Science

A more eco-friendly safari in Africa is possible!

Helicopters and 4x4s, infinity pools and isolated lodges are hard to come by: safari by nature is a very energy-intensive activity. However, in recent years, thanks to goodwill and new technologies, it has developed rapidly. Four Reasons for Hope.

Airplane or helicopter flights, shiny SUVs, hours of surfing in the savannah, your own infinity pool, electricity in abundance generated by generators… Safari in Africa is an activity that essentially consumes a lot of scarce resources and is becoming more and more valuable. . However, according to the International Energy Agency, Africa accounts for only about 3% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions and 7% of total emissions (for 18% of the world’s population). During the recent climate summit in Africa hosted by the UN on August 29, the continent showed its willingness to play its full part in the changes that are taking place.

Safari in Africa attracts millions of visitors, seduced precisely by the preserved nature. Today it is impossible to ignore the impact of this activity, and even more so in the most preserved parts of the world. As in other sectors, travel matters and acts. Here are some virtuous examples that others inevitably portend in the future.

Electric 4X4 in its infancy

4X4 is truly a symbol of safari. These “pickup” type vehicles are usually custom built to be bigger, more comfortable, more stable and heavier. Therefore, they consume large amounts of expensive fuel in addition to polluting the environment. But there are solutions… The fastest way is not to destroy these machines to replace them, but to adapt them. There is a technology for this: “modernization”, which consists in converting a thermal vehicle (petrol and often diesel) into an electric vehicle. The predecessor of the French company in this area is Carwatt. In a nutshell, they are removing the entire engine block from the 4×4 to replace it with second life batteries. This makes it possible to recycle batteries that were discarded too early and are still difficult to recycle, as well as to eliminate the use of oil, which is expensive to buy, but also transported to isolated areas to be replaced with clean energy (ideally solar).

In Tanzania, e-motion Africa partnered with Carwatt to develop the technology for so-called sedentary vehicles – those that go on safaris around cottages, rather than roaming vehicles that travel long distances. Their autonomy allows them to travel just over 150 km and thus cover vast areas… In silence. Also a predecessor, Grumeti Hills Lodge (at the gates of the Serengeti Park, still in Tanzania), which offers its clients a quiet and clean safari. If the fauna is not accustomed to the silence of these steel machines and can surprise (especially elephants), all the more exceptional is the safari.

Sun instead of generators

Solar station Mara Serena, Kenya. Serena hotels / Press photos

The African lodge is by its nature isolated from the world, that is even what characterizes it. The most beautiful shrub landscapes cannot be imagined with crossed electrical wires. To do without these pylons, until now there was only one solution: a generator. An oil-guzzling engine breaking the silence with a mechanical roar. It was a neglect of the richest energy in Africa: the sun. Thanks to the falling price of solar panels and the increase in battery capacity, solar energy is becoming the continent’s stellar resource. In December 2021, it was estimated that 40% of the global solar potential is in Africa with just 1% of solar panels. But over ten years, many projects have appeared on the continent: in Morocco, Togo, Senegal, South Africa.

Lots of houses equipped with walkways. In Botswana, British chain Red Carnation has fully outfitted its design at the Xigera Safari Lodge, in the heart of the Okavango Delta. Project Manager Mike Myers today proudly showcases a solar station designed to power the camp and its rooms. Batteries are designed using Tesla technology… Do Elon Musk’s South African origins need to be stated? Thus, here 100% of the electricity consumed is provided by solar energy, from sewage treatment plants to the boats that sail the Okavango River, and, of course, all the needs of a luxury home in the middle of nowhere. Key: the most absolute silence.

More affordable (and larger) cabins are also switching to solar without hesitation. Among them is the Mara Serena Lodge (from the Aga Khan Serena chain), a 100-room lodge in the Masai Mara (Kenya), which opened its solar station in late 2019. This technology illuminated 74 rooms. A trial run that heralds many more for a leading hotel group in East Africa.

More water efficient houses

Camp Olduvai, Ngorongoro, Tanzania. Tanganyika expeditions / Press photos

There must be water in the house, a lot of water. Often installed on the edge of a body of water (rivers, lakes or reservoirs), houses take this fact into account when creating a project. Except that the seasons we love to go on safari are often the driest. Where water is the rarest, but also the most necessary for wildlife, for the population. Several scandals erupted in the Kalahari Desert (Botswana). The lodges boasted about the beauty of their giant pools as hungry streams struggled to water the cattle and satisfy the needs of the Bushmen. The participating company had to make an investment to raise and keep the precious money. Today, in Botswana and elsewhere, every house has its own sewage treatment plant, allowing more than 95% of the clean water it consumes to be dumped into nature. But also to collect water in good times.

In Tanzania, some lodges, including the Mara River Post in the Serengeti, are creating an ingenious harvesting system that holds scarce but abundant rainwater in giant tanks, waiting for months without rain. We are also talking about the possibility of recycling this water. In the driest areas – in Namibia, South Africa, northern Kenya – very deep wells are dug to study groundwater. This water must then be recycled and returned to nature.

In the very arid Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa, the African Bush Lodge had to solve an equation: how to have a large 1,600 m² lawn in a dry environment for six months of the year without harming the national park’s meager water resources? Lodge decided to work in a quasi-closed loop. The water is taken directly from the land it uses for irrigation. Thus, it naturally returns to the underground source that feeds various wells. A circular system of irrigation canals allows almost all water to be recycled and then reused.

Local Produce Award

Garden at Bashai Lodge, Tanzania. Bashai Lodge / Press Photos

We remember with avidity the polluting private jets, but forget how some lodges, often the most luxurious, lived in the past with absurd logic. Fresh petals that arrive every day at the edges of the Ngorongoro Crater, organic salmon eaten on a plate in the shade of an acacia, shrimp from Mozambique tasted 6,000 kilometers away. Food is one of the keys to luxury: the Relais & Châteaux can only be approved if its table meets certain requirements. However, the terroir in the bush is limited … And this is putting it mildly.

Decisions appear, again virtuous. Established in the Cradle of Mankind (the cradle of mankind), 52 Cradle near Johannesburg has orientated its entire cuisine around the harvest from the permaculture garden. Bashai Lodge in Karatu, near the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, has also created a huge permaculture garden. Maintained and developed by Tanganyika Expeditions, it supplies fresh (and local) produce to many lodges in the region. The ban also includes delicacies that do not belong there. No more rose petals unless you are in the great lakes of Kenya where they grow. No more grilled shrimp, exhausted after several thousand kilometers. No more smoked salmon that changed hemispheres. We consume local and that’s good!

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