Dark Continent Preparations
September 24, 2010
A detailed account of what you need to know and do prior to taking the big trip to Africa.
With a trip to Zimbabwe for dangerous game fast approaching us we were reflecting on the amount of preparation it takes to get ready. We thought we would share with you our experience and thinking on the matter. Between us, this is going to be our eighth trip to Africa and while that does not make us the most experienced, we are more detailed than most and have taken the time to put it all on paper. These experiences and planning suggestions will absolutely make your long awaited hunt in Africa more enjoyable. Much of what we talk about below is not just applicable to Africa, but to any hunt that involves travel, especially across international lines. We have learned a few things that will save you anywhere from a little to a heck of a lot of frustration.
Let's start at the beginning since these types of trips really need to be planned well in advance -- at least 12 months -- and preferably longer. First, most people just don't know an African PH (Professional Hunter) you can just call up and book with. Unless you have a good working relationship with a PH we highly recommend that you go through a reputable African safari-consulting agency. A consulting agency can direct you to a well-known PH in the best location and time for the particular species you want to pursue at the best price. This first step can make or break your hunt right out of the gate.
It is important to go over the contract details carefully. There are fees particular to African hunts that you may not be used to so make sure you are being given a total cost with no hidden/extra fees.
We would never consider going to Africa without some sort of travel insurance. Political instability, risk of disease and injury, and just bad luck track you when you travel to Africa and to a greater or lesser extent when you travel in general. Travel insurance services actually can be broken down into several components.
We suggest at a minimum that you look at insurance that covers your non-refundable tickets. Some of the tickets to more remote places can cost a pretty penny. Airlines are not known for customer service these days and absent an autopsy, your reason for a last minute cancellation may not ring their bell. Your travel agent generally (which we recommend using) can do this part.
Trip cancellation insurance is also worth considering. If the outfitter cancels, well he should refund you in full and it should be in the contract. But what if you get hurt or sick 3 days before the extravaganza begins? What if heaven forbid you lose a family member just prior to departure and just can't go? You have to read the fine print, but these policies are priced on what the cost of the Safari is.
There is another insurance that is an absolute must have; medical travel insurance. Travel medical services insurance IS NOT a substitute for regular type medical insurance. Please do not think your standard type medical insurance can be dropped for the services we discuss below. Most obvious is the fact that travel medical insurance services are just as likely to be needed on non-hunting trips as they are in any of the far flung exotic places our passions take us to. It is precisely because of this reality that we have to choose wisely. Clearly most of us would rather have our medical care closer to our home if we are hurt or sick. Unfortunately, we seldom think of these mishaps befalling ourselves in the bush let alone where WIFI networks exist in urban areas. But, they do occur and more often then you think.
Medical travel insurance services can be very limited and specific. There are literally scores of air ambulance companies. Mostly these services are contracted post hoc but can be purchased prior to a trip. What these companies provide is a ride home. They have very restrictive criteria. Basically, you must already be in a hospital, in a place that they cover and they then bring you to another place that they cover. Unlike the ambulances that we see and hear on a daily basis on our streets, there is usually no pick up from where the injury or illness occurred and the drop off point may be predetermined as well. We do not recommend this skeletal service type.
In order to have any real value, especially in Africa, the company you choose to trust your life with will always send help to you immediately WITHOUT you having to see a physician first or actually be in a hospital if they are not available or of poor quality. This cannot be overstated, as there may not be a qualified physician or a hospital anywhere to be found. The equipment they pick you up with needs to be a fully equipped mini-emergency room with wings that is staffed by well-trained, credentialed personnel. Continual contact with a trained medical doctor is an absolute. Also the ability and willingness to get you all the way home not just to the closest hospital (which could be a less then desirable locale) is a high priority. Lastly, having contacts in countries all over the world and speaking their languages is a must. These are the major points but if you review the fine points of the policies, you will see there are many other small but very important benefits offered by each company.
We are not insurance agents or lawyers. So we are not going to tell you what is best for you to do. However, MedJet Assist is the medical part that we purchased. For a few hundred dollars a year, they will pick you up anywhere in the world and fly you home in a medically equipped jet air ambulance in the unfortunate case you are injured or sick. The insurance lasts for a full year and has no restrictions on how much or where you travel. The fact is that you really don't want to be treated in any of the local "health care sites" with a pitiful few exceptions. You'll have seen it on TV so without expanding on that, I will leave that picture up to your imagination.
