Tourism is a mixed bag in many regards. Too many people passing through can strip an area of its culture and overwhelm the local ecosystem. On the other hand, sustainable tourism provides jobs while giving locals an incentive to preserve the wilderness instead of trying to farm the open land or poach the animals. Here is an overview of the impact of wildlife tourism in Africa.
We’ve already mentioned how tourism can overwhelm an area. For example, the Mara Nature Reserve in Kenya had half a dozen lodges and 300 beds. The number of beds has increased by a factor of ten. The number of tourists passing through has eroded habitats and disrupted animals’ migratory patterns. This is believed to be the reason why animal populations in East African nations are on the decline despite efforts to preserve them. The industry is starting to realize that people won’t come if the elephants, lions and other large animals disappear. You can encourage this by only traveling with safari companies that have sustainable practices.
Furthermore, you should choose safari companies that hire locals instead of bringing in foreigners. If they employ locals, it gives them more of a reason to preserve the wilderness. That’s why we’d suggest booking an African Safari with Naturetrek over the alternatives. Prioritize truly eco-friendly lodges that harvest rainwater, use locally grown food and have a minimal impact on the land. This is in contrast to safari lodges that say they’re eco-friendly because they recycle their plasticware.
When you’re on safari, abide by all rules and restrictions. For example, you shouldn’t feed the animals or aggravate them by trying to get an amazing photo. Don’t go for a hike through the bush in areas where the native animals are not used to interacting with humans. Don’t litter. Don’t remove animal material like bones from the park.
The wildlife tourism industry contributed around 120 billion US dollars in 2018. That is roughly 4% of the total global economic value of travel and tourism. However, some parts of the world have far more wildlife tourism than others. For example, less than 1% of tourism in the United States is wildlife tourism, whereas more than a third of tourism in Africa is wildlife tourism.
Wildlife tourism can generate quite a few jobs. Industry surveys suggest that wildlife tourism creates around 3.6 million jobs in Africa as a whole and contributes around 40 billion US dollars to the African economy. Again, the impact varies from country to country.
A good case study would be Kenya. The tourism sector generates around a billion US dollars for the country every year. However, that money isn’t going to the elites. Tourism accounts for roughly ten percent of all jobs in the country and eight percent of the GDP. In Tanzania, it is ten percent of their GDP. In Namibia, it is a whopping 15%. In Rwanda, tourism generated nearly 500 million dollars. That was 5 percent of its GDP. That money is an incentive for people not to kill the gorillas which tourists pay up to 500 dollars a night to observe.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of wildlife tourism is that the jobs are worth much more to local people than the animals are if they’re dead. Studies suggest that wildlife tourism generates five times as much income as trade in illegal wildlife, whether animals are killed for meat, tusks or Chinese medicine. This can lead to locals joining the fight against poaching and local governments funding such efforts.
Furthermore, eco-tourism reduces the value of hunting. In Tanzania, the country earns around 13 million dollars in hunting fees. In South Africa, it is more than 200 million dollars as of 2006, though recent figures may be lower. What is less clear is how trophy hunting contributes to wildlife conservation, since it can fuel poaching of large animals, as well.
There are legitimate complaints about eco-tourism. In parts of the world where the areas used for eco-tourism are owned or managed by tourism corporations, the locals don’t see these benefits. The coronavirus crisis and the government-mandated shutdowns have thrown hundreds of millions into dire poverty. And it has proven how risky it is to rely on eco-tourism for a large part of your economy. This will likely drive many countries to try to diversify their economies. And offering discounts to the local middle class is only a start.
The Cultural and Social Benefits of Wildlife Tourism
Tourism also indirectly benefits the local population. It leads to the construction and maintenance of roads, power systems and wireless communication networks that give locals greater access to the rest of the world. It leads to the construction of schools and health clinics. For example, lodges run in Kenya’s Laikipia region generate money to pay for healthcare and education. Botswana set up tourism in the 1980s based on this model. Lodge and safari operators pay lease fees over 15 years. The money goes straight to local communities. The longer leases are believed to encourage organizations to invest for the long-term.
In many places, you may see locals serving as porters, performing local dances or showing off traditional handicrafts. It allows people to earn a living while following their traditional lifestyle. Lodges are increasingly run by locals, and anti-poaching forces almost always are. This gives people a way to remain in the area instead of migrating to the city slums to find work.
On the flipside, the locking up of land in wilderness preserves can lock out nomadic pastoralists like the Masai. When their cattle aren’t free to roam, this has an impact on the environment. Or people are forced to settle into permanent communities, something that erodes their ability to live their traditional lifestyle.
Tourism can fuel charitable efforts, too. It isn’t uncommon for tourists to donate money to local causes such as building schools, paying doctors or leaving behind solar lanterns. On the other hand, many wilderness parks are run by non-profit organisations. And tourists frequently donate money to further their efforts. The fees they pay to visit national parks help keep those parks running. For example, tourism fees cover 70% of the budget for South Africa’s national parks.
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