Jungle safari vehicle drivers have their work cut out for them to start, steer, and stop the vehicle while the guide points out attractions to wildlife travelers. The result is that they are neither noticed nor remembered by travelers. Pune-based wildlife expert Sushil Chikane has now launched an initiative to train safari drivers in skills ranging from storytelling about wildlife and first aid to following Covid protocols.
Earlier this month, he trained 60 safari drivers at Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh along with other wildlife experts Abhinav Pandey from Mumbai and Avirat Shete from Satna. The project was in collaboration with the Panna Forest Department and is perhaps the first such enterprise in the country.
“Every year, safari guides in the tiger reserves are trained to better accommodate tourists. But safari drivers are also valuable players in the park, and we need to invest in them and in their training. During Covid, many tourists organized fundraisers for the guides, but few remember the jeep drivers, who are among the hardest hit. The closure of shrines during Covid impacted their livelihoods, with many safari drivers now operating trucks and buses. Many villagers, who had bought cars for a jungle safari, could not pay NDE and sold them, ”says Chikane.
“Now that safaris are expected to begin in October, tourism is expected to resume and safari drivers must be equipped to make the most of the opportunity in the event of a third lockdown,” he adds.