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Survival in the African Bushveld Part 1

The Okavango swamps look amazing from the sky. Your PH is with you and the plane is flying well. Oil pressure is good and the weather is fine. But things can and do go wrong very quickly. Be prepared - you are hunting in a savage land.

Essentials for Survival

Apart from air to breathe, water is an absolute priority.

Under hot conditions the survival time without water is very short. To conserve body water walk during the cooler hours of the day, avoid salty foods and smoking. Take frequent rests, try and stay in the shade as much as possible, wear a head covering.

Take at least 1-2 liters of water with you when you leave for a day. Hydrate yourself well before leaving camp.

You can go for a long time without food. It is not a priority even though the hunger pangs you might feel will be uncomfortable.

Keeping warm when it’s cold and cool when it is hot is more important in the short term than finding food. Overheating (hyperthermia) and becoming too cold (hypothermia) can cause death within hours.

AIR (oxygen) - death after 4 minutes

WATER (death within 3 - 4 days)

SHELTER (cool in the heat - warm in the cold)

HEALTH - general hygiene, precautions against disease, prompt treatment.

FOOD - death within 60 - 70 days.

What it Takes to Survive

It takes a lot more than the knowledge and skills to build a shelter, get food, make a fire without matches and navigate without a compass to live successfully through a survival situation. Some people with little or no survival training have managed to survive life-threatening circumstances. Some people with survival training have not used their skills and died.

A key ingredient in any survival situation is your mental attitude. It is important to have survival skills – but having the will to survive is essential. Without the determination to survive, acquired survival skills won’t help.

The person in a survival environment faces many stresses that ultimately impact on his attitude. These stresses can produce thoughts and emotions that, if poorly understood, can transform a confident, well-trained person into an indecisive, ineffective individual with questionable ability to survive. Every person must be aware of and be able to recognize those stresses commonly associated with survival.

It is also vital you be aware of your reactions to the wide variety of stresses associated with survival.

The following paragraphs expand on the meaning of each letter of the word survival. Study and remember what each letter signifies because you may some day have to make it work for you.

S - Size Up the Situation

Size Up Your Surroundings

Determine the pattern of the area. Get a feel for what is going on around you. Every environment has a rhythm or pattern. This rhythm or pattern includes animal and bird noises and movements and insect sounds.

Size Up Your Physical Condition

An accident or the trauma of being in a survival situation may have caused you to overlook wounds you received. Check your wounds and give yourself first aid. Take care to prevent further bodily harm. For instance, in any climate, drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. If you are in a cold or wet climate, put on additional clothing to prevent hypothermia.

Size Up Your Equipment

Check to see what equipment you have and what condition it is in.

U - Use All Your Senses, Undue Haste Makes Waste

Consider all aspects of your situation before you make a decision and a move. If you act in haste, you may forget or lose some of your equipment. In your haste you may also become disoriented so that you don’t know which way to go. Plan your moves. Be ready to move out quickly without endangering yourself. Use all your senses to evaluate the situation. Note sounds and smells. Be sensitive to temperature changes. Be observant.

R - Remember Where You Are

Spot your location on your map and relate it to the surrounding terrain. This is a basic principle that you must always follow. If there are other persons with you, make sure they also know their location.

Always know who in your group, vehicle, or aircraft has a map and compass. If that person is killed, you will have to get the map and compass from him.

Pay close attention to where you are and to where you are going.

Do not rely on others in the group to keep track of the route.

Constantly orient yourself. Always try to determine the location of local water sources.

V - Vanquish Fear and Panic

The greatest enemies in a survival situation are fear and panic. If uncontrolled, they can destroy your ability to make an intelligent decision. They may cause you to react to your feelings and imagination rather than to your situation. They can drain your energy and thereby cause other negative emotions. Previous survival and evasion training and self-confidence will enable you to vanquish fear and panic.

I - Improvise

Learn to improvise. Take a tool designed for a specific purpose and see how many other uses you can make of it. Learn to use natural objects around you for different needs. An example is using a rock for a hammer. No matter how complete a survival kit you have with you, it will run out or wear out after a while. Your imagination must take over when your kit wears out.

