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It’s Friday morning in South Africa – I’m home for a change – a rare privilege at this time of year. The last group of hunters left a couple of days ago and we won’t be heading off on safari for a couple more weeks.

With a steaming cup of coffee I see Kelly in her trusty Land Cruiser crossing the plain in front of my home. She’s been at it again; another all nighter – her commitment to these last four remaining Rhino is unwavering. The Cruisers headlights are dimmed by a layer of dust, similar to her weary eyes, she looks tired and worn out, but she’s smiling. Another night, another battle won, they’ve made it yet again – She sits and watches them with the enjoyment of a parent. She’s not alone, all over South Africa the same scene is playing out.

I slowly turn my attention to the day ahead, business will not stand still, I’d love to spend the rest of my morning observing these prehistoric looking creatures feeding a mere 60 yards from my office, but that privilege is not reserved for me – I have a job at hand. I form part of an important machine that allows those four Rhino and the rest of the game the opportunity to thrive in a rehabilitated ecosystem.

How that ecosystem and the wildlife that calls it home makes it each month is what drives us to rise before dawn each morning. It’s a privilege living in a place like this, but it’s a commitment few are willing to accept. This is not the “living happily ever after fairy tale” the armchair conservationist critic would believe it to be  – this is about accepting the challenge at hand.

As my phone rings, I realize it’s not even 6am, there’s only one person in the world that calls before six and that’s Dad. “Have you read the news?” A voice booms out over the line. You can bet he’s wanted to call since 4am, how he has managed to wait this long boggles my mind – patience is not his strong point. Or maybe it is? Maybe his lack of patience makes him who he is – a survivor. An entrepreneur with a passion for his family and wildlife. “Our government has decided to drop its international Rhino horn trade application to CITES 2016”, he continues. The line goes silent. What else can we say? We’re both at a loss for words. Where to now? What will happen to our Rhino? To the rest in Southern Africa?

For the record…

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There are +~ 20 000 White Rhino and 4000 Black Rhino left in the world today. Since 2008 illegal poaching has killed at least 5,940 Rhinos in Southern Africa. Let that sink in for a couple of minutes. 

Rhino poaching is currently at a crisis point. By the end of 2015, the number of African Rhinos killed by poachers had increased for the sixth year in a row with at least 1,338 Rhinos killed by poachers across Africa. These statistics were compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Species Survival Commission’s African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG).

South Africa has by far the largest population of Rhinos in the world and is an incredibly important country for Rhino conservation. However Rhino poaching levels have dramatically escalated over recent years. The below graph shows the exponential increase in poaching from 2007 – 2015. 

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Above: Graph showing South African Rhino poaching statistics using data published by South African Department of Environmental Affairs (2016)

Although it is encouraging to see South Africa’s poaching levels fell slightly, poaching losses are still extremely high. There were 40 fewer Rhinos killed in 2015 than in 2014, but that in itself is statistically insignificant when you’re talking such large numbers of poaching deaths.

Worryingly, the crisis has spread to neighboring countries in southern Africa, with Namibia and Zimbabwe experiencing an exponential increase in poaching. During 2015, Namibia lost 80 Rhinos to poaching, up from 25 in 2014 and just two in 2012. In Zimbabwe, it is reported that at least 50 Rhinos were poached last year, more than double the previous year. For Africa as a whole, the total number of Rhinos poached during 2015 was the highest in two decades.

The current poaching crisis is attributed to the growing demand for Rhino horn in Asian countries, mainly Vietnam and China. Vietnam has been identified as the largest user country of Rhino horn. Although Rhino horn has no scientific medical benefits, consumers are using it to treat a wide range of conditions, from cancer to hangovers, and due to its high value it is now also used as a status symbol by wealthy individuals. The high price fetched for the horn has attracted the involvement of ruthless criminal syndicates making poaching their primary business. 

How did we get here?

Since Dr. Ian Player started his efforts of bringing the Rhino back from the very brink of extinction with “Operation Rhino” in the early 1950’s, a couple of things have remained constant. 

  1. Private ownership of Rhino has been their saving grace since day one. 
  2. Poaching at some level or another has always been present. 

From day one Dr. Ian Player was of the belief that the South African farmer is one of the hardiest individuals under the sun. Give them a briefing on the process, create an incentive of reward, and you’ll be well on your way to success. Within 30 years the Dr had his wish and before we knew it, we had built an entire industry around the Rhino. May the choice have been hunting, farming, or ecotourism – an industry was born around one man’s vision and the commitment of a large sector of our rural community. 

Laws and protocols were developed and put in place to protect the well-being of the animals as to ensure the industry would be regulated at an acceptable standard going forward. 

