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A History of the Modern Day African Safari & its Role in Sustainable Development

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

An African safari can be one of the most unforgettable experiences of a lifetime, and plays an important role in Africa’s economic development, conservation, and sustainability.  But do you wonder how the modern day safari came to be?

Where does the word Safari come from?

In the Swahili language, the word “safari" means “journey”. Originally from the Arabic verb “safar" which roughly translated means “to make a journey”. Swahili is the primary language spoken throughout much of East Africa and the Congo.

Trade Routes – Beginning of the first Safaris

The earliest safaris recorded were primarily focused around the trade routes. With the Arabic and African cultures so closely connected in early human history, there would often be large caravans of traders traveling across vast landscapes to bring their wares from one city to the next.

During the 18th century, trading was a profitable and successful business as many prized items, and unfortunately even people, were sold and used for barter. During the colonial era, European safari caravans were large-scale operations that involved a huge crew along with supplies and weapons.

Safaris evolve into Adventure and Exploration

Fortunately, the safari that was associated with slave trade ended before the turn of the 20th century, changing the purpose of safaris from a business focus to one of adventure and exploration. Adventures in Africa at this point were marked by great discoveries of new species of plants, animals, and birds, each one as bright and exotic as the last. And the expeditions discovered awe inspiring landscapes that were both treacherous and beautiful.

Hunting Safaris

Unfortunately, along with these naturalists and men of science came the hunters. Too often, the safari became associated with the “hunt,” that is, conquering the big unattainable wild beasts and returning from the hunt with trophies. Of great renown were hunters like William Cornwallis Harris, who not only hunted big game, but documented the hunts so that everyone would be aware of his courageous adventures into the African wilderness. This gave rise to the familiar imagery we associate with the word ‘safari’ today. East African hunting safaris became a fashionable pursuit among members of the privileged classes in Europe and America.

The Birth of the Modern Safari & Sustainable Tourism

Ironically, it’s because of men like Harris that the conservation movement was born! This movement would ultimately help save these pillaged areas of Africa and the native wildlife, allowing them to continue to exist unspoiled for future generations. Today, the modern safari is far from what it was. Tourists now participate in wildlife viewing of the African savanna, forests, and rivers, shooting them with cameras, and mounting photos on their walls. Africa’s tourism industry provides many jobs for local people and offers them the opportunity to support their families and communities through the strength of ecotourism.

Africa's national parks, reserves and local communities need a steady stream of visitors to do their important work, so in a very real sense, you are making a difference simply by taking a safari.  

Learn, Serve & Immerse on Community-based Safari

Global Family Travels invites you to safar with us on a unique vacation to discover the extraordinary wildlife and connect with the rich cultures of the people throughout eastern and southern Africa! On our African Safaris, we offer options to Learn, Serve, Immerse in the countries of South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, and custom safaris to other destinations in Africa. Each destination provides unique and authentic African cultural experiences to connect you with the people and communities we work with!

Want to learn more about the history of safaris? Join us on Saturday, November 14th for a free travel event to learn more about the history of safaris, which will also show how you can make a difference for local communities and wildlife in Africa. RSVP here to register!

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