V - Value Living

All of us were born kicking and fighting to live, but we have become used to the soft and easy life. We have become creatures of comfort. We dislike inconveniences and discomforts. When you are faced with a survival situation with its stresses, inconveniences, and discomforts the will to survive is vital. The experience and knowledge you have gained through life and training will have a bearing on your will to live. Stubbornness, a refusal to give in to problems and obstacles that face you, will give you the mental and physical strength to endure.

A - Act Like us Natives

African people and animals have adapted to the African environment. Watch how the people go about their daily routine. When and what do they eat? When, where, and how do they get their food? When and where do they go for water? What time do they usually go to bed and get up? These actions are important to you when you are trying to survive.

Animal life in the area can also give you clues on how to survive. Animals also require food, water, and shelter. By watching them, you can find sources of water and food.

Animals cannot serve as an absolute guide to what you can eat and drink. Many animals eat plants that are poisonous to humans

By studying the people, you learn to respect them, often make valuable friends, and - most important - you learn how to adapt to their environment and increase your chances of survival.

L - Live by Your Wits, But for Now, Learn Basic Skills

Without training in basic skills for surviving your chances of survival are slight. Learn these basic skills now--not when you are headed for Africa. How you decide to equip yourself before your safari will impact on whether or not you survive. You need to know about Africa and you must practice basic skills geared to our continent.

Practice basic survival skills during all training programs and exercises. Survival training reduces fear of the unknown and gives you self-confidence. It teaches you to live by your wits.

Develop a survival pattern that lets you beat the enemies of survival. This survival pattern must include food, water, shelter, fire, first aid, and signals placed in order of importance. For example,

in a cold environment, you would need a fire to get warm; a shelter to protect you from the cold, wind, and rain or snow; traps or snares to get food; a means to signal friendly aircraft; and first aid to maintain health. If injured, first aid has top priority no matter what climate you are in.

The Importance of Planning

Detailed prior planning is essential in potential survival situations. An important aspect of prior planning is preventive medicine: ensure that you have no dental problems and that your immunizations are current. This will help you avoid potential dental or health problems. A dental problem in a survival situation will reduce your ability to cope with other problems that you face. Failure to keep your shots current may mean your body is not immune to diseases that are prevalent in the area. Also make sure you have yellow fever and Hepatitis A and B injections.

Even the smallest survival kit, if properly prepared, is invaluable when faced with a survival problem


Salt is essential. A normal daily diet should include 10mg (½ ounce) of salt. Salt is lost through sweating and urine and needs to be replaced. The symptoms of salt deficiency are cramps, dizziness, nausea and tiredness.

Survival planning means preparation. Make sure you have survival items and know how to use them.


Stress is a condition everyone experiences. It can be described as your reaction to pressure as you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually respond to life’s tensions.

Stress can show your ability to handle pressure without breaking you; it will test your adaptability and flexibility; and it can stimulate you to do your best. Because we usually do not consider unimportant events stressful, stress can also be an excellent indicator of the significance we attach to an event.

Excess stress leads to distress. Common signs of distress are difficulty making decisions, angry outbursts, forgetfulness, low energy levels, constant worrying, a tendency to make mistakes, thoughts about death or suicide, trouble getting along with others, withdrawal from others, hiding from responsibilities and carelessness.

Survival Stressors

Stressors are the obvious cause while stress is the response. Once the body recognizes the presence of a stressor, it then begins to act to protect itself.

Injury, Illness, or Death

Injury, illness, and death are real possibilities a survivor has to face. Even if illness and injury don’t lead to death, they add to stress through the pain and discomfort they generate.

Uncertainly and the fear of loss of control

Some people have difficulties in situations where everything is not as expected or desired. Learn to live with it. In daily life and in a survival situation nothing is guaranteed.


Heat, cold, rain, winds, mountains, swamps, deserts, insects, dangerous reptiles, and other animals are some of the challenges that will have to be faced by a person wanting to survive.

Hunger and Thirst

Without food and water you will weaken and eventually die. Obtaining and preserving food and water takes on increasing importance as the duration of time in a survival situation is increases.


Forcing yourself to continue surviving may be tiring in itself and it is possible to become so fatigued that the act of just staying awake is stressful.


