How Your Next Adventure Can Help Conservation
Updated: Jan 20, 2018
You may have heard terms such as “sustainable tourism” and “eco-tourism” before but there's a good chance that your understanding of them differs to that of your friends and family because they are not very clearly defined.
The vast majority of people will point to the infrastructure and technology being used
by lodges and tour operators as the defining feature of an “environmentally friendly” operation. Perhaps they use solar energy to provide power and heat water or they recycle grey-water to irrigate the grounds. Maybe they have food production facilities on site to reduce their carbon footprint or use bio-fuels to power their vehicles.
Can we say that businesses and organisations which employ these facilities are benefiting conservation? The answer of course is, yes, we can. However, while anybody embracing these measures should be commended for their efforts, we must look deeper when it comes to conservation tourism in terms of protecting wildlife.
Leading conservation organisations and ecologists will tell you that the two biggest global challenges to wildlife are human-wildlife conflict and habitat loss, so to really be a “conservation tourism operator” they need to address these fundamental issues.
So, what are human-wildlife conflict and habitat loss? Both are a result of the increasing human population and the growing demand for resources it brings. Habitat loss stems directly from the fact that, in order to feed and house an increasing human population, land is cleared for agriculture and homes. Human-wildlife conflict occurs when the needs of a human population put it at odds with the needs of the local wildlife.
Dr Louisa Richmond-Coggan who runs the LRC Wildlife Conservation consultancy is currently in Namibia and has worked on numerous human-wildlife conflict projects told us:
"Wildlife is under pressure due to habitat loss and conflict with humans. As the
world’s population continues to grow we are brought closer and closer to the natural world, particularly in developing countries. This can create positives, such as tourism opportunities, but also conflict. Conflict with wildlife can come in all different shapes and sizes from crop raiding elephants to lions predating on cattle in Africa. The thread that links farmers around the world living with wildlife is the importance of tolerance. Tolerance towards wildlife can result from cultural, religious and moral reasons but also economic ones. When an animal has a value and is seen to be giving back to the
community the intensity of the conflict is offset. This is where tourism can be a powerful partner to help communities live and conserve wildlife globally. The income generated by tourism at the local level can support many families directly and indirectly. To ensure that the income goes to the people who live in the heart of wildlife areas it's important to travel with a company who understand these linkages and will ensure that conservation and sustainable tourism go hand in hand."
So how does your adventure help conservation? Conservation tourism can help to address these “big picture” problems in several ways. By employing from the
community (nationally and locally) tourism provides a direct income for those who work as guides, cooks, customer service staff, cleaners and managers. As tourists start to visit, local entrepreneurs and craftsman are presented with new opportunities and a new secondary market is created. Over time a tourism driven economy can evolve in which the local community is a primary stakeholder in the wildlife and landscape upon which it depends. Even those people who are not directly working within the tourism industry benefit or at the very least are under social pressure to conserve their environment and wildlife.
In areas where tourism is growing, community run lodges and cultural villages have
developed to meet demand from visitors and take on the responsibility of protecting the wildlife on their land. This includes the health of the animals and the management of the habitats on which they depend. In recent years this development has encouraged more and more young Africans to take up careers in the fields of ecology, the biological sciences and animal welfare, which can only serve to strengthen the links between people and nature.
The governments of African nations are invested in conservation tourism to varying degrees but Namibia and Botswana are at the top of the class. However, while government legislation, conservancies and community leaders can provide infrastructure and access to national parks they have little control over who uses them. This is where the adventurer, explorer, tourist, holidaymaker or whatever we call ourselves come in.
As the consumer, our choices matter because ultimately our decisions determine where our hard earned money ends up. All visitors to a country will be beneficial to its economy but choosing a local supplier has a multiplier effect which makes a much bigger impact. When you travel with a local supplier a much greater percentage of the money goes to pay guides, cooks, drivers and reservations staff etc from the country in which you are travelling rather than somewhere else. Of course, they then go on to spend their wages locally and the benefits to the local economy are magnified.
It is through this process that we as travellers can recruit local people and communities to become protectors of their wildlife and conservation champions.
Typically "local" travel companies are much smaller than their multinational contemporaries and as such difficult to find in the mass of Google search results.
The good news is that the extra effort to find the right operator isn't just good for conservation but it's also good for the traveller.
Aside from having comfort in the knowledge that your visit is directly helping to conserve the environment and wildlife you're going to get a better experience. Local operators with local staff typically have greater knowledge, better access to the hidden treasures a destination has to offer and more enthusiasm because it's their home. It's a win, win.
The video below, produced by the WWF, gives a further insight into how these issues affect Namibia and how the conservancy system is used to link communities with their wildlife.