In all this time poaching was taking place, not at the levels we’ve been exposed to today, but it was always there. The fact that those poached numbers were so insignificant in comparison to the growth of the industry kept most of that information at bay. No one was willing to rock the boat. The Rhino population was thriving, the National Parks were sitting with excess and the private sector had bought into this new concept of ecotourism and hunting. Foreigners flocked to our shores to view and hunt our Rhino – all of course within the legal parameters set out by our South African Nature Conservation and CITES. 

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The 90’s and early 2000’s were the big years for not only our Rhino, but our businesses too. We all expanded and grew – we took bigger risks than ever before and overextended ourselves even more – we all enjoyed the ride, nobody more so than our Rhino population who now had doubled their habitat from 20 years previously. It was a win/win. 

We had created a mega industry around the Rhino, our farmers had done well, they were good, in fact possibly too good. Numbers grew and even more became involved in Rhino – it became part of our national pride and success, but unfortunately with all the good we drew some unwanted attention too. Soon the poaching world put one and one together – there was a $ to be made. One with limited risk and more rewarding than a bank robbery. The chances of being caught were minimal, and even if you were caught the sentencing proved to be marginal to light. 

With the poachers gaining momentum the farmers started thinking out of the box once again. They had brought the Rhino back from the brink of extinction, and then created a sustainable industry that saw them being rewarded handsomely, why would they quit now? They got creative and started Green Hunting. This allowed a larger part of the industry to get involved as the clash between hunting and ecotourism came together, meeting in the middle.  We could now not merely derive value from our Rhino through hunting, live sales, and ecotourism, we could offer an experience that was acceptable to a larger part of society.

An experience was created, with the benefit of seeing the Rhino walk off to live another day after the enthusiastic foreigner had tracked, darted, and woken his/her Rhino. This was a new twist to our industry – we were once again counterbalancing our losses to the rising poaching issue. 

Then the poachers got serious and 2009 arrived. The world went into a recession and so too did the world of the Rhino and the private Rhino owner. The domestic trade in Rhino horn, much of it derived from the Green Hunting industry was placed under moratorium until further notice. Green Hunting was banned that very next year due to a flaw in our South African law, the Veterinary council had their say, and soon the constant revenue stream was shut down. 

Social media took on a new meaning as the world started to recover from the recession it had endured for five years. No longer was Face Book, Twitter or the likes of many others a means of social communication and sharing, it became a weapon to topple empires, overthrow governments, create awareness for both good and bad, and influence opinion. This now affected the Rhino too. With the Rhino horn trade moratorium in place, an escalating poaching issue at hand, ecotourism battling to recover from a recession hangover and hunting taking center stage for the various anti groups – the world of Rhinos became increasingly expensive and complicated. 

A dead Rhino was now worth more than a live Rhino. No longer could horn be harvested to trade or green hunting be used as a form of income. Any form of hunting was placed under a massive spotlight on social media, and ecotourism was feeling the pinch too. South Africa’s honeymoon was over; FIFA Soccer World Cup 2010 had created an artificial economy before and after the tournament. The world had gotten excited by South Africa, it had flocked in its numbers to our shores once again, but by 2013 the recession was very much with us. Africa’s reputation of being two to three years behind the rest of the world was proving to be the case once again. In all this time our Rhino were bleeding on the ground and the men and women on the front line were pouring even more effort and funds into their protection. Something would give sooner or later. 

The hunting of Rhino was becoming more and more expensive, yet this and ecotourism was our only option. Public opinion was finding it harder and harder to understand how the hunting of Rhino could save their numbers. To them the poaching was responsible for enough losses to the greater population as is, how could the hunting of another Rhino possibly save the specie? What they failed to understand and refuse to accept is the fact that this was an industry that could not afford to close shop for a single day. National Parks and Ecotourism destinations had increased their numbers to the point of off-take. Without the hunters and new game ranches/reserves buying excess Rhino, prices for the commodity would tumble and soon poaching escalation would outweigh the net growth per annum. The Rhino industry was in danger of losing the interest of the private sector, the very one that had brought it back from the brink. 

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But then they threw us a bone. The state called on the private sector to assist in the preparation of an application to propose the regulated international trade of Rhino horn at CITES 2016. This gave hope where all else was lost, and yet again the private sector bought into this concept. Renewed spending took place to protect our Rhino even more. Efforts were doubled by the various stakeholders, we looked past the fact that the ongoing poaching was draining us to a point beyond belief and anymore money poured into a bottomless pit was surely insanity – the old principle of Dr Player was back – reward the farmer and he’ll make a success of anything. We all bravely marched on in a glimmer of hope – reward would soon be ours and that of the Rhino. 

