The effects of the Coronavirus pandemic are felt everywhere throughout the world. Here, I’m talking to Alice Gully, one of the owners Aardvark Safaris, a specialist tour operator based in the UK working with camps and huts throughout Africa. He said that the impact of the decline in tourism would have a major impact on conservation efforts in Africa. The message is clear: keep planning and dreaming of trips for the future, and if you’ve already booked a trip, postpone instead of canceling – if you can.
1. You partner with various safari huts throughout Africa. What kind of conservation work do they do?
Every safari lodge used by Aardvark Safaris in Africa is a functioning conservation project. If you use a ratio of 1:10, for the number of people supported by each employee, each cottage employs a number of people who have large families that depend on them. They also support school teachers, local facilities, soccer clubs and medical clinics. The network of each cottage is very large. Also all the cottages pay maintenance fees or park fees which help keep the local community in favor of tourism and keep wildlife as a valuable resource. Only by being on the game drive, tourism helps with anti-poaching. This is all before the conservation efforts that they shout such as protecting rhinos, supporting community schools, community health clinics, blind clinics and so on.
2. Can you give an example of some work that has been done?
There are so many places: House in the Wild, for example, is a family-owned private boutique cottage, in a unique location perched on the banks of the Mara River. It is located in Naretoi, a 1,000 hectare private land inside Enonkishu Conservation on the edge of the window Masai Mara. In what was once intensive agriculture, Naretoi was the first project of its kind in which the land on the banks of the Mara had changed from farming back to nature. This ‘improvement’ project has brought the meadows around House in the Wild back to their natural state, with wildlife returning to the area after more than a decade of intensive farming. The transformation of this area is inspiring, with current public appearances about wild dogs, leopards and pride of lions.
The owner is also the founder Enonkishu Conservation, where they work with 50 Masai families to protect the surrounding grazing areas. This means that the community can earn income from guests and also from their livestock, in a holistic grazing plan, where wildlife and livestock can develop together.
Another project is Kwandwe Private Game Reserve in South Africa, these 54,000 hectares are home to the ‘Big Five’ and also a sanctuary for many other endangered species. They have had a number of remarkable conservation victories, including reintroducing the endangered black rhino, returning cheetahs to the Great Fish River Valley for the first time since 1888, recapturing intense and often destructive farming areas, reintroducing more than 7,000 wild animals ( elephants, white and black rhinos, hippo, lions, leopards and brown hyenas.) Kwandwe also has more than 13,000 hectares of sub-tropical shrubs, with 520,000 tons of carbon stored on the property (on average, sub-tropical shrubs store 40 tons of carbon per ha).
3. How can tourists help in the current climate?
Don’t cancel, order again so you save your money in Africa. Make sure you use a reputable operator and good contact with good relations with the local community. Importantly, don’t be shy to book future trips and therefore commit to camp in Africa so they can look after staff, and continue their conservation efforts and their communities. It is very important for employees to stay involved and hope and not look for alternative sources of income, such as poaching. All cottages and camps charge a fee per person, per night, with conservation or park fees above, which means that each guest directly contributes to conservation efforts just by going on safari.
4. How do you predict the future of the journey when we return to ‘normal’?
People reassess what’s important, realize that life is valuable and value relationships. Going forward, we believe that people will be more aware of how they travel and live, travel more responsibly and thoughtfully and therefore choose where their money goes. They will look for more sustainable goals and more memorable experiences.
5. What are the current top priorities for these lodges?
Stay solvent, ensuring business for the future so they can maintain their immediate landscape and keep their team working, so they don’t look for alternative sources of income that could potentially damage the local wildlife population.
6. Can you highlight each cottage to visit in the future and what are their conservation efforts?
Most, if not all, of the Aardvark Safaris camps work by supporting conservation and community projects. It is important when talking about conservation projects, to highlight that the project is closely related to communities that live between wildlife and protected land. Without initiatives that are supported by the community, and focused on the future, lasting conservation heritage is not possible. Here are three that will also offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The purpose of the Ant Collection is to create sustainable tourism by preserving the environment around them, enriching the lives of our guests and staff and improving the community and providing as much skills and development as possible to the local population.
The Ant Collection is a member Waterberg Nature Conservation, which consists of a number of private game reserves covering 300,000 ha. This is all included in Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, which is a UNESCO heritage site that promotes conservation and sustainable use of natural resources within its limits.
The community projects they support include helping underprivileged children through their education, community support by providing training and skills to unemployed young people from the local area to return to work – training projects including wildlife safety, chef training, housekeeping and nature guide.
Borana is home to the largest rhino conservation in East Africa. The owner has invested his life savings to protect the rhino on his farm and is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable philanthropist, trying hard to protect these magical creatures. Borana commits all retained earnings from commercial activities to support conservation costs.
Borana ran The Borana Conservancy, a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to the sustainable conservation of critical habitats and wildlife. Its mission is to provide sustainable ecosystems, in partnership with their neighbors and communities, for endangered species on the brink of extinction. Successful conservation is the result of careful coexistence between humans and wildlife. Conservation runs agricultural support, educational support, mobile clinics, which support thousands of people in the surrounding area with health education, family planning, HIV counseling, anti-natal care and immunization.
The Lewa serves as a safe haven for the endangered black rhino and the endangered Zebra Grevy, as well as elephants, lions, giraffes, wild dogs, and other iconic wildlife species in Kenya. Lewa has combined world-class anti-poaching operations techniques, including monitoring technology, with the involvement of surrounding communities as important partners in conservation.
Lewa envisions a future where people throughout Kenya respect, protect and benefit from wildlife. This future depends on communities that can obtain their daily livelihoods in a way that is suitable for the evolving wildlife habitat. As a result, Lewa invested heavily in the livelihoods of her neighbors through programs in education, health, water, microbusiness, youth empowerment and more.
7. With no visitors at the moment, how can we help ensure the survival of these camps?
Keep planning and ordering for safari holidays in 2021! By doing this, the camps can continue to employ staff so that they don’t go looking for other sources of income that damage wildlife populations, such as grazing, burning charcoal or poaching. By planning and making sure the money goes to the right place, there will be industry and wildlife to return.
Choose camps and huts carefully, support small and independent people – who have conservation and community projects, these are the ones who most need support to ensure their survival, and continue to carry out these important projects. A good tour operator will be able to help guide you with good camp options and safari huts.
8. What is your message of hope?
Aardvark Safaris has been operating successfully for 22 years, we have been here before with Ebola, 9/11, crash 2008 – business on all these occasions suddenly stopped. Each felt threatening, but we got through it. This is a reminder of what’s important – on the other hand, we will have a better understanding of how we should treat one another and, importantly, our environment. We will become more aware of how we vacation, with whom, where and why. Do something useful when you reach your destination, where you can create long-lasting memories.
People have started planning trips for the end of this year and beyond. As soon as treatment, vaccines and tests are available, perceptions will be different. It passed, and every storm ran out of water.
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