For more than three decades, Wilderness has used our ecotourism business to generate sustainable economic value for rural communities from Africa’s priceless wilderness and wildlife.
As a result of the work of companies like ours, a significant proportion of people living adjacent to Africa’s protected areas have come to rely on income from wildlife tourism to support their livelihoods. In most of these regions, there is little to no alternative economic opportunity available to these communities. The biggest contributor to livelihoods is undoubtedly salary income for people who work for tourism businesses – in fact, research has shown that each salary we pay supports the employee plus an average of seven dependents.
In addition to salary income, an entire industry of small businesses has developed around the bigger tourism operators, forming an interdependent web of communities, wilderness, wildlife and tourists that benefits all. In many regions, demand for wildlife tourism has also enabled local communities to monetise the wildlife on their lands by developing community concessions, where they earn revenue by leasing land and tourism rights to operators. This not only results in more land for conservation, but ensures a long-term sustainable income for these people.
Finally, Wilderness deep commitment to our community partners motivates us to support them more broadly through our business, as well as our associated non-profits the Wilderness Wildlife Trust and Children in the Wilderness. Through these entities, and with support from our generous guests and other donors, we are able to provide access to scholarship programmes, environmental education, small business development and basic infrastructure such as boreholes – to name just a few.
The clear benefits of our sustainable wildlife tourism model have undoubtedly turned thousands of ordinary people into avid supporters of conservation.
Now the current
crisis threatens to undo all these years of hard work and trust building.
The ban on international travel has forced us, like everyone in our industry, to reduce salaries to ensure the survival of our business. Many small business owners in the tourism value chain have lost their income entirely. Lease income for many community concessions is linked to revenue – no visitors means no income. And the ability of our business and non-profit partners to continue our conservation and community work at our usual scale is severely constrained.
So what does this mean for conservation and communities in rural Africa?
Like any society, we have criminal elements in our communities who are exploiting this situation through ramping up their poaching efforts for rhino horn, elephant ivory and bushmeat to sell into commercial markets.
Increasing our anti-poaching and wildlife monitoring efforts to resist the coming poaching surge is vital for the wildlife that we’ve worked so hard to protect.
At the same time, lost tourism income has already pushed hundreds of families to the point where they don’t know how they’re going to feed themselves and their children. This desperation can easily, and understandably, force good people into poaching wildlife for meat and money.
By providing food parcels to these families, we are meeting their basic needs and helping them avoid the need to break the law.
In the medium to longer term, there is a very real risk that the thousands of hearts and minds that have been won over to the benefits of sustainable wildlife tourism over the last three decades may be lost to the cause, as they see those benefits rapidly evaporating.
We feel an immense sense of responsibility to ensure that our people and our wildlife continue to benefit from our business, despite the current challenges.
It costs just USD50 to feed a family for a month. Or USD5 000 to cover the monthly operations of an anti-poaching team. Every single contribution, no matter how big or small, makes a significant difference.
We urge you to join us in supporting our Conservation Heroes. Together we are stronger, and together we can continue to change lives.
When we say we’re there every step of the way, we mean it, literally. From planning the perfect circuit, to private inter-camp transfers on Wilderness Air, and easing you through Customs. We’re with you on the ground, at your side, 24-7, from start to finish. Ready to take the road less travelled? Contact our Travel Designers to plan an unforgettable journey.