Virtual safari: lions in your living room

We may not be able to leave our homes, but thanks to the internet, Africa awaits, says Chris Carter.

“Spare a thought for the pygmy goats of London Zoo,” says Grant Tucker in The Sunday Times. The goats are used to being petted by the public, but now that the zoo, like other attractions, has had to close due to coronavirus, the goats are lonely. “It was clear that these sociable animals were wondering where everyone was and were missing the extra ear scratches and massages they received from so many visitors every day,” keeper Jessica Courtney-Jones tells the paper. The keepers have had to step in to do the job for them. 

Still, for the other less sociable residents at London Zoo it must seem as though the tables have been turned. Now it is we who are confined to our homes, pacing up and down and occasionally getting into scraps with the other members of our pride. Happily, if you find yourself yearning for the freedom of the savannah, help is at hand.

A balm for quarantine wanderlust  

“More than half the world may be on lockdown, but more people than ever are going on safari,” says Jen Murphy on Bloomberg. Luxury travel company And Beyond has been posting live feeds of its “WILDwatch” game drives through its Phinda Private Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, via Instagram Live. Just visit andbeyond.com to watch – you won’t be the only ones. The company has managed to attract a 100% increase in daily new followers to its Instagram page at a time when so many people can’t so much as leave their homes. During one recent livestream, Jarryd Du Preez, a guide at the reserve, fielded questions from safari goers from as far afield as India, Britain, Russia and Chile. “These livestream game drives aren’t just a promising pathway toward economic recovery,” And Beyond’s Nicole Robinson tells Murphy. “They’re also a desperately needed balm for quarantine wanderlust and, in less obvious ways, an important lifeline for the animals on screen.” 

Other tour operators are also getting in on the Instagram Live action. One such is Ulusaba Private Game Reserve (pictured above) in the Sabi Sand, also in South Africa. Part of the Virgin Limited Edition collection of luxury retreats, it launched the first of four live-streamed safaris last Monday (they will be held at the same time each week at 3.30pm – just head to instagram.com/virginlimitededition). “The thrill of a game drive is never knowing what might appear around the corner and in this series of live videos, the rangers will endeavour to bring the very best of safari to your sofa,” Virgin Limited Edition promises. Lucky viewers might even catch a glimpse of the reserve’s two new leopard cubs.

WildEarth (wildearth.tv), a “live wildlife broadcaster”, also provides live-streamed “SafariLIVE” tours from Sabi Sand, as well as from the Maasai Mara in Kenya, Carly Bass points out in The Sun. Sabi Sand forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park, offering “a vast expanse of wilderness that Africa’s iconic animals can roam in freely”. The stars include lions, cheetahs and leopards. It is “reality TV as it is supposed to be – authentic and real”.

Strolling through the dunes of the Namib Desert

While you’re waiting for the animals to show up, why not take a virtual stroll across the dunes of the Namib Desert in neighbouring Namibia? These “swirling sculptural patterns” stretch for 31,000 square miles across the Namib-Naukluft national park, says Antonia Wilson in The Guardian. “Some of the largest can be found in the Sossusvlei area, home to mountainous swathes of pink-orange sand, including the 388m-high Dune 7, which sits opposite Big Daddy at 325m, and Big Mamma, 198m.” AirPano (airpano.com) has several interactive 360-degree panoramas offering views from the giant dune ridges. The tour takes in the iconic Deadvlei, “a salty clay pan backdrop to blackened, dead acacia trees”, with mist approaching from the sea and a starlit scene showing the Milky Way.

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