South African communities urged to join fight against rhino poaching

The war on rhino poaching cannot be won without the participation of communities, Chief Executive of the South African National Parks (SANParks) Fundisile Mketeni said on Tuesday.

“While carrying out our work at national, regional and international level to address the scourge of rhino poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, work is also being done at community level by institutions such as SANParks to raise awareness of the plight of the rhino,” Mketeni said at a ceremony marking the World Wildlife Day in the Kruger National Parks (KNP), one of Africa’s biggest game reserves in northeastern South Africa.

The theme for this year’s World Wildlife Day is “Wildlife Crime is serious: let’s get serious about wildlife crime”.

The aim is to highlight the positive role that local communities can play in helping to curb illegal wildlife trade.

As the eyes and ears of the government, the communities must join forces in combating poaching by blowing the whistle on this heinous crime, Mketeni said.

South Africa has adopted a four pillar strategy towards addressing the rhino poaching scourge. A key pillar highlighted in the national strategy focusses on one of the critical game- changing interventions-namely creating opportunities for communities to make alternative economic choices.

South Africa bears the brunt of rhino poaching, losing 1,215 rhinos last year.

South Africa is the custodian of the world’s rhinos. In the country, the loss of rhinos could be equated to a loss of revenue for many communities resulting in a decline in living conditions, a loss of jobs through a decline in tourism and hunting through the country’s sustainable utilisation policy, and a sad loss to a part of the country’s natural and cultural heritage, Mketeni said.

South Africa is home to approximately 21,000 white and black rhinos, of which most are found in the KNP. This represents 93 percent of the world’s total rhino population, according to Mketeni.  “The South African population is one of the last viable rhino populations in the world, which makes it vulnerable. South Africa is, therefore, the last remaining hope for the world, in terms of rhino conservation,” he said.

Rhino poaching, worth billions of dollars, deprives local communities of income that could be used to create jobs and improve livelihood in the long term instead of benefiting a small group of criminals in the short-term, Mketeni said.

Even internationally, through the sustainable development goals, there are calls to combat poaching and illegal wildlife trade by increasing capacity of the local communities so as to create sustainable livelihood opportunities for future generations, he said.

In going forward, South Africa is embarking on a number of new initiatives around the KNP with a focus on projects that support the game-changing pillar of South Africa’s integrated rhino strategy, according to Mketeni.

This includes, for example, addressing basic human needs such as water provision to poor neighboring communities to be funded through rhino-related programmes, to economic opportunities associated with various benefits derived from live rhinos through community-managed rhino conservation initiatives.

In the short term, the SANParks seeks to focus on communities bordering the southern KNP Intensive Rhino Protection Zone (IPZ) with the broader vision expanding around the extent of the park’s border.

The focus has been on the community and the youth-not only the role they can play, or are playing, in combating rhino poaching, but in assisting to protect the country’s natural heritage and their economic future, Mketeni said.



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Ecotourism helps boost India’s tigers up 30%

India reported Tuesday that its tigers had increased by 30% over four years, a major conservation success story. The country is home to an estimated 70% of the world’s tigers and while the global total has been declining, India’s population rose from 1,706 in 2011 to 2,226 presently. The country’s tigers face many pressures stemming from rapid economic development, especially habitat loss and poaching. The upside, however, is that ecotourism is boosting India’s economy and saving this endangered animal, at least, in the process.

Wildlife tourism is still a small portion of overall tourism in India, but it is one of the fastest-growing at about 15% per year. The Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests cited several causes for the upswing in tiger numbers, such as the establishment of a Special Tiger Protection Force, and “efforts to control poaching and initiatives to minimize human-animal conflict and encroachment.” Conservation may have a priceless inherent value, but the tangible economic effects that ecotourism bring give it real staying power. Tens of thousands of local jobs are supported, not just as tour guides or in hospitality, but in many associated industries where the largely foreign clientele has shown a demand for local, eco-friendly food, transportation, and services.

In the absence of tiger tourism, these jobs and communities with little alternatives would collapse—as almost happened in July 2012, when the Supreme Court banned all forms of tourism in the tiger-breeding, or “core,” areas of their sanctuaries. While the decision was made to compel the state governments to set up buffer zones around the core areas pursuant to previous legislation, it raised loud opposition from tour operators and conservationists. Besides the drop in tourist bookings and local job losses, the measure would also allow poachers greater maneuverability, free from the scrutiny of tourists and guides. The ban was lifted in less than three months, to great relief, but visitors are restricted to the outer 20% of the formerly forbidden core areas in order to strike a balance between responsible ecotourism and harmful intrusion.

