The latest innovation in the world of sustainable safari is all about the volts powering your game drive. Electric safari cars, though still in its infancy, are rapidly getting into pole position for zero-emission, carbon-neutral holidays in Africa.
Electric safari cars are typically retrofitted diesel 4x4 vehicles – the internal combustion engines are replaced with an electric motor, batteries and charging points. The result is a near-silent, solar-powered vehicle that significantly reduces the disturbance for animals and the harm done to the environment. This conversion can cost up to $60 000 but with vastly reduced running costs, it’s believed that the investment can be recouped within four to five years.
What Are the Benefits of Electric Safari Cars?
1. Smooth & Silent Game Drives
Electric safari vehicles are almost completely silent. Safari-goers can enjoy driving through the bush noiselessly, thus minimising the disturbance for wildlife. Furthermore, the near-silent vehicles amplify the sounds of the African bush – bird and animal calls become much easier to hear.
Wildlife photographers will also love the total absence of shuddering start-ups and jerky gear changes that are synonymous with diesel-powered 4x4 safari vehicles.
2. Zero Emissions
An electric safari vehicle does not burn any fuel. There is no need for exhaust systems and therefore no hazardous gases are emitted into the atmosphere.
Electric safari cars are much more reliable than any standard combustion engine, as the motor relies on only one working part.
4. Low Maintenance
Running costs are greatly reduced in electric safari cars. There is no need to purchase fuel – the vehicles can be powered by the sun – and almost no maintenance is required on an electric motor.
Electric safari cars run at around 95% efficiency vs 20-30% for standard combustion engines. This is a significant improvement in the performance of the vehicle. Capability is also not a concern – electrical components are rugged and the sealed 'engines' allow guides to wade through deep sand and even ford rivers.
From Kenya to Kruger, there are a handful of lodges and camps that have embraced this low-impact approach to sustainable eco-tourism. These safari operators are at the cutting edge of innovation:
Lodges With Electric Safari Cars in Southern Africa
Chobe Game Lodge, Botswana
Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana pioneered the electric-powered eco-safari concept. In 2014, the lodge launched the first electric safari vehicle and electric safari boat in Africa. Today, its electric safari cars make up the majority of its fleet, and more solar-powered safari boats have been introduced.
Chobe Game Lodge’s electric safari cars charge via a big solar panel station on the property, and offer guests silent, CO2 emission-free game drives in Africa’s elephant empire – Chobe National Park is home to the world’s biggest herds.
But no Chobe safari is complete without experiencing the magic of the Chobe River. The lodge’s solar-powered boats are specifically designed to ensure complete comfort and superb views. Boating safaris are ideal for avid wildlife photographers because it offers ample space for equipment and unique angles not available on 4x4 vehicles. This water-based activity is a highlight of any stay at Chobe Game Lodge. Watching thirsty elephants line the river’s edge, boisterous hippos argue over lagoon real estate, and hundreds of antelope (including the rare puku) make their way to the water are unsurpassable game viewing experiences.
Ila Safari Lodge, Zambia
After developing the first electric safari vehicle in Zambia, Ila Safari Lodge became the country’s first lodge to introduce solar safaris on both land and water. This luxury lodge is situated in the pristine ecosystem of Kafue National Park, a beautifully wild and well off the beaten path safari destination.
Purpose built for a sustainable safari, Ila is entirely off-grid and powered by a huge solar bank. The lodge's 'Silent Safari' experience is driven by fully electric safari cars that are charged at its solar farms, as well as a solar-powered boat to glide across the magnificent Kafue River.
Cheetah Plains, South Africa
This ultra-luxe safari lodge partnered with some of the world’s leading experts in renewable energy to provide clean energy solutions that drive both its hospitality and safari experiences. All the villas and suites at Cheetah Plains in South Africa are completely off-grid, harnessing only solar power to provide a reliable and renewable energy source.
Driving the sustainable safari experience at Cheetah Plains are its electric safari cars, which help the lodge set the standard for zero-emission game viewing in South Africa. Onboard binoculars, professional Nikon cameras with telephoto lenses, and bird books elevate guests’ safari experiences, while the lodge provides an opulent oasis within the Kruger’s private Sabi Sand Game Reserve.
Chisa Busanga Camp, Zambia
Chisa is the Nyanja (a language spoken in Zambia) word for 'bird’s nest', and you’ll immediately see why this camp got its name when you lay your eyes on the rooms. Inspired by the weaver bird’s nest, Chisa’s fairy-tale rooms are hidden away in the trees and immerse you in the enchanting wilderness of the Busanga Plains.
