Safaris in Africa bring in billions of dollars every single year to developing African nations. Wildlife tourism in Africa helps to boost local economies and generate employment opportunities. But at what cost to the wildlife? While we all dream of seeing a lion or elephant in real life, we are at a tipping point. Our presence in these national parks can disturb the delicate ecosystems and destroy a national heritage.
Wildlife tourism in Africa has increased steadily over the years as more and more tourists visit Africa’s legendary wildlife. In the early 1980’s, Kenya’s Mara Nature Reserve was home to approximately half a dozen lodges and held fewer than 300 beds. Today, there are in excess of 25 permanent lodges and well over 3,000 beds. This steep rise in visitor numbers has had a severely negative impact on Africa’s natural environment; from severely damaged roads to loss of habitat, vegetation and migratory patterns.
Due to such high numbers of visitors particularly in East African countries, the populations of many animals have been steadily decreasing. In Tanzania there has been a 53% decline in elephant numbers—from an estimated 109,000 animals in 2009 to 51,000 in 2015.
Despite the negatives of increased foot traffic in African reserves, there is a positive – the economic benefits. For example, the tourism sector earns Kenya an average of USD 1 Billion per year. This sector also contributes significantly to the country’s GDP. The sector is also a leading employer, accounting for 9.3% of total employment in Kenya. Such large contributions to the nations economy give the country’s government and the local population a strong incentive to preserve its wildlife heritage. This incentive is a large reason that these ecosystems are still intact as the locals realise that, living wildlife is more beneficial to the economy of Africa than dead wildlife.
The influx of wildlife tourism in Africa has also meant a rise in conservation of endangered species, protection of wildlife from poachers and education in various African countries. To continue generating an income from wildlife tourism, the industry has been encouraged to learn about operating with sustainability and longevity in mind. But it is not just the tourism operators that are being educated, it is also the tourists. There is a strong demand to get up close and personal with wild animals. It is important to educate tourists on why they should want to keep a respectable distance to wildlife and preserve these magnificent creatures and their habitat for future generations to enjoy.
To minimise the impact on wildlife tourism in Africa and still enjoy your safari, here are a few simple things you can do:
Consider your ecological footprint when on Safari in Africa. In doing so, you will enjoy a much more authentic experience. And of course, help to preserve the precious natural heritage of this incredible destination.