In Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, the Toyota 4x4 Landcruiser of tour guide and driver Sylvester Mukenye glides silently past a herd of grazing elephants, then past a pride of lions lying in the grass.
The animals are completely unperturbed by the proximity of the vehicle because its diesel engine has been replaced by an electric one that eliminates the rumbling noise and, just as importantly, reduces the emission of diesel fumes.
“If you drive here silently, you will of course get much closer to animals, especially the elephants that we are next to right now, because there are no vibrations on the ground and there are no fumes that they get the smell from like in other cars,” Mukenye said.
His vehicle was converted by Opibus, a Nairobi-based Kenyan-Swedish company founded in 2017. It is, for now, the only company in Kenya that converts off-road safari vehicles from diesel and petrol to electric power.
Off-road vehicles are a common sight in Maasai Mara, world-famous for the annual wildebeest migration but these are the first in the usually carbon-heavy business of safari tours to be entirely powered by electric batteries.
Wanjiru Kamau, an electrical engineer at Opibus, said the company had so far converted 10 vehicles used in Kenyan game parks, including three in the Maasai Mara.
As well as being more environmentally friendly than diesel engines, the electric motors cut operating costs by half, she added.
“In Kenya our fuel prices are always rising... Why not save on that?” she told Reuters at the Opibus workshop, where assembled vehicles were in various stages of electrification.
Kamau said her company uses 35% locally made materials and aims eventually to use only local materials.