During this time when travel has been halted across the world, we have an opportunity to reflect on why travel to Africa is important to us and how we can continue to do so, without harming the environment and people that live within the safari destinations we visit.
There is an almost endless list of inspirational quotes by famous people throughout the centuries that speak to the long-lasting effect, benefit and influence travel has in our lives. The current travel bans not only effect the ones doing the travelling though. Wildlife conservation and anti-poaching initiatives are losing funds that come from the African safari industry. Local economies that rely heavily on tourism in Africa are also losing their main revenue stream. On the flipside, we also hear how natural rejuvenation is unfolding in wild spaces – and even in urban cities – because of reduced human presence.
Considering this, we can decide now to become more responsible travellers when local and international travel bans are lifted. Once we can freely and safely experience Africa again, we can choose a sustainable safari approach that supports community empowerment, economic development and wildlife conservation, while only leaving a minimal to zero negative environmental footprint behind.
This all too shall pass, so we encourage you to stay inspired about your next trip to Africa. We have put together a five-point checklist that, with each tick, will get you closer to experiencing a more sustainable safari.
Find a tour operator focused on responsible travel
Many people have been incorporating sustainability into their travel style for many years now. One of the best ways to get started on the right path is by choosing a reputable tour operator that is strongly aligned to the principles of responsible tourism. The company’s passion for Africa’s health and its ability to thrive environmentally, socially and financially will shine through in the company’s ethos from the outset.
If done correctly, they will create a safari experience that is unforgettable for all the right reasons, both for you and those you visit. Your trip will bring substantial and long-lasting value to them just through paying the park management and wildlife conservation fees as well as lodging at safari accommodation that employs staff from local communities and pays them a fair wage.
Verify the safari camp’s sustainability credentials
With so many camps and lodges to choose from, picking your accommodation for a sustainable safari can be daunting. You will need to take a closer look at the various properties that fall under the banner of sustainability and validate those that truly carry out this philosophy in practice. One way to narrow your options down is by researching and verifying the sustainability status of the accommodation you are considering booking.
A safari property’s genuine, long-term commitment to and investment in sustainability can be proven by ecotourism certifications and memberships to internationally recognized institutions like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and Pack for a Purpose. If the camp you have fallen in love with has been recognized for its sustainability practices on major tourism platforms like The Safari Awards and the World Travel Market, then you are even further assured that this is one of the best choices to make your safari a responsible one.
Research the camp’s wildlife conservation commitment
For a safari camp to be affiliated to such prestigious international organizations and be the recipients of equally impressive awards, they need to be leaders in wildlife conservation and environmental protection. Combining the local guides’ knowledge of the ecosystem of the area with cutting edge technological developments and support of other stakeholder groups, the camp can secure the park or reserve from poachers, mitigate conflict between community partners and wildlife, and preserve the natural habitat.
The protection of natural spaces and the wild residents that call them home is not only possible, it is necessary. This is particularly so for areas that have unique ecosystems, incredible diversity in mammals, birds and vegetation, and those that are part of broader ecological processes. For instance, protecting the route that up to 2.5 million wildebeest, zebra and other plains game journey across annually between Kenya’s Maasai Mara Game Reserve and several of Tanzania’s wilderness areas is crucial to this major ecological process.
Ask about the camp’s community investment
For a truly sustainable African safari, you will need to find out how your chosen tour operator and accommodation supports community development, social entrepreneurship and economic empowerment. All safari destinations across Africa are home to groups of indigenous people who have lived on that land for centuries as well as people who have come from elsewhere to become part of neighbouring villages and towns. The health and prosperity of these communities is equally important as that of the wildlife in the parks they live within or next to.
Safari camps and lodges depend very much on the wilderness, communities of people and wildlife surrounding their immediate location and the broader country within which they operate. Properties that work together with these community partners by empowering and supporting each other have a better chance of ensuring that all stakeholders benefit in a meaningful way throughout the process.
When there are opportunities for guests to visit a community that the camp works with, this should be a time for you and other guests to engage and learn from those with important local knowledge. Guests should be encouraged to buy locally-grown food and hand-made souvenirs from markets as this helps to empower socio-economic development within the community.
Take personal responsibility for your travel practices
While the ultimate goal of sustainable tourism is to transform the travel and tourism industry worldwide to undertake the practices mentioned above, there is also an essential role to be played by each traveler in their personal capacity. If every traveler plays their part, there will be a ripple effect large enough to gradually change this industry.
Firstly, as more people ask for tour operators, camps and lodges to align with these sustainable safari practices, the more these major role players will be forced to take their business in this direction. Secondly, being a responsible traveler means to be conscious and respectful throughout your experience as you meet people of different cultures to yours, encounter them for the first time and decide where to shop.
This checklist is in no way an exhaustive guide to a sustainable African safari. Hopefully it does, however, serve to inspire your next safari to be one centered on the people, wildlife and environment in your chosen destination in Africa. Please share with us your experiences, thoughts and ideas around the practice of sustainability in travel.
Calvin Cottar is Director and Owner at Cottar’s 1920s Safaris. Cottar’s 1920s Safaris is an award-winning luxury 1920s safari camp and private bush villa located in the famous ‘seventh’ natural wonder of the world, the Maasai Mara in Kenya, and owned and managed by the oldest established and continuing safari family in Africa.