Wildlife preservation is fundamental to the growth of African tourism. We must work together to ensure change happens, says Graham Boynton
There are signs that 2016 will be a major year for African wildlife conservation, and thus a major year for tourism. Having endured a ghastly few years of rhino and elephant poaching, where the numbers of these signature species have fallen dramatically, there are indications that NGOs, tourism organisations and even African governments are finally beginning to collaborate.
In his opening speech to the Tanzanian parliament, the newly elected president, John Pombe Magufuli, warned corrupt officials involved in the illicit ivory trade that he was coming after them. Tanzania has lost more than 60 per cent of its elephants over the past five years, so immediate and direct action is clearly required.
Similarly combative, the Kenyans are also taking a more bellicose stance. Wildlife Direct, the conservation NGO run by Dr Richard Leakey and Paula Kahumbu, says that only 10 per cent of those arrested for poaching and trafficking offences end up being prosecuted. The country’s Chief Justice has also agreed to review the filing system for wildlife crime after Wildlife Direct found that in 70 per cent of recent cases, files went missing, were misplaced or simply thrown away. Wildlife Direct is also using social media to mobilise ordinary Kenyans into becoming activists and whistle-blowers.
Both countries have pledged to destroy all their ivory stockpiles, a controversial measure intended to diminish the illicit trade that continues to flourish between Africa and the Far East. Many conservationists, mainly southern Africans, believe that banning the trade in ivory and rhino horn is self-defeating and that money raised from the sale of such stockpiles could be more usefully redirected into local communities as part of conservation programmes. However, Kenya’s Richard Leakey is unrepentant and, having persuaded President Uhuru Kenyatta to torch 15 tons of ivory last year, he has recently announced that the country will destroy the remaining stockpile of some 110 tons in a ceremonial burning in April this year.
Confirming wildlife preservation’s significance for the travel industry, We Are Africa is holding a two-day Conservation Lab conference in Cape Town in May which, according to CEO Serge Dive, will attract some of the continent’s major conservation figures, industry leaders and business executives. (A recent UNWTO survey confirmed that wildlife tourism made up 80 per cent of “the total annual trip sales” from major international markets.)
In the words of Wilderness Safaris’ founder Colin Bell, “We have no choice but to get together and stop the poaching now.” So maybe 2016 is the year this happens.
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Graham Boynton has written for numerous newspapers and magazines, including Vanity Fair, Esquire and Condé Nast Traveller, and was the travel editor of The Daily and Sunday Telegraph between 1998 and 2012. A regular visitor to Africa, where he grew up, his current consultancies include work as media director for the African Travel & Tourism Association (Atta). The views expressed in this column are his own.