Holly Tuppen takes a look at some of the travel companies in Africa not only looking after the continent’s amazing array of animals but creating localised solutions for both people and land
A wise man once said, ‘Ultimately conservation is about people.’ Nelson Mandela knew better than most, that unless communities can thrive alongside wildlife, they have no reason to protect it. If kids have never seen a rhino in the wild, then when they’re offered vast amounts of cash for poaching a horn, they’ve got little to lose. Despite seeming remarkably obvious, there are plenty of tour operators and lodge-owners that choose to turn a blind eye to this fact. Wildlife in Africa is still predominantly experienced by wealthy, foreign tourists.
While it’s easy to point the finger when you dig a little deeper, conservation is not that black and white. Tourism dollars are often the only funds available to protect the land needed to keep the likes of rhinos, elephants, lions and cheetahs alive in the wild. Without tourism, game reserves in Africa would be turned over to agriculture, urban development or left to a steady demise from poaching and logging.
Tourism is often the most viable fuel to supply the conservation engine. To take a controversial example, it is estimated that US$201 million is generated every year in sub-Saharan Africa from 18,500 trophy hunting clients. It’s hard to believe but some conservationists argue that this provides a huge incentive to protect land and wild animals — but the reality is that only a fraction of this money ever reaches local communities.
The good news is that more and more lodges, tour operators and travel companies throughout Africa are addressing this complexity. Companies like &Beyond and Great Plains recognise that ring-fencing land and wildlife is not enough — local people need to be sustained and the next generation needs to be inspired. The best conservationists also know that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach. In this vast and varied continent, solutions must be localised.
Here are just a handful of those travel companies getting it right:
&Beyond: Conservation Lessons
By working with the Africa Foundation, &Beyond’s ‘care of the people’ programme has a longer-term vision than most; their mission is to empower people living within protected wildlife areas. Over 25 years &Beyond has supported more than 7500 conservation lessons with local communities — they commit to at least 50 per lodge per year. The goal of these lessons is to instil joy, respect and a deeper understanding of the natural resources that surround these communities. Operating in &Beyond’s Indian Ocean islands as well as the mainland, they hope to imprint why the protection of fragile ecosystems is intrinsically linked to locals’ economic security. Classroom learning with adults and children is combined with first-hand wildlife experiences on the reserves. https://www.andbeyond.com
Wild Philanthropy: Core Ecosystems
The not-for-profit arm of the luxury travel planners Journeys by Design, Wild Philanthropy, have identified several African ecosystems that are under threat. They hope to protect each of these by developing long-term tourism enterprises led by local operators who have a stake in protecting the land. One of these areas is the Omo Valley in Ethiopia, where damming and rising agricultural pressure is jeopardising the future of tribal culture and wildlife. Wild Expeditions is the local operator that Wild Philanthropy is developing to offer a sustainable economic future for the region — one that will protect the land and its wildlife. The end-goal is to set up a conservancy, that is run by and serves the local community. http://www.wildphilanthropy.com
Great Plains: Student Camps
The Great Plains Foundation runs several programs to support community-led conservation efforts. For nearly 10 years, Great Plain’s Student Conservation Camps (https://greatplainsfoundation.com/conservation-education/) in Botswana and Kenya’s Masai Mara have connected hundreds of local young people with the land. Through leveraging the existing infrastructure in Great Plain’s safari camps, these week-long events work to instil an appreciation of the landscape, its ecology, and the importance of stewardship for future generations. Classroom-based lessons are combined with field studies led by the camp’s top safari guides. Informal sessions also help to connect the young people with mentors and role models. https://greatplainsconservation.com
The Long Run: The 4Cs
Although worldwide, the Long Run’s roots lie firmly in Africa. Founded by Jochen Zeitz in 2009, who owns the much-celebrated Segera Lodge in Kenya, this now independent NGO hopes to protect over 20 million acres of biodiverse ecosystems by 2020. Community engagement and sustainable commerce underpin the Long Run’s work. By advocating the 4Cs — community, culture, commerce and conservation — it helps accommodation owners to align their passion for land and wildlife with long-term economic development. Of the 10 leading certified members, Chumbe Island was the first. A pocket of paradise off the coast of Zanzibar, Chumbe Coral Park is home to 90 per cent of East Africa’s hard coral species. When local fishermen were disgruntled by Chumbe’s creation of a ‘no-take zone’, they were offered the chance to train as park rangers. To ensure buy-in from the next generation, Chumbe Environmental Education program provides free excursions to children, teachers and community groups. http://www.thelongrun.org