Vaccinations (a critical part of prevention) have to be considered. As a child/young adult all of us should have been vaccinated against Tetanus, Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Polio and hopefully your primary care physician has kept these up to date. Also, since the 1980's and early 1990's all children should have immunized against Hepatitis B and Pertussis but not most of us older folks. Kids however aren't given small pox vaccines so things aren't at all static. We suggest that prior to your next hunting trip anywhere (US included) ensure you're up to date with your immunizations. General recommendations are below followed by more specific suggestions.
A. You have received a Tetanus/Diphtheria (T/D) vaccine in the last
B. If you are older than 50 years old, or if you have medical problems
that you receive the last years and this years Flu shot (remember, the Flu hits different parts of the world at different times not just winter like the U.S.).
C. If you are older than 65 years old or if you have medical problems that you receive the Pneumonia vaccine (Pneumococcal) in the last 10 years.
D. You have received at least one; Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR)
vaccine in your life.
E. You have had the Chickenpox or received a Varicella vaccine This one requires 2 doses 4-8 weeks apart.
F. We suggest everybody traveling outside the U.S. to a developing country receive the Hepatitis A vaccine (requires 2 doses 6-12 months apart). Hepatitis A is a viral infection of the liver and is the most frequent vaccine preventable infection of travelers to any developing country.
Once these general protections are secure, you must now determine which of the numerous remaining vaccines you specifically need based on season and destination. Hepatitis B, Meningococcal (for meningitis), Yellow Fever (required by some countries before you will be allowed entry), Polio, Rabies, Typhoid, Anthrax, Tuberculosis and Japanese Encephalitis are all preventable through available vaccines. This is where it can get really complicated but believe it or not, our government has simplified the process tremendously. Visit CDC (Center for Disease Control) online and click on "TRAVELER'S HEALTH" and all the extra needed information is at your fingertips. Pick your location under "DESTINATIONS" and everything you need to know about all medical precautions for that area is there including vaccines. This site is updated regularly.
Malaria is a real concern in parts of Africa but not everywhere. Malaria is not some abstract point we are trying to make, it is the real deal. Millions die yearly from Malaria. CDC's Traveler's Health will give you a detailed map of where they recommend someone traveling to should take prophylactic medication. It requires a simple prescription from your family doctor and you are good to go.
George Carlin did a routine about the differences between a drug and a medicine over 30 years ago. At an international border this is no joke. You must have all your medicines in their original bottles. The prescription must be in your name. Spousal medications, even if totally benign are just that; not yours and hence illegally possessed. Trust us that customs officers may take great exception to a bottle of different colored pills coming into their country. In Africa or really any international border and especially upon returning home to the USA, the customs response will vary by which officer, which country, which location in a given country and even their mood that day. You may hear options that range from 1) be more careful next time 2) throw all this away 3) non-admittance to the country 4) handcuffs. If you are prescribed scheduled classes of medication then do not take more pills in the bottle than you will need. If you are taking something twice a day and plan a 14 day trip, don't bring 28 days worth because you filled the Rx a couple of days before your trip. A few days extra pills yes...more than a few and eyebrows may be raised. Samples are a no-no unless signed and dated by the doctor who gave them to you. Finally to my doctor brethren, the English language does not have a word to describe how little our licenses mean in other countries.
As medical doctors we take along an emergency medical kit that contains sutures, scalpels, injectables and stuff we really don't want to have to use. We have treated camp staff, PHs, ourselves, friends and the occasional local. We also take antibiotics for specific issues that we suggest you discuss this with your doctor prior to going since prescriptions will be necessary. It is beyond the scope of this article, not to mention impossible to teach you to be an EMT. There is no harm done, however in buying the inexpensive Red Cross first aid manual and going through it before you leave. We'll be brutally honest here; CPR in the bush isn't like on TV. Serious wounds, broken bones, snakebite etc need to be evacuated ASAP.
For the average traveler, we suggest bringing along a simple First Aid Kit that contains at least the following. We pack a pelican box full of Pepto, Band-Aids, 1% HC cream, Benadryl, Imodium, Tylenol, NSAIDS (Motrin, Aleve etc), disposable thermometers, tape, sterile 2x2 gauze, eye drops, Sudafed, mole skin, hydrogen peroxide, triple antibiotic ointment, tweezers, sunscreen, superglue, and nail clippers. Basically just stuff you have at home anyway and since there isn't a drugstore to stop at on the way back to camp, it's not a bad idea to bring them.
