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Ebola 2014 – risks on safari, thoughts on African travel

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Posted by John Berry on October 13, 2014 at 10:55 pm

Ebola 2014 outbreak

Be sure to see the video clip at the bottom of this post….at FULL volume!

The outbreak started in December 2013 at a small town in southern Guinea near the Sierra Leone and Liberian borders. The Zaire strain is the most deadly and the Ebola 2014 outbreak is the biggest by far. It’s having a devastating effect on the ground in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria (now clear).

For us in the safari industry it’s going to shake things to the core. It’ll have a dramatic effect on mainstream perceptions, the industry will shrink for some time and in the long term African conservation is likely to take a knock.

Nobody has the answers about Ebola but we need to look ahead

If there’s any present consolation – Ebola isn’t airborne, it’s transmitted by an exchange of body fluids. It can be contained and the 2014 outbreak will be contained, perhaps next year.

In the meantime. Some immediate housekeeping for those of us in a wide circle who’re on safari in weeks, months and the year to come. UK FCO, US State Department and similar international bodies haven’t advised against travelling to any of our regular safari destinations in Africa. So for now insurers won’t refund lost payments on the basis of a disinclination to travel.

Our business has always been driven by the special relationships we have with clients, partners, friends and preferred suppliers in the industry. So whilst we all know that the risk of Ebola exposure on safari itself is negligible your own circumstances and travel plans might be under consideration so do speak to us. The sooner the better.

For some balanced international reporting follow the BBC updates on Ebola. For traveller updates on Ebola we recommend Southern African Tourism update.

An observation about Ebola in Africa

We grew up, mostly in post-colonial Africa, have lived through bush wars, saw both southern and East Africa’s safari industry mature in the 1990’s, saw Mandela’s statesmanship turn South Africa into a rainbow nation, have felt Zimbabwe’s pain with Mugabe’s antics since 2000, we saw 911 shake confidence out of the US, have felt political and terror tremors in Kenya, sustained a global financial crisis in 2008/9, “iffy” economies since and see an unfortunate rise in fundamentalism.

Now the Ebola crisis, its African origins and the fear that spreads. It revives what respected Atta chairman Nigel Vere-Nicol describes as another case of “darkest Africa syndrome”.

Some other perspectives

  • Ebola has been about since 1976.
  • In the last 20 years we’ve watched this great experiment in anarchy, the “web” evolve into a social spine that puts all manner of information at our fingertips.
  • Kai Krause enlightened middle America on just how small it is by comparison with Africa in 2010.
  • Old friend Colin Bell (conservationist and former CEO and founder of Wilderness Safaris) recently remarked about how much closer London is to the source of this year’s Ebola outbreak than either Nairobi or Johannesburg.
  • Brian Jackman (award winning travel writer, author of numerous safari books and regular contributor to The Telegraph (UK) and BBC Wildlife Magazine) touched on chaos theory with his remark about a sneeze in Sierra Leone not causing your cold in Kenya.

In the meantime some things just don’t change

  • Quiet campaigner in support of protecting the Mana Pools World Heritage Site, Morkel Erasmus has just returned from his photo-shoot in Kenya. He’s already planning the next trip.
  • Last week, Sue Watt reported in the Independent UK on her “5 ways to get up close” including the Congo. Amongst others Wilderness Safaris continue to support conservation through taming wild and remote places.
  • Old friend Gavin Ford leaves for the Omo Valley tomorrow with a group from the “Land of the Uneasy”. They’ll be safari converts on return - guaranteed.
  • Rafting buddy Simon Moyo returns from the US in 3 weeks’ time – he’ll go beyond the obvious below Vic Falls….down to Moemba, where no more than 300 pass by raft each year.

Some things should change

After hearing a Richard Branson rep extol the virtues of the new luxury camp outside the Mara last week, another far better exchange resonated same day.

Between Michael Lorentz (safari guide and one of the founders of Safarious) and Peter Silvester (CEO of Royal African Safaris - safaris that change lives) in an article by AfricaGeographic about “going beyond the infinity pool”.

Peter says….“Mike, screw it. Experiential travel is for the birds. What we want to be doing is experimental travel.”


Some things won’t change

So whilst the Ebola crisis builds, peaks and passes, in the chaos here’s a gentle reminder.

  • the annual wildebeest migration in East Africa is on the move…
  • migrant birds from the northern hemisphere are flooding into Africa as summer approaches…
  • the jacarandas are in full bloom…(reminding every avid student that exams are around the corner)
  • the southern valleys are as hot as hell for the next few weeks
  • we’ll be celebrating the new rains in a few week’s time!

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