot of things can pose as threats including the threats outlined above: dehydration, animal threats and fires.

Sit tight:

If you sit tight is very likely that you will be found quickly by the rest of the group or a professional search party, so don’t panic, calm yourself down, check your water and listen for the search party calling you or using their whistle. If you have a whistle, blow three short bursts every minute. The search party will hear the sound of the whistle as they get closer to you.

How to source food:

If you are not found, you are now in a survival situation and you will have to deal with how to source your food while trying to find your way back. If you’re lucky, you can eat fruits you encounter. A good tip is watch what monkeys are eating to know if they are poisonous or not. If the fruits are unfamiliar, better skip those as food sources as they may be poisonous. Eat ants, insects, worms, frogs and birds as a source of protein, if you can catch them!

How to source water:

Dry sandy river beds often still flow under the surface, so digging there is a very good idea. This does not use up huge amounts of energy and the sand is a very good filter too. You may need to dig down one, two or three feet to find water.

If you find a river or pool, best not to drink directly from it. Dig a small hole about 2 feet from the edge of the water source and let that hole fill. Again, the sand will filter a lot of the impurities.

If you have charcoal from your fire, keep it, as that is a very good way of filtering out impurities from the water. The more you filter, the cleaner the water.

How to survive the night and find shelter:

There is also the threat of having to survive extreme weather conditions especially if it rains heavily or the weather becomes too cold. Dressing in layers is a great idea so you can always remove layers of clothing or add layers clothing when needed.

The very best shelter is what nature gives us. As you are walking look for overhanging rocks, small caves or trees with large and thick canopies. These will keep the worst of the weather and wind off you and your trusty campfire.

If you can, surround your area with thorny branches by creating a fence-like structure. This thorny obstacle will deter predators. Don’t sleep near a water source as there may be crocodiles lurking especially at night.

If you are walking during the daytime, then rest in shade during the hottest part of the day.

Additional Tips to Have a Safe African Adventure

It is completely possible to have a safe and worry-free trip to Africa. Don’t be dismayed by these things because as long as you prep well, you’ll definitely have nothing to worry about!

Don’t forget to pack your personal first aid kit. You don’t need to bring an entire hospital with you. Just bringing a small bag with plasters, gauze, antiseptic wipes, and insect repellent/cream can help a lot.

Another helpful tip is having a multi-tools device. AWT recommends the Leatherman multi-tool which is a heavy-duty device you can use to open cans, slice fruits, cut string, remove thorns etc.

The most important advice is to only go with experienced guides. Your guide will make or break your African adventure. AWT will ensure these guides are professionals and they know the lay of the land, how to avoid threats and how to act in emergency situations.

At Africa Wild Trails, we only employ qualified experts and ensure that guides are fully equipped with the necessary knowledge and on how to deliver first aid if there is an incident.

If you want to learn more about travelling to Africa, send us a message today. We’ll tell you all about how you can plan your adventure!

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