Contrary to popular belief, living a vegan lifestyle is not difficult – especially when you truly believe in the causes you are fighting for. For me, it has always been about the animals. Of course, I also care greatly about the environment and my health, but the animals are what continue to drive me.
This summer, my family went on safari in South Africa. When my father first announced the trip, I was beyond excited. A safari is a once and a lifetime experience and, sadly, there is a very real chance that some of Africa’s wild animals will go extinct during our lifetime. To learn about the endangerment of Africa’s wild animals, please read my blog post about our safari experience. Yet, when he mentioned we were going to a private game reserve, I had this sudden feeling of guilt and sadness. Game reserve?! My heart sunk. The only association I had with the word “game” was game hunting, and obviously, I am not a fan of people killing endangered animals for their enjoyment. Thankfully in South Africa, "game" is just a term used when referring to wild animals.
Then, there was the question of animals in confinement. I have found that my favorite childhood places like the zoo and the aquarium have become difficult for me to enjoy and I do my best to not go to them anymore. I cannot handle watching beautiful, wild animals live in small enclosures for people’s enjoyment. One of the understated vegan “rules” – I don’t like the word rules because I think it deters people from making changes towards a vegan lifestyle and I think any strides towards veganism are a good thing – is to not support places that exploit animals. I could not help but think about how the safari would potentially be a glorified zoo.
Luckily, my father is an animal lover as well and he could not have chosen a more perfect private game reserve. Shamwari has over 60,000 acres of land in the eastern cape and is known as one of the most successful private conservation initiatives in South Africa. They have spent the last 25 years rehabilitating the lands that were once taken from the animals for human use and creating a harmonious relationship with the animals. When they first opened, the animals were completely unfamiliar with the land cruisers (the cars they use for game rides) and kept a huge distance. But over time, they learned that the land cruisers mean no harm. Nowadays, the rangers drive the land cruisers to a respectable distance from the animals, and it is up to the animals if they want to approach the vehicle. It is as if the land cruisers are aliens that drive around, sometimes stopping to just watch.
At Shamwari, they do not interfere with the animals and their natural habits. The only intervene when vulnerable or endangered animals are injured and in need of assistance. Only then, do they take them to their Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre to fix up the animal and release them back into the reserve. The rehabilitation center also cares for young and abandoned animals. In my eyes, responsible reserves like, Shamwari, and places like Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves, are necessary to keep these beautiful wild animals alive. In this day and age, there is hardly any land left untouched by humans. Unless the land is protected, like national parks, the land is quickly bought and put to human use. Humans have taken up the land and habitats that once belonged to these wild animals. Now it is our responsibility to look out for their well-being and help them thrive.
Shamwari also has two big cat sanctuaries, called the Born Free Big Cat Rescue and Education Centres, for rescued lions and leopards that cannot be released back into the wild. Cats that were kept as pets or used in circuses with horrible conditions. Some other their teeth were even sawed down by their previous owners. The sanctuary gives acres to each of the cats and does their best to create a habitat that will let them live their final years happily in peace. Yes, it was extremely sad to visit the sanctuary, but it is nice to know that these big cats are in good hands.
Now, I can only speak for Shamwari when it comes to private game reserves. There are other private game reserves that are not doing the work that Shamwari is. There are some that do not have nearly enough land to support the number of animals they have. Others that sell their animals to private buyers to consume as meat. Some even feed the animals already butchered meat, instead of letting them hunt for their selves. It is extremely important to research private game reserves and learn as much as possible about them before booking a safari.
I can only relay my safari experience at Shamwari, which was beautiful, respectful, and a once in a lifetime. I believe it is so important for people to travel, see different parts of the world, and have experiences that open our eyes and minds. Shamwari was an experience I will never forget and will continue to share with others for the rest of my life. I saw wild animals I only dreamed of seeing, living and thriving in their natural habitats. I learned about their endangerment and the humbling work good humans are putting in to preserve these breathtaking animals.
From my perspective, humans and animals share the earth and can live harmoniously if we treat animals with respect. When it comes to vegan traveling, my key takeaway is to do your research and learn about responsible ecotourism. We vote with our dollars and if we make the right decisions, we can support organizations that are doing responsible work for the greater good of the earth and its beings.
Watch my video blog from our South African Safari:
When In Rome
Two of my most cherished hobbies go hand-in-hand. Writing is my favorite way to reflect after traveling to a new country. I have kept this blog ever since I studied in Rome to share my travels with families and friends. I hope you enjoy learning about my experiences and getting a sense for my writing skills. If you have any questions, please reach out!