Back to more fun stuff like caliber and bow poundage. There is more written about African calibers and broad heads than we can even read about. Discuss all this with your PH and consultant and make an informed choice! Laws will vary from country to country and within a country (just like here in the USA) so getting your gun in and out of Africa requires planning. It seems that almost a day doesn't go by without new rules and regulations. For instance, you can no longer fly from Britain to Zimbabwe with a rifle, but you can with a bow. You can't bring two rifles of the same caliber into Republic of South Africa (RSA). Get the gun laws from your Consultant before picking your weapon of choice and that applies to bow hunters too. There are a lot of new laws regarding hunting with a bow recently.
A majority of African Safari's will begin with your landing in the Republic of South Africa. If you are catching a flight out of RSA to another country (without an overnight stay in RSA) than you will not have to deal with RSA gun issues. If an overnight stay in RSA is part of the process or you are hunting in RSA, then there is paperwork like you have never seen before. Fortunately there are services that will do all of what needs to be done before you get there. We use www.hunterssupport.com. They will provide you with everything that you need. You simply fill out the multi-page application and send it back along with your other particulars as they instruct. They will then get you the needed permits, meet you at the airport and walk you through the whole process till they deliver you into the open arms of your awaiting PH with your rifles. Without them, expect hours upon hours of frustration stuck in a long line waiting for someone to do something. Suffice it to say, no matter where you are going, a gun import permit will be required. You need to get these papers well in advance and make sure they are filled out correctly with all the supporting documents in hand prior to your arrival. Make copies. Any good consulting firm that you book through should have and make available all of this information, forms and applications to you soon after booking the trip.
On the subject of guns don't forget our friends at the airlines. Do not leave your bolt in your rifle thereby making your life easy and the duration of your interaction shorter. Don't pack the key to your locking case in your other suitcase, carry one copy with you. Don't pack black powder propellants. A whole bunch of US agencies say that is a big no-no; ditto to primers and percussion caps. If you are planning to use a muzzleloader, be sure to give your outfitter the time and if need be, the funds to have what you need waiting for you when you get there.
Bringing your gun back to the USA needs to be addressed before you leave as well. Basically you need to prove that the rifle you are bringing back into the US was boug
ht in the US. That requires either the original invoice from the purchase or a Customs Form 4457 — Certificate of Registration For Personal Effects Taken Abroad. This is easily obtained at any Customs office and costs nothing. Just bring in your firearm (unloaded, bolt out) and you are on your way in minutes. While you are there, bring in your binocs, camera and any other expensive gear you are taking with you and document your ownership prior to leaving the US (leave jewelry and expensive watches at home). This allows for you to avoid discussions of import duties as the time to your connecting flight dwindles.
CITIES permits, if they are an issue, need to be addressed. Are you hunting a species in a location that requires a CITES? Find out at booking. If you are hunting a species that requires a CITIES permit before it can be imported into the U.S. you need to apply early. It can take up to three months for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to issue it. But be careful, you don't want to get the permit too early because it is only good for one year from the date of issue. Clarify expectations about how long trophies will take to arrive in the USA before you sign your contract. Your consultant or outfitter should provide you with the qualified Dip and Pack agency they use. Contact the Dip and Pack company as the whole process can take up to 12 months to get your trophies exported. If your permit expires before your trophies get to the U.S., they will be seized and you will have to reapply to get another permit and there is no guarantee on it being issued so plan carefully. Lastly, in regards to CITIES permits, make sure to only give one of your copies to your PH for the export permit. The original must be on hand with your Customs Broker when the trophies arrive into the U.S. A copy will not work and the Customs officer will seize your trophy shipment and store it at a high daily cost to you till you get the original to him.
Make sure you have picked an experienced African animal taxidermist prior to leaving on your trip. DO NOT even think of using your local whitetail deer taxidermist. Other then the obvious, the expert African taxidermist will already have a Customs Broker at a legal port of entry that he uses to get your trophies through the process when they arrive into the U.S. Otherwise, you will have to go to where ever your trophies arrive and try to wade through the mounds of paperwork and rules with the Customs officers over numerous days; bummer. With a wise choice of taxidermist, they will give you tags that you will give to your PH, which he will place on your trophies that have all the information that the Dip and Pack company will need to send your trophies home safely.