In all this time we started believing more and more in the possibility of a regulated International Trade. Back home in South Africa, our very own private game farmers, John Hume and Johan Kruger, had taken the State to court over their constitutional right to trade horn domestically. The lawsuit cost them millions, but in September 2015 the high court ruled in their favor – they had won. We rejoiced in their efforts, sure that it would be the watershed moment that would open further doors to securing the future of our Rhino industry. Our celebrations were short-lived; domestic trade was hardly given the opportunity to prove its worth as a possible future for the industry, when the State appealed the ruling, placing domestic trade of horn once again under moratorium.

We entered 2016 knowing this would have to be the year that would finally see our fortunes change in the Rhino industry. Very few industries to date had been tested to this extend. No domestic rancher would have marched on in the same hope after a sheep, goat, or cow. Yet the Rhino owners continued on, CITES 2016 would be held in South Africa – you couldn’t blame us for thinking the stars were starting to align in our favor. And then 21 April 2016 arrived – mere months prior to the convention.

Where to now with our Rhinos?

As I sit trying to convey my feeling of hopelessness in my words I turn to a letter received from Dr Peter Oberem, a fellow Rhino owner. 

“Thursday 21 April 2016 will go down in history as a sad day for our country and for the world. In fact, it will be remembered as a devastating day for the rhino as a species. This shocking decision will spell the end of this iconic and beloved animal. It is a devastating day, especially for the very people who have, over the past 50 years, already contributed so much to saving the rhino from extinction, as well as its continued growth and protection. It is a decision that is celebrated only by rhino poachers, those that harbor, support and protect them, and those few vociferous, ill-informed and misguided animal rightist who actively fought for this decision.

Those who have contributed their money, sweat, tears, blood and – yes – their lives for the cause feel betrayed by those who have been charged by their positions to protect the species. They will feel their efforts have been ignored and brushed aside for some as yet unfathomable reason. The voice of those who have made such a difference and who cherish, hold and protect between one-third and one half of the rhino in the world has been drowned out by those who are so often armchair conservationists and who in reality contribute little to protecting the species on the ground.

To date, all efforts to stem the tide of death have come to nought. The only people who benefit from this decision – and the decades of selfless effort to build Rhino populations – are the poachers and their protectors. The sole beneficiaries of this illegal trade worth more than R6 billion per annum are the poachers and other involved criminals.

As of today, the price of Rhino will fall and the price of Rhino horn will rise, increasing the differential between a live Rhino and a dead one – worth only a few hundred thousand alive but up to R8 million dead. It is an unsustainable and untenable situation. What incentive is there other than love of the animal for one to spend money, shed tears and blood, and offer up one’s life to protect it? Where do the protectors of the rhino get the ever-increasing resources needed to counter the growing threat against them and the animals they love and guard?

In addition, through this decision, our country, its people and conservation have missed a unique opportunity. Well controlled, legal trade would create and sustain 11 rural jobs for every Rhino in the country at the minimum wage for an agricultural worker in rural communities and  on game ranches (220 000 decent jobs in total). This R6,6 billion would go a long way towards footing the security bill for these operations and ensuring the survival of the rhino as a
species.

Over and above this, the government would earn another R6,6 billion from their share of the income, which could be used to protect Rhino and contribute to other conservation projects in the national and provincial parks – a situation far better than all this possible foreign-exchange income landing solely in the coffers of the criminal and corrupt, as is the situation currently perpetuated by the announced decision.

This decision flies in the face of logic, which tells us that what is needed is simply to increase the risk to the poacher and reduce his benefits. This decision has achieved exactly the opposite effect. Winston Churchill said “those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it” paraphrasing Einstein, who said that making the same mistake over and over again “is insanity”. It seems we have not learnt. Are we insane? “

There is nothing else to be said. Neither I nor Dad can think of another way out as of this stage. We are both hunters and yet the critic will question our feeling of remorse of the current situation. We have bred, we have protected, we have hunted, we have lost, and we have given our everything to our Rhino. We have not done so in order to rise each morning to count the wealth we may have derived through our Rhino, truth be told, we are so far behind on the eight ball, that their monetary value left the building many years ago.

So you may ask why? Why would we continue forth on such a hapless business module? Every person in this world wakes to ensure his job or business reaps rewards at the end of each day, realizing full well not every sector of his business will be as productive as the other. We accept those same principles, BUT …

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We do it for our kids.

If you have ever had the privilege of sitting in the middle of a crash of Rhino, and observed the joy and pleasure those animals bring to your children, then you my friend will understand where we’re coming from.

It was the Rhino industry that allowed us that simple pleasure, and in turn provided the Rhino the opportunity to return from the brink of extinction.

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Surely we cannot ignore history at such a critical point.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

When looking up the word ADDICTION in the Old Cambridge Dictionary one will find the following description.

