A Sad Safari Fact: The single-use water bottle


big scary monsters are not cool. say ‘no’ to plastic bottle monsters…

Yesterday afternoon, we were watching a herd of elephants cross the road. Big elephants, little elephants, playful elephants, serious elephants; all kinds of elephants. And there were a lot of them. Anyone who has ever had the privilege of waiting at an elephant ‘road block’ knows the joy these giants send hurtling through your heart. But one of these elephants wasn’t just going to cross the road. She was going to prove a point and stir something in me that’s been simmering for a while now.

Somewhere around the ‘third wave’ of elephants crossing the road, a young mother emerged from the guarri bushes to our right carrying a plastic bottle in her trunk. Ceremoniously, she dropped it right in the middle of the tar road, watching it as it bounced about and settled to a stop before she carried on. It’s like she was saying, ‘this crap is yours — have it back.

She was right. Good girl.

For a few weeks now, I’ve wanted to write about one of my big safari hates – the dreaded single use plastic bottle. Ugh.

It’s still the standard at safari lodges across the country to issue each and every guest with a crisp, unopened 500ml plastic bottle of water at the start of each game drive, in addition to the backup bottles we carry in hot boxes and cooler boxes. Average that out at two bottles allocated per guest, per game drive. If I have roughly six guests on each drive, that’s twelve bottles of water per drive, twenty-four a day and a hundred and sixty-eight every week. And that’s just me! I’m one guide in a team of many. One lodge among hundreds of others doing the same thing. How many bottles is that? A lot. And that’s a problem. A huge, blue, plastic problem.


enough of this…

I came across a blog article posted by the excellent team at Jenman Safari’s earlier this week. It’s brilliant and can be found here at Jenman Safaris.  Some of what I’m going to share here is taken from there, because they’ve beaten me to some of the points I wanted to make. Great minds think alike…

So take these following considerations to heart before you accept a plastic bottle on safari:

Africa’s recycling programs… They’re not what you’re used to in Europe and the Americas. They come with limitations and remember that plastic is non-biodegradable and isn’t just going to disappear.

Plastic is forever… Kind of. Mostly. It breaks down into little pieces that damage the soil and gets eaten by animals. It might even ensnare them. It’s a horrible way to die, with plastic wrapped around your neck or clogging up your stomach… In short, plastic is going to last for hundreds of years.

Most of the water is wasted anyway…. My guests usually just take a sip or two of their water, before discarding the bottle. Most of the bottles I remove from my car after game drives are almost full, but with the seal broken. It’s really hard to take when we’re going through such a horrible drought. I can’t bear to let the water waste, and often use the leftovers to clean my car or water my plants.

Isn’t a safari FOR the environment… And yet we’re happy to drink from silly water bottles? I don’t think so.

Honestly, just say NO. These bottles really suck.

Now what can you do?

Carry a reusable bottle… Nearly every lodge will be more than happy to keep your personal water bottle topped up with lovely, fresh, clean drinking water.


my personal hydration team: plastic, metal and glass… aren’t they fabulous?

Put a little pressure on your safari lodge… Ask them about their recycling program and what they really do with all the plastic bottles they’re using. Ask them for big containers of drinkable water that you can fill your own bottles with. Ask them if they sell snazzy reusable water bottles. Ask, ask, ask. If enough people do, maybe they’ll get the picture. Don’t be afraid to mention these single-use bottles in feedback forms. Feedback forms are gold. Lodges take notice of them.

What am I going to do as a safari guide?

Commit… I’ve made a cool ‘Earth Day’ commitment here at WWF South Africa to stop using these bottles. The only bottles I’ll make use of are the waste bottles I find in my game viewer. You can do it here: WWF South Africa: Earth Hour

Set an example… In my pre-game drive brief, I’m going to encourage my guests to use reusable bottles if they can, rather than taking a single use bottle.


change has to start with me… this morning’s sugar packet told me so. or at least I think it did…

Re-use… This is what my bathroom floor looks like. I can’t bear to throw out the bottles I find in my safari vehicle. So I fill them with tap water and store them for the day the water or electricity is turned off. No matter the circumstances, this girl can always wash her hair!


the bottles that guests leave behind in my car… most with just a sip or two missing. they’ve got a second life, making sure i’ll have water on the day we don’t have water…

It CAN be done. I read a research paper recently, profiling a safari lodge in Amakhala Game Reserve that put a stop to plastic bottles a few years ago. Instead, they began issuing guests with reusable bottles on arrival and encouraging them to fill up at a cool fountain whenever they needed to. What happened? Well, guests love their fun, branded lodge bottles that they take home with them. The lodge saved almost 60% of their water costs. Guests love that the lodge is doing something environmentally awesome and basically everyone has won.

Let’s see what we can do…

Let’s Talk… Really Bad Hair Days

A bit of a silly one today. Because I’m in that kind of mood. And I’m seriously dehydrated…

A few months ago, I had a bad haircut. It was really bad. All these weeks down the line and it’s finally starting to right itself. Nature always does. And during those darkest days of bad haircut, I sought refuge in nature. I turned to it; searched for answers. And in it I found… Countless examples of really bad haircuts. Nature is all about bad haircuts. Really.

Take this guy. I’m talking about the one in the middle. The one with the fluffy mullet.  See how his own brother on the left doesn’t want to be seen with him? And the other guy on the right is opening mocking him? Bad hair will do that.


any excuse to post this photo. it’s tie die. and owls.

Or take this unfortunate impala . He walked right through a golden orb web spider’s web. And now there’s a giant spider hovering above his face. Fortunately for the impala, even through the spider has what we call ‘aposematic colouring’ that makes it look all dangerous, it’s actually pretty harmless. And that’s good, because it’s not going anywhere soon; the golden orb web spider is renounced for how strong its web is. It’s like fishing line, and once it’s stuck to something, it’s going to stay stuck.  Can it get much worse?


(face removed in order to preserve dignity)

Actually, it can. If you’re this tree. It’s a broad leafed coral tree (Erythrina latissima) and easily one of South Africa’s more spectacular trees. Unless of course, it’s just been attacked by an elephant. Like this one.  Most of our trees have got serious defenses.  If they’re not covered in nasty thorns, they’re usually either exceptionally toxic or terrible tasting.  Not this coral tree though.  Apparently, it’s just all-round inviting.  Huge, delicious cabbagy leaves and not spikes to get in the way?  Fabulous.  That’s why they’ve been decimated in game reserves.


after the elephant apocalypse…

Fortunately for every one of us, tree included, it gets better. The owl will grow up and lose the awkward down fluff he needed to keep warm as a chick. The impala will walk through another bush some other time and dislodge his hitchhiker. The tree’s trunk is still intact too, and wasn’t ring-barked by the hungry elephant,  so even though it could take years, it’ll also outgrow its terrible haircut.

But there’s one case (okay, lots but we’re simplifying this) in nature where it doesn’t get better. Ever.

The giraffe.

We can tell the difference between male and female giraffes in te field by looking at their horns – their ‘ossicles.’ Males, like the one below are generally bald. Why? Well, being boys, they like to mindlessly smack each other with the tops of their horns. If you do that too many times – and they all do – you eventually wear off what little hair you had to begin with.   Shame. And this is one haircut that’s never growing out…

bad hair. forever.

Hoofnote:  Okay, giraffes don’t ‘mindlessly smack’ each other.  Almost nothing in nature is without a point and giraffe boys fight for the right to mate and enhance their species.  It’s very noble, but they still look silly.