This year has been incredibly tough for everyone, but for many, it has been a time to reflect and reassess. I have been working in the travel industry for fifteen years and it is time for some seismic changes. Moving forward in a post-coronavirus world, it is vitally important that we start to choose more meaningful experiences, to travel with purpose and to have responsible travel at the forefront of our decisions when planning holidays. We are at a critical stage with a great number of species and therefore supporting conservation efforts has never been more important.
After almost a year without visitors, African tourism needs our support – the African continent relies heavily on international travel for an income of £130 billion and 25 million jobs. Each African travel job typically supports 8-10 dependents, in turn helping to support up to 250 million people – the network from each safari lodge is immense.
All of the camps that Aardvark Safaris work with support conservation and community projects. They protect their local environment, its flora, fauna and landscapes; they respect local cultures and try and benefit local communities through employment, sourcing of supplies and support of local schools, health care facilities and other community projects; they minimise their impact on their environment. It is important when talking about conservation projects, to highlight that these are inextricably linked to the communities living among wildlife and protected lands. Without community-supported initiatives and a focus on the future, lasting conservation legacies are not possible.
Over the last few months, we have heard devastating reports of increased snares and that subsistence poaching has increased by 200% in places where families previously relied on the tourist pound to support them. We need tourism to value the wildlife, without this there is a danger of poaching, overgrazing and an increase in human-wildlife conflict, putting wildlife at increased risk.
African countries are open and offering Covid-safe socially distanced safaris. They need tourists for employment, conservation, anti-poaching, education and health care. There is no furlough scheme or government support in Africa, so it is not an exaggeration to say that famine and extinction is a very real outcome of Covid-19.
It is with all of this in mind that I reflect fondly on my travels to Africa. Now and again we come across something that is truly awe-inspiring.
Last year, on a visit to South Africa with Aardvark Safaris, I had the absolute privilege of staying at Kwandwe in the Eastern Cape for a truly enriching experience – the highlight of the trip was the morning spent rhino notching with Angus Sholto-Douglas and his conservation team.
Every year, rhino calves on the reserve need to be ‘notched’. This happens between 18 months and two years, just before the calf leaves its mother. The process involves taking a DNA sample, inserting a micro-chip into the horn and cutting an identification notch into the ear.
It was an extraordinary opportunity to get involved in something so unique and incredibly important to the survival of these critically endangered animals. I had no idea how interactive it would be and, although hesitant at first, we were soon taking hair samples and drilling the horn to insert the micro-chip. Under guidance from the vets we were able to take blood and administer drugs to prevent adverse reactions to the anaesthetic and any ill-effects from the procedure.
It is a bookable safari activity for anyone staying at Kwandwe, but limited to the number of calves requiring the procedure each year – and this is relatively few. Group size is restricted to eight and you receive a full briefing explaining what will happen and why it needs to be done – primarily, but not exclusively, for anti-poaching purposes. This too was fascinating.
It was a privilege to participate in the campaign to support these endangered animals and another African experience I won’t forget in a hurry.