Always register with the State Department where ever you are traveling especially traveling away from North America. Their address is https://travelregistration.state.go Make sure you have your passport, U.S. Customs 4457 forms for guns and valuables, import gun permits (applications completed prior to arrival), medical evacuation insurance card, all your emergency contact information, local U.S. embassy contact information and a complete airline itinerary as well as your entry VISA if required and not issued when you arrive. Make copies to leave with loved ones at home and as well, copies of all these kept in separate secure places just in case the originals are lost. Many of these African countries also require that you are able to give them ALL the contact information for the PH you are hunting with as well as the location you will be visiting.
It is not advisable to bring large amounts of cash with you anywhere you travel. Taking enough to pay the import and export taxes to get you into and out of the country, tips for the PH and staff and some spending money is fine but leave the rest at home. Discuss tipping with your consultant prior to departure. Take travelers checks for the balance of the hunt if needed and a credit card is not a bad idea to have with you just in case. Checks are useless. If at all possible you should pay for your trophy fees (expected trophy fees) prior to departure. If we owe a balance upon completion of the safari we pay it when we get home.
Rent a satellite phone. They are cheap to rent, easily portable nowadays and work very well over there. Cell phones do work occasionally but there is no guarantee so I wouldn't risk my life on it especially if you are hunting dangerous game. Plus it is nice to be able to speak with your family occasionally and rub it in...er share the excitement. It does you no good to have medical evacuation insurance and no way to contact them. The horror story of an injured person having to be transported on those horribly bumpy roads for hours till a working phone could be found to get emergency help is just not something we want to experience. We don't want to check our e-mail on Safari, but you can if you must with the new technologies available.
Food and drink are things to be discussed at booking. Special dietary needs can usually be met if the PH has the information in advance. Your PH is responsible for bringing to camp sufficient safe supplies of water and food stuffs. Meat, well that is your department and fresh Eland steaks are simply delicious! An emergency water filtration is kept in the truck, but has never been used. Most folks don't take one as truthfully, we have never had an issue so water filtration systems are not needed.
Clothing will of course vary by location and time of year. Watch enough hunting on TV and it is hard not to giggle when you see big 'ol green oak leaves "blending in" the African bush. Camo is a very bad idea in some parts of Africa and can be interpreted as the uniform of an insurgent or rebel group, especially as you are armed! Just don't bring camo. Drab green of the classic safari clothes have worked well for well over 100 years. You can discuss clothing at booking and simply use your computer to look at average temperatures and rainfall. We got a packing list that contains "raingear". It is of course a generic list for the consultant's entire safari season and locations. Since total rainfall where we are going from June through the end of August is 0.11 inches, we elected not to bring raingear. Also, do not underestimate what 40 degrees feels like in an open moving truck. Most safaris occur in the African winter and it can be chilly in the morning. A light layer of clothes that can be pealed off is all you need. It will warm up quickly but before it does..brrrr. Break in your boots before you go.
Make a plan to get in shape. Not sheep shape mind you but fit enough for the requirements of your hunt. Anticipate walking several miles a day. For elephant as an example and sometimes buffalo there may be as much as 10 miles or more in a day but that is certainly not the norm with a regular plains game safari. Educate yourself when you book as to what the physical requirements will be.
Although a lot of planning is involved but let's face it; it's absolutely worth it. You are booking a hunt at least a year or two in advance so there is plenty of time to get all this done and the better the planning, the better the trip. We come back to the most important issue we raised above and that is to start with a well known, qualified, experienced African safari Consultant and he will make this whole process easy for you.
On a per species basis there really is no place in the world to hunt that is cheaper. The diversity of game is absolutely amazing and you will treated like
a king. Everything aspect of the hunt is done for you, no suffering weather or terrain, no meat to pack out; no skinning and no lack of game. Your only job is to pull the trigger and have the first of many more trips of a lifetime. We travel all over the world and long to go back to Africa as soon as we return and you will too.
We apologize for the length but we endeavored to make this as complete as possible since this can be a very complicated and frustrating trip if not planned well. So as always be safe and enjoy the outdoors.