Electric Land Rover makes your safari experience even greener

An electric Land Rover promies eco-friendly safaris in the futureFor decades the Land Rover has been an iconic part of the classic African safari. The four-wheel drive vehicles were once the only way to travel through the rugged countryside while following the massive herds of wild animals that inhabit that continent. Soon, an electric version of the Land Rover Defender may be available, allowing for an even more eco-friendly approach to spotting animals.

At the 2011 INDABA Travel and Tourism show, which ended yesterday in South Africa, Axeon, a company that specializes in lithium-ion batteries, unveiled a concept vehicle which was co-developed with Jaguar Land Rover South Africa. That vehicle had its usual 2.4 liter diesel engine replaced with a drive system powered by an Axeon’s high-capacity battery that is designed to perform in extreme conditions and in rugged environments. Axeon says that its testing shows that the electric Land Rover does very well in those conditions, while still having three times the range of a typical game drive.

Of course, the most exciting thing about this prototype is that it has zero emissions. The standard LR Defender spews out 295 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven, which makes it a less than stellar performer in terms of being ecologically friendly. Considering that it is often used in some of the more spectacular, yet fragile, environments on the planet, only adds to the concern. Axeon’s model is completely carbon neutral however, which heightens its appeal amongst tour operators across Africa, many of which specialize in the ecotourism trade.

The electric Defender has an additional side benefit for travelers as well. It is completely silent, which means that it doesn’t disturb the animals on safari either. While going through a series of rigorous tests at the Land Rover Gerotek proving grounds, the battery powered version was able to consistently get closer to the wildlife than the traditional model powered by a combustion engine, something that will probably be highlighted in the travel brochures of early adopters.

While the electric land rover has been well received by tour operators, it may yet be some time before we see them in the field. Still, it is nice to envision a day in the not too distant future when travelers can take a safari that has no impact on the environments they are visiting, protecting the natural resources there for future generations to enjoy as well.

Australia’s Kakadu National Park floods trap tourists after they ignore closed road signs

Australia floodsWhat is it with German tourists and Australia’s Northern Territory? If they’re not getting eaten by crocodiles or succumbing to dehydration, they’re blatantly ignoring road signs and driving their way into croc-infested floodwaters. NT News online reports that four wayward Germans visiting remote Kakadu National Park drove their rented four-wheel-drive–allegedly at 80mph, no less–through the flooded crossing at Magela Creek and Oenpelli Road. The group were en route to see the famed Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr, in the East Alligator region of the park.

The car stalled out, leaving the foursome stranded in three feet of water, smack-dab in the middle of a 300-foot crossing. Despite their apparent inability to heed large, glaring warning signs and screams from more intelligent roadside onlookers, the Germans possessed enough survival instinct to clamber to the top of their vehicle, where they were rescued by police 30 minutes later.

Look, I’ve spent a lot of time in Australia, including Kakadu. I’ll be the first to point out that the international media and popular film and literature make the country out to be some kind of fauna-invoked death wish. If the great whites and saltwater crocs don’t get you, the box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopi, brown snakes, taipans, or redback and funnel web spiders will.

I’m not disputing the deadliness of these creatures. And I can’t deny that certain situations like the current floods in Queensland make an encounter more likely. The advice to avoid “crocky” areas of tropical Northern Australia is no joke, and should be taken very seriously. In general, however, it’s easy to avoid crocs and the rest of these much-maligned critters; your odds of ever seeing one (even if you’re Australian) are unlikely. It’s a huge continent, guys, and like most venomous or aggressive species, most of these animals won’t attack unless provoked.

When I visited stunning Kakadu (with a seasoned outfitter from the region, because there’s no shortage of untrained, self-proclaimed, even downright dangerous guides in the world), it was this same time of year; the “Wet,” or monsoon season. It’s low season for tourists because many roads are flooded, and as such, that does make for greater statistical odds for a croc encounter. But more to the point, why would you intentionally disobey safety precautions, especially when you’re in a foreign environment/they’re prominently displayed/designed for easy comprehension by international visitors?

The bottom line is, whether you choose to explore isolated places alone or with an environmentally-responsible, accredited professional, use your brain. Obey the rules, because they exist for a reason. Behave with respect for the land, flora, fauna, and people. Your stupidity or carelessness often cause more than just inconvenience to others. It can result in great expense and lost lives, including those of your rescuers. If nothing else, you’ll become fodder for global news outlets, who use you as an example of what not to do.

Safari vehicles – stuck in the river with you

Safari VehicleSafari vehicles are versatile, and can handle terrain you wouldn’t guess by looking at them. When I was in Zambia on my recent African safari, we drove through rivers on multiple occasions. Rivers. Oddly enough, it was when we attempted a dry river that we ran into trouble.

Safari vehicles can easily navigate a small, running river. Usually, rocks are piled into the designated crossing place ahead of time, allowing for minimal submersion. It’s cheaper than building a bridge. The ride may be bumpy, but one of my guides referred to the experience lovingly as an “African massage.”

Despite the unfettered awesome off-roading capabilities of the safari vehicles we rode in on our African safari, this dry river in South Luangwa National Park gave us some real problems. Check out the video and see how we solved the crisis.

The moral of the story: less weight is better, even if it’s just three skinny girls.

My trip to Zambia was sponsored by Abercrombie & Kent and Sanctuary Retreats, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.