Africa’s wildlife is unique and varied, but tragically its very existence is threatened. Earth’s human population is exploding and with it the demand for resources such as land, food and water. As the population grows, so unfortunately does poverty – there are simply not enough resources to go around. This causes desperation which leads to extreme measures such as illegal poaching. What can be done to ensure that we humans can coexist peacefully with the animal kingdom?
One solution is to bring about a mutually beneficial relationship between the groups that are fighting for these same resources. A positive way to achieve this is through ecotourism. Ecotourism is defined as: “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015). It’s important to note that here education is intended for both staff and guests.
Increasingly, travelers are actively seeking out ecotourism options as they become more conscious of the effects of travel and tourism on the environment. More and more travelers want to make responsible and sustainable choices. Across Africa this means that tourism, conservation and community upliftment are entering into a symbiotic relationship. With ecotourism, the communities who live in and around protected wilderness areas directly, or even indirectly, benefit long term from travel to these beautiful places.
The safari industry has long been a proponent of conservation, recognizing the need to protect these magnificent unspoilt spaces and the majestic creatures that inhabit them. By setting aside these large protected areas they have established themselves as leaders in conservation. However, the idea to involve and support the neighbouring communities has not always been as widely spread as it is now. Previously, the focus (for most) had been on the wildlife, perhaps with the idea that they needed humans to be their guardians, as humans are in fact their greatest danger. But more recently, there is a general recognition that everyone and everything is interconnected. So schemes which protect only the animals and the land without involving and integrating the local communities are bound to fail. The current positive trend of community involvement and upliftment goes a long way in promoting conservation.
One example is the drive to combat the illegal poaching of endangered animals such as rhino and elephant. When people are gainfully employed, successfully educated, and passionate about their community and environment, the desperate circumstances which lead to illegal activities are reduced significantly. Furthermore, communities benefit from a sense of ownership and participation. The trend of lodges partnering with the local communities in conservation is allowing wildlife to thrive along with the people.
Garth Jenman, owner of Hideaways, said: “It’s up to us to set an example to our clients, suppliers and staff, of caring about the communities and environment in which we operate. By doing so, we help to create a sustainable company that gives back.”
Luxury lodges in Africa are leading the way when it comes to ecotourism. In some cases, going off the grid and providing their own power source is borne out of necessity. However, they have also increased eco-friendly and sustainability measures for powering the lodge, the materials they use, waste-management, and wildlife interactions. When it comes to uplifting local communities, initiatives such as running educational workshops, and supporting or even establishing local schools or clinics is starting to become the norm for safari lodges in Africa.
For instance, Elephant’s Eye, Hwange is partnered with the local primary school through various initiatives such as Pack for a Purpose, Project Penya, and Grow Africa which assists with the school’s upkeep as well as providing conservation education. The eco-friendly lodge recognized early on the importance of making a positive impact in the surrounding area and is also a founding member of the Conservation and Wildlife Fund in Hwange. Hideaways strives to make a positive impact on the environment, rural communities and the economy of the areas they operate in by working hand-in-hand with its people. Promoting the long-term preservation of our wilderness areas through education, upliftment and understanding.
Travellers have the power to influence this issue by supporting eco-friendly lodges, supporting eco-tourism, and ensuring that your travel has a positive impact on local communities and the environment. When planning your next trip, consider an ecotourism safari. Wouldn’t it be great to know that your holiday is actually helping the world?