Addiction – A person who cannot stop doing or using something. The repetition of a behavior typically characterized by immediate gratification.

Looking at the description one could relate Vaal Rhebuck hunting very much to the “cannot stop doing” part, then the “using something” can be related to the burning of vast quantities of kilojoules, which is never a bad thing. But where one comes unstuck in the description would be the part that reads; ” the repetition of a behavior typically characterized by immediate gratification”, that one doesn’t make much sense at all. Those who have ever hunted Vaal Rhebuck will vouch for the fact that when it comes to our much beloved “Vaalies” there’s no such thing as instant gratification.

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When a close friend of ours, Bryan Webber, joined Professional Hunter, Ross Hoole, for an early season Vaal Rhebuck hunt up in the high country none of them could have imagined what an adventure their hunt would turn out to be. Tagging along with them was the ever enthusiastic GTS Productions crew, consisting of Pierre “Ozzie” Prins and Jose Miguel Hernandez. The footage captured is some of the very best ever seen in HD, and to date there’s none other like it on any forum what so ever. Getting a kill shot of these masters of the mountains is one thing, but filming them in their natural habitat and show casing their habits for the observer to enjoy was the real challenge in this film.

Enjoy the hunt, immerse yourself into the challenging world of Vaal Rhebuck hunting and if the addiction “bug” bites then join the premier Vaal Rhebuck hunting outfit for the adventure of a lifetime.

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

On Friday, 18 March 2016, a dear friend of John X Safaris and many of you, got recognized by his hunting peers and the greater hunting community for his achievements in mountain hunting. Juan Antonio Garcia Alonso, whom has been a partner of John X Safaris through Camino Real Hunting in Spain for the past ten years was awarded elite membership to Cofradia Culminum Magister, also known as the Master of the Summits.

This association was established in 2006, by a group of enthusiastic Spanish hunters who decided to establish an association to recognize and honor the merits of mountain hunters, who love silence and solitude of the most difficult summits, recognizing these people as an example for the entire hunting community.

Having personally guided Juan Antonio on numerous safaris in Africa the news came as no surprise to Carl and the entire team. Over the years we have had the privilege of sharing many a camp fire and mountain hunt with this great man. He has been a business partner, a mentor, a second Spanish “father” to many of us, but most of all he has been a true friend.

Safaris with Juan Antonio has always left one pondering the greater meaning of life and our safari lives as we continue on our adventure bound passion for the great outdoors.

As the highest recognition awarded annually to any mountain hunter in Spain, we salute Juan Antonio – for he is truly a Master of the Summits.”Silence, solitude, effort.”

In the picture (l-r) is Nacho Ruiz Gallardon (Vice-President of Cofradia , another great friend of JXS) Juan Antonio Garcia Alonso, Ramon Estalella, Tomeu Blanquer , Antonio Reguera, Enrique Zamacola (President of Cofradia and Weatherby Award winner), Larry Higgins (President of SCI) Barbra and Alan Sackman (Both Weaterby Award winners and great friends of JXS).

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

The start of a new season, excitement fills the air, my nerves are killing me. Why you may ask? From the trackers to the camp staff, and even the PH’s, all are steering well clear of one another. Everyone waits in anticipation for the first arrivals.

Pretty spectacular scenery...

We’ve been through this a hundred times, to be more exact, since 1983, we have one of the best teams in the business and know what to expect. Surely you’d think after 33 years we’d have got used to it, but no, until the first skin hits the salt and the first smiles are met with satisfaction around a crackling campfire, we will not rest.

We have done the leg work, the hard yards in scouting, our teams have checked, re-checked and just to be certain, checked again. Every detail has been covered – there’s nothing else we can do. It’s time to hunt. Let’s get out there and get our season off to a good start – that’s all one can ask for.

The guys are in the north, Greg and Rusty,together with Bless and Ou John. With them they have second time returnees Paul Matson and Tom Skelly.

The guys are in the north, Greg and Rusty,together with Bless and Ou John. With them they have second time returnees Paul Matson and Tom Skelly.

The rest of the team are only due to start in a couple of weeks time on their first hunts, and already the jealousy of not being out there is killing us. Big summer rains have turned the Great Karoo into a wonderland bursting with life from horizon to horizon.

One can only imagine the familiar sounds and smells that fill the air. The game will be in peak condition.

One can only imagine the familiar sounds and smells that fill the air. The game will be in peak condition.

Paul is after Cape Eland with Greg, I can clearly see the mountains they’ll be climbing in my mind. Greg and I have on numerous occasions discussed those north facing slopes where the old bulls like hiding out. At this time of year they’ll be after the fresh summer growth around the springs, their old teeth to worn out to take on the harder woodier vegetation. The hunters will be working the high ground wary of the numerous groups of Vaal Rhebuck and Mountain Reedbuck who frequent these towering mountains. An Eland bull on the trot is a different beast – don’t let him know you’re after him. As big as he is, he’ll disappear on you for weeks.

