The Kenyan government recently confirmed that by the year 2030, all of its national parks and game reserves will allow non-fossil fuels. All facilities relating to hospitality and tourism will also be required to prioritise renewable energy in a bid for a more sustainable environment.
Kenya’s CO2 emissions amounted to roughly 16m tons in 2020, down from 18.3m tons in the previous year, according to Statista. Despite this decrease, there has still been a noted increase in emissions from fossil fuels in the country since 2000.
For Emboo, the first lodge in Kenya to have an entire fleet of safari vehicles powered by solar energy, having a truly silent way of experiencing safaris in the Maasai Mara offers guests a whole new experience on safari, and appeals to wildlife photographers who can use the noiseless option to get the perfect, undisturbed photograph of birds and more.
The drawback of electric vehicles
But for John Musau, GM of Tamarind Tree Hotel, this ambition will be an expensive one.
“The main negatives are high cost of maintenance and purchase which will render lot of local tour operators and hotels jobless. Our hotel will for sure be affected because majority our clients want to do day trips to Nairobi national park. If we will not have such vehicles, then it means we will not be as attractive to foreign tourists as we are currently,” he was quoted by global travel news site, Skift.
Onne Vegter, Owner of Wild Wings Safaris, also pointed out a crucial point of contention with the trend.
“A number of safari lodges have tried electric safari vehicles. The technology is there and even the challenges of range and power in rough 4x4 driving conditions have been addressed. They run like a dream. But they cause the animals to run away,” Vegter old Tourism Update.
“We speculate that the animals are used to the sound of safari trucks, and a vehicle that announces its presence from a long distance away by being noisy is not threatening to wildlife. By contrast, electric safari vehicles are totally quiet and might appear to be sneaking up on the animals, like a stalking predator.”
Whatever the reason, electric safari vehicles appear to be more disturbing to wild animals than traditional safari trucks with noisy engines. The animals are very relaxed around traditional safari vehicles, but are not used to quiet vehicles and seem to get very nervous when a silent vehicle approaches.
“Personally, I love the idea of a silent vehicle for game drives. The silence and absence of fumes is a major plus compared to the noise and fumes of diesel or petrol vehicles. I can see them becoming more popular over the next few years as EV technology becomes more widely adopted,” Vegter continued.
However, electric vehicles need to be charged daily and require proper electrical infrastructure, as well as specialised skills for maintenance and repairs. If the electricity needed to charge them comes from fossil fuels, that raises questions about their real benefit to the environment. There is also intensive mining involved to produce batteries for electric vehicles, and the need for world-class recycling technology to avoid toxic chemicals and metals being dumped back into the environment.
“All things considered, I am not fully convinced yet that electric vehicles are that much more environmentally friendly and sustainable than vehicles that run on fossil fuels,” Vegter concludes.
From a marketing perspective, Kenya's vision and investment in electric safari vehicles is likely to benefit the country as a safari destination. If Kenya is the first country to successfully transition to silent electric vehicles in most game reserves and national parks, this will undoubtedly become a selling point and competitive advantage for Kenya over other safari destinations, Vegter believes.