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African Elephant Herds Recovering, but Battle not Yet Won says Safari Expert
South African born Deon De Villiers often considers the future of the African wilderness in which he operates. He shares concern for the animals that roam it, and he warns that elephants, a keystone species, are still in danger despite signs of herd recovery.
For decades, it has been a known fact that elephants are vulnerable, if not endangered in some of the 37 countries they wander. Conservation and law-enforcement efforts are paying off, says Deon but the recovery of elephant herds is still slow. “We’re definitely seeing some recovery, but this species breeds slowly, and with so much damage already having been done to elephant populations, and poaching still a reality, it will be a long time before the elephant conservation issue is off the table. The sad truth is that the issue of elephant conservation may never be off the table.”
To some, “Deon De Villers” is a familiar name in the African context thanks to his wildlife photography. His company is also known as Safari Guru, owing to his inside knowledge of African wildlife and ecotourism. The conservation of the African wilderness remains his passion and he says that tourism and conservation are closely linked; an important consideration when sharing insiders knowledge on the when and where’s to visit!
There are many threats to elephants survival, says De Villiers, the illegal ivory trade being only one. “It’s certainly one of the biggest threats,” he adds, “but habitat loss can’t be discounted. Elephants need a vast area to roam in search of palatable food, and people are hungry for agricultural land while cities continue to expand, challenging these home ranges”.
African Countries Working on Conservation – With Tourism as Driver
Deon has many personal contacts involved in conservation across safari Africa. He says that conservation is far more than just a matter of fencing off and protecting wilderness areas. Economic and financial benefit is the only real reason, or incentive, for African communities and countries to prioritize land and wildlife conservation. These benefits must be seen at the grassroots level, but it must be understood and flow from work at the government or senior community level. “The revenue brought in by tourism is the real motivation for policymakers and most locals. Most wildlife preserves are in breadline areas. Without a real benefit to the local population, no conservation effort will succeed, local people must be able to see tangible benefits to living with, and among, wildlife; which can be, frankly, a huge challenge”.
Tourism dollars are a large contributor to the GDP in safari Africa. But the concern is that, in some areas, the economic benefits are unevenly distributed. “The outside cannot march in and tell a subsistence farmer that simply for tourism/conservation’s sake, ivory poaching is out and that they must co-exist with wildlife. This is the very wildlife that may damage their crops or kill their livestock, and/or pose a physical danger to their families. So local people must see the direct benefits of such conservation and tourism. Meaning direct financial benefits accruing to their families and communities. This is the only way for local communities to connect with, and approve of, conservation efforts emotionally. This is now a mantra in conservation. When communities are excluded from benefits or the process, they can even feel hostility towards proclaimed wilderness sites and those who manage them. After all, prime precious resources, including farmland, are frequently used for conservation purposes.”
That’s why, when choosing destinations for customised safaris, Deon selects areas and operators where he knows that locals will see substantial financial benefit. “Safari destinations need to give back to communities. That comes in many forms ranging from education and vocational training, to job creation, to direct financial compensation when wildlife impacts agriculture.” Thankfully, these areas and initiatives are increasing, often by tourist demand.
Not Yet “Last Chance to See,” but a Delicate Balance
Thanks to worldwide efforts, including ivory bans and education to reduce ivory demand, elephants have begun a slow journey to recovery. However, Deon De Villiers warns that it’s a delicate balance. “Elephant ivory can still fetch a very high price in certain markets if a person knows where to trade it. There is much financial hardship in Africa, and political instability and corruption in certain countries moves conservation down the agenda. While there is no doubt that the benefits of a healthy elephant population and the tourism they bring do assist local communities economically. In contrast, the illicit rewards of the ivory trade benefit only an illegal few.
2020 was simply a disaster for the worldwide tourism industry, of which ecotourism in safari Africa is merely a part. For now, like most of us, people in Africa are facing 2021 with the hope of recovery. Sadly, though, many have already lost their jobs and livelihoods as safari lodges, and bush camps were empty for much of the year, with travel decimated. Safari planners must keep people dreaming of Africa until travel restrictions ease, for the sake of their businesses and also because Africa urgently needs tourism and its dollars to keep conservation efforts afloat.”
We all can help. “Apart from donating money to wildlife conservation organisations and remote community funds, fulfilling dreams of wide open spaces inhabited by amazing wildlife can make a difference. For now, keep the dream alive. Dream big. Think of the biggest and best holiday that can be had and start preparing to go as soon as travel is back on the cards. Don’t be afraid. With the right safari planner on your side, you’ll be making the best and most rewarding memories of your lifetime.”
For more information visit the African Travel Specialist | Safari Guru website or call Deon De Villiers and his team of experts on (+61) 0427 782 226.
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The information contained in this article is based on the authors opinion only and is of a general nature which is not indicative of future results or events and does not consider your personal situation or particular needs. Professional advice should always be sought relevant to your circumstances.
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