The ever enthusiastic Rusty together with an excited Tom will make for one exhilarating safari. They’ll be after Red Hartebeest and a bunch of others. They’re a hard-working team with an impressive success rate.  They’ll master those wary Hartebeest and any opportunistic trophy along the way, just let them be – let them hunt.

Each morning starting at 5am I start checking my phone, still no word from the teams in the north. I wait patiently, continuously preparing for the season ahead. There’s so many great hunts in store – so much to look forward to. I wait. Patiently…

They called this afternoon, finally, both Tom and Paul have been successful.

From all accounts it has been an adventure to remember. It seems Tom and Rusty got off to a flying start with a great Cape Hartebeest, Burchells Zebra, and Impala. Paul on the other hand hunted hard for a Cape Eland, putting in early mornings and long days in the pursuit of these magnificent beasts. His quest for an Eland proved unlucky at first making the most of opportunities on Gemsbuck, Cape Hartebeest and a couple of Impala, with perseverance paying off some days later.

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“It took a village in the end – They sure are big!”; was all we could get out of Paul throughout the excitement.

Tom on the other hand had to dig deep and replay a similar scene from his first hunt with John X Safaris. The guys spotted a Kudu bull feeding on a distant slope, deeming it was a shooter, the hunt was on and the guys set off on foot. Soon they had stalked into position, the bull would hopefully give them the desired opportunity. Tom got prone as he often does and when the bull presented a shot, Tom let him have it with his 300 Win Mag.

A great Kudu bull went crashing down to a well placed shot, but not after yet another “french kiss” from Tom’s rifle on exactly the same specie as last time round. Like the saying goes; “Everything in Africa bites”, even the scopes. A quick minute or two of first aid in the field got the blood flow stopped, but most certainly not the laughter from there on in.

Wow – So many great stories to look forward to with a group of happy hunters arriving back at base camp this evening. Hearing their personal accounts of their adventures is often the most enjoyable part of any safari. Their anticipation and trust placed in John X Safaris for a second time in three years reiterates our belief in what we’re doing as a team. Receiving word from the guys of plans of a 3rd safari with their boys in a couple of years time on a “Dads and Lads” hunt, is undoubtedly the greatest compliment of all. Hats off to the guys who started us off on the right foot – Here’s to an exciting season ahead!

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

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Imagine capturing the camaraderie of camp life, the terrain, the herds, the joys, and the hardships, those long stalks and the thrill of the hunt. That moment when a sneaky Kudu bull steps into the gap across the ravine, only to be met by a well placed shot from your favorite rifle. The thought of sharing the emotion of seeing your very first African sunrise as the sun creeps onto the plains from the east, then being able to share that with family and friends back home.

For the first time in our history John X Safaris has found the perfect partner in filming. Got The Shot (GTS) Productions and their videographers specialize in hunts, they know the game and what to expect. The GTS team shoots exclusively in Hi-Definition digital format, ensuring excellent quality footage captured as it happens. Their state of the art editing suite with only the best equipment will ensure broadcast quality productions time and again.

Now STOP imagining how you’d like to share those memories of your African experience. For only $200 / per day (Excl 14% Tax) you/your group (share the costs or make use of 2 cameramen across the group) can ensure your entire safari is documented, captured, edited, and delivered to your front door within months of your hunt.

If you are interested in booking a videographer for your upcoming safari then drop Carl a mail on hunting@johnxsafaris.co.za and we’ll reserve a cameraman on your behalf.

Enjoy the below clip from GTS, get an idea of what you could expect from your filmed safari, and feel free to view some more of their videos on YouTube @ Got The Shot Productions or email Pierre on pierre@gottheshot.co.za for any specific filming related questions.

Allow GTS Productions to ensure your African safari is immortalized for generations to come…..

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

Plan now to ensure that you are able to capture the memories of your “trip of a lifetime”!

By Chris Petersen … confessed safari photo addict

There is no substitute for having the right camera on safari to capture memories of a lifetime!

There is no substitute for having the right camera on safari to capture memories of a lifetime!

You have been planning for months, maybe years. You have booked the tickets. You have addressed all of your safari details and you are already packing for your ultimate adventure. You are about to go on the most amazing trip of a lifetime, but do you have the right camera to capture your experience?

Some key planning right now can make all the difference in the memories you are able to record and share with others. As you make your final preparations, take a few moments to select the best camera/s to take on safari, so that you don’t miss capturing those amazing experiences you have dreamed about.

