How Safaris Work

The History of the African Safari

The word "safari" was introduced into the English language by 19th-century English explorer and linguist Sir Richard Burton (not to be confused with the more famous 20th-century movie star). Burton got the word from Swahili, an African language. It's derived from the older Arabic word "safariya," which means "a voyage or expedition" [source: Skinner].

British hunters like Cornwallis Harris and Charles Baldwin began venturing into sub-Saharan African in the mid-1800s in search of game, and their accounts of spectacular adventures spurred others to organize trips following in their footsteps. One prominent late-1800s safari enthusiast was the German hunter, naturalist and photographer Carl Georg Schillings, who took some of the first spectacular photographs of lions, elephants and rhinos in their natural environment. By the beginning of the 1900s, entrepreneurial British and European settlers in Africa -- who became known as "white hunters" -- were organizing and promoting safaris for affluent outsiders who wanted to bag some of the continent's spectacular game [source: Herne].

One of the most famous safaris was staged on behalf of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit, between April and June of 1909. The two Americans, accompanied by a British "white hunter" and 250 African porters and guides, landed in Mombasa, Kenya, and trekked westward across what was then British East Africa into the Belgian Congo. They then turned back northeast and finished in Khartoum in the Sudan. Along the way, the Roosevelts shot more than 500 animals, including 17 lions, 11 elephants and 20 rhinos. The former president published a 1910 book, "African Game Trials," which further enhanced the allure of safaris with its breathless, colorful accounts of adventures. For example, Roosevelt wrote of his up-close confrontation with a rhino: "The big beast stood like an uncouth statue … he seemed what he was, a monster surviving over from the world's past, from the days when the beasts of the prime ran riot in their strength, before man grew so cunning of brain and hand as to master them" [source: Eyewitness to History].

But that was then. On the next page, we'll look at today's safari experience.