Peter Fisher, one of our Africa Consultants, writes on his recent time spent in Tanzania and Kenya…
Big Tusker – the view into Kenya
I recently spent a month on safari in Tanzania and Kenya. Over twenty flights in eleven different aircraft took me to some of the most iconic safari areas in Africa: the Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Selous, Laikipia, Samburu and the Maasai Mara among them. I was treated to mind-blowing scenery and incredible wildlife experiences, superb guiding and that famously generous East African hospitality.
Black Rhino – North of the Mara river
Francis and Bull Elephant – Lewa
Watch an elephant herd move magnificently through a grove of doom palm and it’s easy to forget this is a continent in a wildlife crisis. Across Africa poaching is out of control. The Selous Game Reserve, the largest ‘protected’ area on the continent has lost at least 75% of its 50,000 elephant to ivory poachers in the past ten years. You read correctly. At current levels elephant, rhino and lion will be brought close to extinction in the next decade. South Africa alone lost 1,004 rhino in 2013, this year it will be more, and deaths will overtake births by 2018 – extinction. In Kenya, the Ol Jogi ranch near Nanyuki suffered the worst single rhino poaching incident since 1988 on Wednesday 9th July, four rhino were poached, leaving just 1,037 in the entire country.
Snoozing White Rhino – Lewa
There is hope. Everywhere I traveled brought me into contact with inspirational people who have and continue to dedicate their lives to the preservation of Africa’s natural heritage. Passionate people, working impossibly long hours, in tough and frequently dangerous conditions. For them failure is not an option. We as tour operators, and you as tourists have a vital part to play in the future of our planet’s most majestic wildlife. Take Kenya’s Laikipia as an example. Home to one of the best documented conservation efforts, the Lewa Conservancy. What has and continues to be achieved in the name of conservation in this, and neighboring conservancies is nothing short of a miracle. The economic engine fuelling this vital work is tourism. On the Borana Conservancy, now home to 19 of Lewa’s rhino, every cent earned through tourism is ploughed back into protecting wildlife, its habitat and the people who live in the area. Just by taking responsibility for the 19 Lewa rhino, Borana signed up for an added annual bill of half a million dollars.
Kenya’s, and perhaps Africa’s most famous wildlife habitat, the Maasai Mara ecosystem is also at risk. The Mara is bordered by a buffer zone of conservancies – partnership agreements between safari operators and the local Maasai, a forward thinking and sustainable solution to an ever-increasing human population living alongside wildlife. The operators lease the land, creating prolific wildlife zones where both the people and animals benefit. It’s not cheap. The Naboisho conservancy, 50,000 acres, home to five camps with just 134 beds, guarantee the local community $1 million a year.
We are all aware that Kenya has been the target of violence over the past year. Whether this be Islamic extremist groups – who themselves raise war chests through poaching, or the recent inter-clan political violence seen in Lamu County. Understandably there is concern from international visitors, and numbers have dropped. However, the week I recently spent in Nairobi, Laikipia and the Mara couldn’t have been better, I met happy tourists from across the globe, over 1,000 of whom, from 20 different countries had arrived in Lewa to run the annual Safaricom Marathon organized by Tusk Trust. Everyone was aware of the situation, you’d have to live under a rock not to be, but made a point of stating how glad they were to be on safari and supporting conservation in Kenya – the experience was purely positive.
A Cheetah looking for prey
The US State Department and UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office issuing travel bans on certain, specifically coastal, areas of the country puts tour operators and tourists in a very difficult position. While the government must give a factually responsible account of the situation, as Sir Richard Branson recently wrote: “The Foreign Office is giving a false impression that all of Kenya is too dangerous to visit”, he calls for consistency: “when the US and UK have been targeted, we have been quick to encourage a return to normality as soon as possible”, and warns “such advisories destroy economies, causing dire circumstances and resentment, from which environments are created where extremism is more likely to thrive.” This from a man who is right behind conservation in Kenya via Mahali Mzuri, Virgin’s safari camp in the Mara North Conservancy.
Right now the future for African wildlife is fragile, in Kenya, a drop in tourist numbers could have catastrophic results, not in the coming decades, but in the coming years. As legendary wildlife filmmaker Jonathan Scott so poignantly states: “Without the tourist dollars you might as well hand over all the remaining wildlife to the poachers.” My thoughts, I would happily take my friends and family on safari in Kenya tomorrow, it is a truly spectacular country full of wonderful experiences. We have to do our best to keep it that way.
With Francis in front of Will Craig’s Waco – Lewa Wilderness
For more information on travel to Kenya call one of our Africa Consultants on 020 8682 5070 or visit scottdunn.com/africa