A safari presents unique opportunities and challenges for finding the right camera

If the truth be known, almost any camera will be good enough for many of your photos of your activities around camp during the day. Many trophy photos are taken in good daylight, with plenty of time to set up the photo. In fading light or for shots around the lodge, almost all cameras have some kind of flash to capture at least a “snapshot” of you and your group.

What is so often missed or not considered is recording the rest of the “safari experience”.   There are so many new things that will be part of your experience! These are the photos that will help you tell stories when you get back home. When you look at the photo books put together by families on safari, they are filled with photos about their experiences. The real stories and memories are about the amazing scenery, where you stayed, the game drives, the “sundowners” you shared, camp fires, adventures you shared with new friends, and those special experiences like riding horses or even elephants through the plains of Africa.

Most of all, safaris are all about capturing the magnificent wildlife in their native habitat in this amazing place called Africa.   Who doesn’t want great photos of lions and elephants!

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You definitely want the right camera, and know how to use it properly, when Craig Boddington plays the drums with his family and the dancers at your campfire in the boma!

You will need the right camera to capture quality photos in a variety of settings and light conditions that you will encounter in Africa. There are many shooting scenarios:

  • Low light scenes such as dawn breaks, and especially at sunsets
  • Night scenes around the fire as dancers entertain with the drums into the night
  • Indoor shots of your lodge, rooms, and the amazing food with friends around the table
  • Wildlife photos of everything from birds, to antelope, lions and elephants
  • And of course majestic landscapes of plains that seem to go on forever

Said another way, you will want a camera with the capability to capture it all. You will want a camera that does more than mediocre “snapshots”. After all this is your trip of a lifetime! You deserve some gear that doesn’t overwhelm you, but takes the kind of photos that you will be proud of to show to your friends … and with enough quality that you can print and hang your treasured moments on the wall back home.

Don’t wait … choose a camera NOW! You need time to practice before you go!

The worst thing you can do is purchase a new camera right before you head on safari! Or just as bad, drag out that old camera you have had lying around somewhere so that you can take some safari photos. Would you go golfing without taking some practice swings? Of course not!

You need to get your desired camera weeks, and even months before your safari. While most any camera can shoot photos in your living room, you must master some settings to cover the various scenarios you will want to take capture in Africa.

Whatever camera you decide to take, head out and practice a few different photos in varying lighting conditions. Below are some suggestions to practice shooting BEFORE going on safari. When you shoot these types of photos you will discover any limitations your current camera may have, and what you might want to get when you decide to purchase a new camera.

Try shooting the following scenes … now … several times before you go on safari:

  • Photograph both sunrises and sunsets
  • Shoot a campfire scene or your fireplace/similar setting
  • Visit a park and shoot a variety of landscapes … close up and distant
  • Photograph your pets, close ups … and especially running/moving shots
  • Photograph animals out in a field … horses or cows will do … at varying distances
  • Close-ups of something … flowers or even change in your pocket
  • Photograph your friends and family in different settings indoors and outside

If you cannot get sharp photos of your kids running and playing in a field, you are NOT ready for photographing wildlife on safari in Africa. The point here is … shoot a lot of different photos in different kinds of light with the camera you plan to take, or the new one that you purchase. I can’t begin to tell you how many people take a new camera to Africa and come back with less than 10% of their shots in focus and properly exposed! Practice now … there is no second chance for shots of a lifetime after you come back from your safari.

Choosing the best camera for you

So what is the best camera for your adventure filled safari? There are 4 main camera styles to consider when searching for a camera that is best for you and your safari:

  1. Smartphone
  2. Pocket camera
  3. Hybrid superzoom
  4. Digital SLR with lenses

Camera Option 1 – Your smartphone!

The new smartphones have quite literally replaced the old point and shoot digital cameras. Not only do they take great still photos, most also capture HD video. But the very best part is that smartphones are the fastest way to share your photos and video clips with family and friends via text messages or email when you get back home.

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In good light with large animals, there is nothing like your smartphone to capture photos to share quickly.

Smartphones do have some limitations. One limitation is that they are often not the best in low light, and their tiny flash has very limited distance. Nor are smartphones best at capturing action photos of animals. The biggest limitation is that smartphones also lack an adequate zoom lens to capture wildlife photos in the field. Despite these drawbacks, your smartphone might be the best all-around camera for capturing people experiences on safari!

PROS

  • Small, light weight
  • Fits in your pocket
  • Good photos + HD video
  • EASILY SHARE photos and videos
CONS

  • Lacks zoom for wildlife close ups
  • Poor at capturing action shots
  • May struggle with low light
  • Screen easily cracked in field

Smartphone Recommendations:  If you don’t have a smartphone, get one! If you haven’t upgraded your smartphone in a while, do so before your safari. Look for a phone that has at least an 8 megapixel camera. Brand is not important … iPhones, Android phones … all work well. Buy a case with padding to prevent a cracked screen in the field.