This camp is passionate about delivering safari experiences that are gentle on its surrounding ecosystem. Guests can enjoy game drives, quietly disappearing into the floodplains in an electric safari vehicle while going unnoticed as you watch elephants, water-loving lechwe antelope and lion. Or leave the safari vehicle behind to experience the wonderful Busanga landscape from the seat of an electric mountain bike.
Makanyi Private Game Lodge, South Africa
In 2020, Makanyi Private Game Lodge introduced the first electric safari vehicle to the Kruger’s Timbavati Game Reserve. The lodge converted a diesel 4x4 to an electric safari vehicle, which is fully recharged from solar panels.
Makanyi’s electric safari vehicle has the capacity to run in four-wheel-drive mode across all types of terrain in the Timbavati, one of South Africa’s hidden safari gems. With more power and torque than normal diesel safari vehicles, plus an 'engine' that’s water- and dust proof, Makanyi Private Game Lodge offers a green game viewing experience in Big 5 country.
Shawa Luangwa Camp, Zambia
Named after one of Zambia’s most recognised safari guides, Shawa Luangwa Camp has brought the silent safari concept to the South Luangwa National Park. The award-winning guide, Jacob Shawa handpicked the spot where this camp sits overlooking the Luangwa River.
Shawa Camp proudly offers the very first silent safaris in the South Luangwa National Park, using electric safari cars powered by Zambia’s abundant sunshine. Guests can enjoy traversing the area quietly, leaving behind a light and minimal carbon footprint.
Zambia is widely considered as the birthplace of the walking safari, and nowhere does it better than South Luangwa. If you’re lucky, you can experience this one-of-kind safari activity with the legendary Jacob Shawa as you discover this incredible wilderness on foot.
Lodges With Electric Safari Cars in East Africa
Emboo River, Kenya
This luxury lodge is proud to have the first full fleet of electric safari cars in East Africa. Emboo River’s all-electric fleet charges via a solar panel station, making the need to truck diesel into a delicate ecosystem and storing it in underground tanks obsolete.
Opibus, a company in Nairobi, converted Emboo’s naturally aspirated Land Cruisers into electric safari cars by removing the internal combustion engines and gear boxes, and replacing them with electric battery engines with a capacity of 35 kilowatt-hours. That’s more than enough to take guests on full-day game drives in one of Africa’s most magical wilderness areas, Kenya’s Masai Mara.
Kicheche Mara Camp, Kenya
This authentic tented camp is situated in a prime game-viewing region of the Mara North Conservancy. It offers a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, and some of the best safari guides in the Masai Mara – all of whom have at least a silver-level rating from the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association.
Kicheche Mara Camp in Kenya has set up 6 600 watts of solar panels to charge its flagship electric safari vehicle, EV1. Gliding across the Mara plains with no carbon emissions, EV1 can be booked for exclusive use by guests.
Lewa Wilderness Lodge, Kenya
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, rhinos have been pushed to the brink of extinction. By the 1980’s, poaching reduced the black rhino population in Kenya to less than 300. But thanks to vital conservation efforts in places like the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, black rhino numbers have been recovering steadily – although the species remains critically endangered.
Lewa Wilderness Lodge in Kenya, one of the country’s original safari lodges, is situated in this exceptional conservancy that’s a haven for endangered animals like rhino and Grevy’s zebra. The advantage of being located inside the conservancy is that guests at Lewa are privy to incredible game viewing opportunities without the crowds. A maximum of three safari vehicles are allowed at a sighting, ensuring an exclusive and tranquil game viewing experience. And with Lewa’s electric safari cars, you’ll enjoy whisper-quiet game drives powered by the African sun.
Campi ya Kanzi, Kenya
Offering some of the best eco-holidays to Africa, Campi ya Kanzi seamlessly blends five-star luxury with Hemingwayesque authenticity.
The camp uses photovoltaic panels to transform sunlight into electricity, which is stored in a battery bank. Inverters then transform the continuous current into electricity that runs through the entire camp. Not only does this supply all the camp’s appliances, but it also charges Campi ya Kanzi’s electric safari vehicle. Almost every electric need at this camp can be powered by the sun!
Ol Pejeta Bush Camp, Kenya
Ol Pejeta Bush Camp in Kenya is truly committed to conservation and sustainability. The camp is situated in the phenomenal Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a beacon of hope in the world of conservation and home to our planet’s last remaining northern white rhinos.
Guests at Ol Pejeta can directly contribute to conservation by getting involved in activities like anti-poaching canine training or help a research team record lion sightings. You can also enjoy twice-daily game drives in Ol Pejeta’s electric safari vehicle, quietly exploring the breath-taking Laikipia landscape while tracking the Big 5 and rare species like Grevy’s zebra.
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