Now different Indian states are vying to boast the largest number of tigers within their boundaries as a way of attracting tourists. Madhya Pradesh’s tourism and culture minister said in late December that losing the formal tag “tiger state” to rival Karnataka after a 2010 wildlife census had affected the state’s tourism sector negatively. But the state is trying hard to win it back, placing tiger conservation in the same league as simultaneous initiatives like improving air connectivity, setting up 16 tourism zones, and other public-private partnerships.

The other key for long-term sustainable tiger conservation encouraged by the government is local public participation in the management of reserves. The Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala is renowned for just that, with 75 “eco development communities” established outside its perimeter. Such committees help with forest protection and generate revenue through other projects during the tourism off season. Expect India’s tigers to keep increasing.

Source: Blouin News

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How tourism tramples ethics

Earlier this year horrific photographs and graphic video footage showing baby elephants being abused at an elephant sanctuary in the Eastern Cape and an elephant-back safari operation in Knysna sparked a global outcry.

Knysna Elephant Park had previously been a shining star in the local tourism firmament, offering a range of activities for visitors including close encounters, rides and even “sleepovers” with elephants. It owned and ran the Elephants of Eden sanctuary in the Eastern Cape, which subsequently merged with the operation in Knysna.

The NSPCA laid criminal charges against both operations, their directors and management, and one would be forgiven for thinking that this marked the end of the road for this type of tourism activity, and particularly Knysna Elephant Park/Elephants of Eden.

More than six months down the line nothing could be further from the truth. A quick phone call to Knysna Elephant Park reveals that business is booming, with elephant activities and tours taking place every day. Rides are so popular that it is imperative to book in advance.

Indeed, Tripadvisor, the digital sage of all things tourism, has given Knysna Elephant Park a Certificate of Excellence for the past two years, and reviewers trip over themselves to sing its praises, ranking it No 2 of 23 attractions in and around Knysna.

“The lack of education in the tourism industry is one of our biggest problems,” says Wendy Willson of the NSPCA’s special investigations unit. “The onus is on tour operators to make the decision not to sell unethical products, but in the current economic climate money wins over morality every time.

“What we need is for the tourism industry at large to take more responsibility where activities like elephant interactions and lion petting experiences are concerned. Many operators do not know what these animals go through in order to entertain. Even if they do, they are not educating tourists or giving them the information they need to make an informed decision about where to spend their money.”

Willson says it has fallen to the NSPCA to try and “police” this segment of the tourism industry. “We have some of the strongest animal legislation in the world, but enforcement of it is our biggest challenge, especially with our limited resources. We are also heavily reliant on our judicial system, which moves very slowly.”

The Southern African Tourism Services Association (Satsa) says better educating tour operator members to choose ethical and responsible products to sell to clients is a priority.

“We cannot prohibit members from using suppliers of their choice,” says Satsa chief executive David Frost. “We can only recommend that they thoroughly vet operators like Knysna Elephant Park and make an informed decision as to which products they send clients to.”

His members were at pains to meet the demands of international visitors. “When we have cautioned members to be aware of ethical issues in products like Knysna Elephant Park, they have countered that clients insist on visiting certain products and they risk losing the business of an entire tour if they don’t include (them).”

Frost concedes that it is incumbent on his members to properly educate their clients about the ethical considerations surrounding elephant tourism, and other wild animal-based tourism activities such as lion petting and walking with lions. “It’s firmly on our radar and we are working on ways to better educate our members on how to handle this aspect of their work so that their clients are able to make more informed decisions on the destinations they choose.”

In the meantime, Knysna Elephant Park and operators like it continue to thrive, in spite of the clouds of controversy hanging over their heads.

Conservationist Drew Abrahamson, who heads Captured in Africa specialising in ethical photographic and conservation-based safaris, says it’s time the tourism industry wakes up to what has happened in Knysna and unethical operations that exploit wild animals.

“It’s really quite astounding that so many companies in the tourism industry are still unaware of the implications of what they are doing. In recent weeks I have chosen to not use two companies who refused to accept our stringent ethical requirements…”

Abrahamson directly advises her clients against interacting with lions and elephants, and shares information gathered after years in the tourism industry and personal experience of the tours she sells. “Our tours are based on strong conservation messages and often involve conservation projects, so there is a fair amount of information sharing between us and our clients.