Camera Option 2 – Pocket camera (point and shoot)

Over the years, your family has probably owned several of these small cameras that can quite literally fit in your pocket. If your pocket camera is more than 3 years old, you might consider an upgrade. The new ones have some great new features for taking photos in more situations. The new pocket cameras also take great HD video and have touch screens on the back for menus and viewing photos. The most important part of the newer pocket cameras is that you can now get them with a 20X or even a 30X zoom lens. You need at least 20X zoom for good wildlife photos.

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Even with large animals like lions, you need more than a smartphone. A pocket camera with a 20X zoom can capture the magnificent memory IF you know how to set it to stop the action as the lion walks.

Most pocket cameras require you to change some settings in order to take quality photos in low light or action scenes. Find a pocket camera that fits your style and one where you can comfortably use the menus.

PROS

  • Small, light weight
  • Still fits in your pocket
  • Larger photos than smartphone
  • More settings = more adaptable
  • Very inexpensive as backup camera
CONS

  • Mostly redundant with smartphone
  • Requires downloading photos to send
  • Better zoom, but may still not be long enough for smaller wildlife
  • Limited flash for night shots

Pocket Camera Recommendations:  Look for a small camera that will truly fit in your pocket. You will want at least a 20X optical zoom to capture wildlife. This makes a perfect main camera, and also a “backup” camera, or a second camera for someone else in your party.

There are many great brands … Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji and Samsung to name a few. Prices range from $150 to $700+. The highest price models have elaborate sensors, but often have poor zooms which are needed for African wildlife photos.

You don’t have to buy the newest model … look for discontinued and refurbished models online.

A very good pocket digital camera can be purchased for less than $300 USD, with closeouts at less than $100. It’s very cheap insurance to have a good pocket camera with a good zoom in case another camera fails.

Camera Option 3 – Superzoom (all in one, built-in long telephoto zoom)

I recommend this style camera to most people going on safari. No one has ever come back disappointed with their photos! The big advantage of the superzooms is that they will take all of the normal photos, sunsets and night scenes … PLUS being able to zoom in to take incredible wildlife photos of animals that are long distances from the vehicle. Whereas most smartphones have a 2X to 4X power zoom, the superzoom cameras have 50X to 80X power optical zooms (without the hassle of carrying extra heavy lenses!). A smartphone is like using your naked eye on safari, a superzoom is like having 14 to 20X power binoculars that take great photos!

SMARTPHONE – Here is the photo you would get of this flock of cranes with your phone

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20X ZOOM — Here is same flock of cranes taken with a pocket camera with a 18X zoom

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50X ZOOM – Here is the same flock photo with a superzoom camera set at 50X optical zoom

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Essentially the superzooms operate pretty much like pocket digital cameras, but they have a big bulging lens on the front that is the integrated super telephoto. As a result, superzooms won’t fit in your shirt pocket, but you will love the photos that zoom lens enables. Shooting with a long telephoto lens does take some practice holding things steady. And if the animals are running there will be motion blur at long distances.

PROS

  • Small, light weight
  • Doesn’t fit in shirt pocket, but easily fits in purse or on belt loop
  • Incredible ability to zoom in for wildlife close-ups
  • Better at action photos
  • Quality photos plus HD video
CONS

  • Better potential photos, but requires some practice at using zoom
  • Better at action but requires the right settings and practice
  • More settings – maybe more complex
  • Not the perfect camera, but much better than smartphone or pocket

Superzoom Recommendations: Brand is not important … Sony, Nikon and Canon all make great superzoom cameras. Just google “superzooms” to search prices which range from $300 to $600 USD. Save money by purchasing last year’s model online. Look for at least a 40X optical zoom. Practice is the key to learning the settings and taking sharp photos with these superzoom telephoto cameras.

Camera Option 4 – Digital SLR with Interchangeable Lenses

Once you’ve shot with a digital SLR you will forever be spoiled by the quality of the photos! The sensors and lenses are so much better in SLRs over any other types of cameras. The quality of photos from the SLR cameras will really standout, and enable you to make great prints.

A big advantage of SLR cameras is that they have incredibly fast shutters which allow you to literally freeze motion of a bird in flight. The biggest drawback of digital SLR cameras is that you need multiple lenses to cover the range of shots you want. For wildlife photos, you need at least a 300mm telephoto and longer. These glass telephoto lenses tend to be expensive and heavy but they will get you shots like no other camera.

The big advantage of the Digital SLR is the fast shutter with the ability to freeze action … even for birds in flight like this Secretary bird and the beautiful Turaco! But you need to master your settings before you go.