A significant stressor in survival situations is that often a person or team has to rely solely on its own resources.

The object is not to avoid stress, but rather to manage the stressors of survival and make them work for you.

Natural Reactions


Fear is an emotional response to dangerous circumstances that is believed to have the potential to cause death, injury, or illness. Fear can have a positive function if it encourages caution in situations where recklessness could result in injury. Fear can also immobilize you if you do not manage it.


Anxiety is uneasy, apprehensive feeling that something serious is going to go wrong. Anxiety is reduced by physically doing the things that will ensure your survival. As you reduce anxiety, you also bring under control the source of that anxiety – your fears. If you are not careful, anxiety can overwhelm you to the point where you become easily confused and have difficulty thinking – with disastrous consequences.

Anger and Frustration

Frustration arises when someone is continually thwarted in his attempts to reach a goal. When in a survival situation, your goal is to stay alive until you can reach help or until help can reach you. To achieve this, you must complete some unusual tasks with minimal resources. It is inevitable that something will go wrong – but with your life on the line, every mistake is magnified in terms of its importance. It follows that sooner or later in a survival situation you will have to cope with frustration.

A result of frustration is anger. Frustration and anger encourage impulsive reactions, irrational behavior and bad-out decisions. In some instances, an “I quit” attitude results. If you quit in a survival situation, you die. It’s as simple as that. If you can harness and properly channel these emotions you do what you have to do.


Depression is closely linked with frustration and anger. A frustrated person becomes angrier as he fails to reach his goals. A destructive cycle between anger and frustration continues until you become worn down-physically, emotionally, and mentally. It is at this point that people give up. The focus shifts from “What can I do” to “There is nothing I can do.”

Loneliness and Boredom

Loneliness and boredom is the test that brings your inner qualities to the surface. You may discover some hidden talents and abilities you never knew you had and tap into a reservoir of inner strength you never knew you had.

On the other hand, loneliness and boredom can be a great source of depression. Find ways to keep your mind productively occupied and develop a degree of self-sufficiency.


The circumstances leading to your being in a survival setting are sometimes dramatic and tragic. It may be the result of an accident where there was a loss of life. It is not uncommon for survivors to feel guilty about being spared from death while others were not. Do not let guilt feelings prevent you from living.


Your goal in a survival situation is to stay alive. That is all.

You are going to experience various thoughts and emotions that can help you or kill you depending on how you manage them. Don’t be afraid of your natural reactions to abnormal situations - prepare yourself to manage them.

Know Yourself

Through training, family, and friends take the time to discover who you truly are. Strengthen your stronger qualities and develop the areas that you know are necessary to survive.

Anticipate Fears

You will have fears. People without fear are people without brains. Think about what would affect you the most if forced to survive alone. Train in those areas. You will not eliminate the fear, but you can build confidence in your ability to function despite fear.

Be Realistic

Make an honest assessment of situations. See them as they are, not as you want them to be. When you go into a survival setting with unrealistic expectations, you may be laying the groundwork for disaster.

Adopt a Positive Attitude

Learn to see the potential good in everything – in survival situations and in life in general. This is a habit, not a gift.

Remember what is at Stake

Failure to be psychologically prepared to cope with survival leads to reactions such as depression, carelessness, inattention, loss of confidence, poor decision-making, and giving up before the body gives in. At stake is your life and your family members who depend on you to return to them.


Prepare yourself to cope with the rigors of survival. Try to make survival items like traps, solar stills and weapons.

It is fun and doing them and it will give you confidence to use your skills in a survival situation.

Stress Management

You often cannot control the survival circumstances but you can control your response to those circumstances. Learning stress management techniques is vital to remain calm and focused as you work to keep yourself and others alive. The will to survive can also be considered to be the refusal to give up.

Unknown Factors

Many things can go wrong in a survival situation.

A rescue team can miss your signal by a small margin, you can unexpectedly share your shoe with a poisonous scorpion or your bed with a mamba.

Many survivors have discovered that a survival experience is also a spiritual experience in which priorities are examined and reestablished. With death a very real possibility, they realized that they need more than their skills to survive and discovered that God is much more than just some religious idea. Pray and ask for help - you are going to need it!

Used with courtesy

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