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ADV PreppingRiding With Wildlife On an African Motorcycle Safari

Riding With Wildlife On an African Motorcycle Safari

Tips to stay safe and avoid dangerous encounters with African Wildlife.

Published on 02.27.2015

So, you’re finally ready to make a coveted dream come true — to experience Africa astride an adventure bike on a motorcycle safari? The next decision is much harder — where to go, and what kind of riding experience you’re after. Either way, your choice will allow you to explore the continent close-up. Africa, the world’s second largest continent is also a bewilderingly diverse landmass as far as terrain, climate and culture.

The social upheaval sensationalized by the media is confined to areas in the north and is in stark contrast to 98% of the continent at peace. The southern regions of Africa are adventure riding-friendly. A passionate adventure riding ethos invites overseas riders to plug into the local riding culture of the region. And a well-established network of experienced tour and safari outfits offer the full spectrum of services, from renting bikes for independent travel to guiding full-scale tours.

Part of the lure is the famed wildlife that is found pretty much throughout the region, if not in protected game reserves, parks and sanctuaries, then in unfenced wilderness areas. Concerns over safety mean that most Big Five reserves (those containing lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) will not allow motorcycle access. Private reserves tend to be more accepting of motorcycles, but even lenient officials may bar entry if an animal potentially poses a threat to humans.

Viewing a herd of zebra on an African Motorcycle Safari.
Seeing African wildlife up close is an unforgettable experience. (Photo Courtesy Mark Hardy)


The opposite applies in unprotected areas, especially in the sparsely populated stretches of Namibia, Botswana, and Mozambique, even in the game-rich parts of the Limpopo, North West and Northern Cape provinces of South Africa, where animals often roam at will.

When on an African motorcycle safari, a rider may confront wildlife at the most unexpected time and place. These unplanned encounters take any number of forms, from blundering into a herd of elephant, facing an agitated buffalo, startling a kudu bull, or being threatened by a troop of baboons, even having to deal with venomous snakes and murderous mosquitoes.

The risk of these encounters can be significantly reduced by a few common sense precautions:

  • Do not ride at night. Period. If a treacherous sand track doesn’t get you, a horned antelope drawn by the headlight will.
  • Stop and stay calm. Unlike animals that either fight or flee instinctively, man can train himself to act counter-intuitively. This is important as your respectful distance signals a non-threatening confidence to a startled animal.
  • Stand your ground. Wait for the animal to signal its intentions. In most cases, it will lose interest and saunter off. Wait until it crosses the track or disappears into the bush before you proceed slowly.
  • Keep a healthy distance from animals with their young as they will go to extraordinary lengths to fend off a perceived threat.

The chances of encountering predators like a lion, or even a scavenging hyena, are virtually nil, even in remote areas as these animals are mostly confined to protected reserves. Of greater nuisance value are jackals, and more so because they carry rabies, as well as thieving monkeys and baboons.

South Africa Black-backed jackal

The Black-backed Jackal found in South Africa is the most aggressive of the Jackals and has benn known to attack prey many times its own weight. (Photo Courtesy Yathin S Krishnappa)

Being aware of your surroundings and using common sense is your best defense against unwelcome wildlife encounters. While a fire certainly will help with the mosquitoes and enhance your ambiance at night, keeping it burning throughout will not necessarily deter animal visits. Carrying a firearm is possible but only after a lengthy bureaucratic process. Pepper spray, or even a tazer, is more than adequate personal protection.

Of greater safety value is a satellite emergency notification device, such as SPOT or DeLorme, to summon help for a mechanical breakdown or medical crisis, or even to keep tabs on your trip through its GPS features.

Considerations When Camping on a Motorcycle Safari:

  • Check out your camping spot carefully. Make sure it’s not on a game path, near a watering hole or river bed.
  • If you want to camp near a human settlement, ask any of the people for permission. If they don’t have the authority, they will point you to someone who does.
  • Carry at least 2 liters of drinking water.
  • Avoid carrying fresh meat that can spoil in the heat and keep food in air tight containers to avoid attracting unwanted scavengers.
  • Keep luggage covered from midnight thunderstorms.
  • In the unlikely event of an animal wandering into your camp, stay calm and let it be. It should move off by itself.
  • Some nuisance animals like monkeys, baboons and jackal can just be shooed away. And don’t feed them, ever.

One of the greatest risks when traveling on a motorcycle safari are the mosquitoes, especially those infected with malaria. It’s very important to take prescribed malaria medication and a good idea to use repellents, citronella soap and a light-weight mosquito net at night to avoid being bitten.

Other creepie crawlies, like scorpions, spiders and sand flies, are likely to trouble a rider only at night. A thorough sweep of the camping area, including under the pile of firewood, to ensure a critter-free zone should prevent a nasty sting or bite.

Yet, few things in the life of an adventure rider are more rewarding than camping under the Southern Cross on an African motorcycle safari. Adventure Bikes offer the perfect mode of transportation for observing Africa’s wildlife up close and personal. Watching herds of beasts at a watering hole or scavengers feeding on a carcass is an experience you won’t soon forget, and the network of routes, tracks and trails criss-crossing the land provide some of the world’s finest adventure riding terrain.

A Nocturnal Visitation

Generally speaking, threatening encounters with wild animals are rare. But there are always exceptions, like the time when we set up camp in a private game reserve in Limpopo, South Africa. The owner made it clear that he was not responsible for our safety, but added that we needn’t worry as we shouldn’t experience any problems.

We found the perfect spot, a patch of green grass nice and short, overlooking the river, to pitch our tents. It turned out to be an idyllic evening as the red sun slowly cleared the sky for a luminous canopy of stars, and the smell of an open fire mingling with the aroma of a sizzling medium rare steak.

Stuffed and feeling the effects of a dusty day’s riding, we crawled into our tents. But our slumber was of short duration when loud snorting around the tents woke us. We tried to whisper but soon stopped as our anxious efforts invited a probing nudge through the canvas.

Steer clear of "Old Bertha" on your motorcycle safari. (Photo Courtesy Wikipedia/Gusjer)

Steer clear of “Old Bertha” on your motorcycle safari. (Photo Courtesy Wikipedia/Gusjer)

The snorting and rasping gradually ceased, and having re-assured each other that everything was OK, we drifted off to a fitful sleep. The next morning, on our way out, we stopped at the gate and told the guard about the night’s visitation.

“Oh yes,” he says, “that’s old Bertha, the hippo we saved from the bullet after she’d trampled a visitor to death at the reserve we got her from. She’s OK, as long as you stay clear of the grass patches she grazes,” he said.

Author: Derek Alberts

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