Bottom line, if you already have a digital SLR camera, consider taking it. If you are thinking about stepping up and purchasing a digital SLR, now is the time. Entry SLR cameras are about the same price as a good superzoom. Also consider upgrading or adding a high power zoom telephoto lens. Sigma and Tamron both make affordable 150-600mm zoom lenses which are an excellent zoom range for safaris.

PROS

  • The very best quality photos
  • Ability to freeze action
  • Many settings for every situation
  • Great low light and night photos
  • Shoots HD video
CONS

  • Bigger size camera
  • Requires multiple lenses
  • Need a longer telephoto for wildlife
  • Telephoto lenses can be expensive
  • Multiple lenses are bulky and heavy

Digital SLR Recommendation:  Canon and Nikon are the popular brands, but Sony and others make good digital SLRs. The camera body itself starts at about $400 and goes up to several $1000s. Save money on buying last year’s model or even a refurbished camera body. If you are hooked on the quality of what a digital SLR camera can shoot, consider one of the new telephoto zoom lenses in the 150-600mm range and you will be able to capture any wildlife in Africa.

So … what’s the best camera for you?

The simple answer is that the best camera for you is …

  • The one you will carry with you
  • The one that you spend the time with and learn how to use

For most going on safari, the best camera is really a combination of a modern smartphone, plus another camera that has an adequate zoom to capture photos of amazing wildlife that you will see on safari.

The bottom line is that it is not how much you spend on the camera, but how much time you will spend on learning how to use your camera in order to take the photos that will capture your memories in the ways you want to remember them.

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When you have the opportunity to ride off into the sunset on the back of an elephant … that is not the time to worry about whether you have the right camera to capture the memory of a lifetime!!!

Chris Petersen has been on 7 safaris with John X Safaris, and multiple wildlife photo safaris around the world. He specializes in photographing wildlife in Africa, India, the tropics and throughout the United States. If you have any questions not answered in this blog, please post them as a blog comment, and Chris will follow up with some feedback.

To see samples of Chris Petersen’s wildlife photos visit:

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For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

As an African there’s no greater attack on ones senses than that of returning home to the motherland after a lengthy period away. As I’ve become accustomed to over the course of the past twelve years on my travels abroad, there’s nothing quite like coming home. May your home be in New York City, the wilderness areas of Alaska, a small town in North Dakota, or who knows where else around the world – home is where the heart is.

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For each one of us traveling home means something else, for me personally it’s the African sunrise on my first morning back home, the sound of the Jackal howling in the distance or the grunt of a lioness as she tries to locate her pride after the nights hunt. Then of course by 6am it’s the sound of my kids starting to stir – Dad’s back after weeks away. Could there be any greater privilege on this earth than the bonding with one’s family as Africa rises to another beautiful day?

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And then it’s off to “see” what all has happened in the six weeks we’ve been away. Proudly led about by my three-year old, and my oldest and most experienced tracker, Gray, whom my son has now claimed to be his own and greatest companion on this planet. The muttering away in Xhosa, both as excited as the other to tell me about the biggest Waterbuck they’d seen in years, or of a certain Buffalo that has been acting somewhat stroppy towards them of late. Wow… So much has gone on while we’ve been away.

By midday it’s time to hit the office, the show must go on, there’s hunts to be confirmed and friends to thank.

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But a couple of hours in the office fly by as ones view is constantly indulged with that of two giraffe bulls making the most of the good weather outside my window. The warthog sows together with their new-born are tearing up the lawn, and soon my work is once again interrupted by Gray and my son, Brett, chasing off the sow and her piglet’s with my Jack Russel in hot pursuit.

It seems they're taking the responsibility of the garden extremely seriously.

It seems they’re taking the responsibility of the garden extremely seriously.

By 5pm it’s time to collect the girls at home. Trish and Gabi have a few gems of their own to share. The rains have been good to our part of the world and the calving/lambing seems to have gone even better than expected.

Young litter the country side in abundance of life. By 9pm I’m the only one awake at home, the kids have long since been put to bed and Trish has fallen asleep. I’m of course wide awake on American time, the jet lag has got me. And with that I think back at our month abroad.

So many people to thank. So many to welcome on board as they look to embark on their first safari to Africa with John X Safaris. And of course, so many to be indebted to as they once again choose John X Safaris as their choice destination for 2016. The support of our returning hunters has left me astounded once again. It only drives us on to keep doing what we’ve been doing for the past 33 years.

Each one of you know who you are. Thank you for your American hospitality, your continued support, and your unrelenting trust in John X Safaris. Our appreciation is beyond words.

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We live in a world somewhat different to most and look forward to sharing it with you and your friends during 2016. See you in Africa!

For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website!

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