“The industry as a whole needs to understand it has the power to educate both operators and clients and that they need to stand up and do the right thing, even if it means losing a few bookings. We are not in the business of selling suffering.”

Willson and her team are still awaiting a court date for the NSPCA’s case against Knysna Elephant Park, which is not expected until the new year. “In the run-up to Christmas, when the industry is busiest, we can do little more than hope and pray tourists ask the proper questions and think twice about supporting these activities.”

Is there hope on the horizon? Willson believes so. “One of the country’s major and most respected elephant interaction and elephant-back safari operators – Pilanesberg Elephant-Back Safaris – decided to close and rehabilitate its elephants back into the wild shortly before the Knysna Elephant Park case came to light. This sent a fantastic, positive message out to the tourism industry and the public that this is the way forward.”

It’s a positive note that is not being echoed in South Africa’s corridors of power, with ominous changes being proposed to the Elephant Norms and Standards (ENS) which could give a green light for the capture of wild elephants for permanent captivity, including use in tourism activities.

The 2008 ENS prohibit the capture of wild elephants for permanent captivity, which effectively capped the booming elephant-back safari industry. At that time some prominent tourism operators, among them Zimbabwe’s Shearwater Adventures, were taking young wild elephants from breeding herds to turn them into riding elephants for tour operations in Victoria Falls and venues across South Africa. The excessive trauma to the elephants sparked an international outcry.

“Ultimately, the tourism industry needs to step up to the plate and take responsibility for elephant tourism operators, and help us to police and enforce the legislation,” says Willson.

“Tour operators have a moral obligation to properly inform themselves and their clients, and actively change the way they think. At the end of the day, no matter how bad the economy, ethics and animal welfare should not be for sale.”

Sharon Gilbert-Rivett wrote this article for the Conservation Action Trust.

Source: IOL


Wildlife tourism, host communities, and sustainability. Some thoughts.

The support of the local population is essential for the development, successful operation, and sustainability of wildlife tourism. Achieving the goal of favourable community support for the tourism industry requires an understanding of how residents formulate their attitudes toward tourism.

We know that host interaction with wildlife tourism ranges over a broad spectrum and the interest in both wildlife tourism and human dimensions of wildlife tourism has grown considerably in recent years. We also know that the place and role of host communities and their relationship to and interaction with wildlife will have a direct impact upon the sustainability of those resources. This is broad field that holds tremendous importance for all concerned with wildlife tourism attractions.

The host community is a fundamental component of any tourism system. It is one of the three major components (the tourist, the resource, the host) of wildlife tourism. Wildlife tourism activities have many impacts on a host community; therefore, any increase in wildlife tourism as a recreational pursuit will inevitably be accompanied by a growth in numbers of local people affected by tourism.

For the purpose of this blog, hosts are defined as those who live in the vicinity of the tourist attraction and are either directly or indirectly involved with, and/or affected by, the wildlife tourism activities.

Hosts and Sustainability

The host community is an important element to consider in the concept of sustainability. The sustainability of wildlife tourism is dependent, in part, on its support from the areas’ residents. Host satisfaction is related to both the involvement of local community members in wildlife tourism activities, and the benefits and disadvantages of wildlife tourism to host communities.

Social and cultural issues need to be considered because of the importance of host acceptance to the overall sustainability of a wildlife tourism attraction. Determining how to make a wildlife tourism attraction sustainable from the perspective of the host community requires an understanding of the interplay of elements affecting both the perception of, and support for, that tourism.

While some of the issues have been studied in relation to tourism systems in general, to date there have been very few studies specifically related to wildlife tourism.

Impacts and Attitudes

There are many factors that influence host community attitudes toward, and satisfaction with, wildlife tourism attractions. The actual and perceived impacts of wildlife tourism will influence the attitudes of the host community and ultimately have an effect on sustainability.

It is postulated that wildlife tourism will only be sustainable where there are benefits for the host community (these may be social and/or cultural, and environmental and will not necessarily be confined to economic benefits).

The actual and perceived social and cultural impacts of wildlife tourism are numerous. Impacts on the social environment are likely to affect the behaviour of individuals, community groups, lifestyles, value systems and religious or traditional ceremonies. Members of the host community may be introduced to changes and new behaviours or ideas that have the potential to affect their attitudes, values, norms and motivations. The magnitude of the impacts is likely to vary with the number of tourists, the length of stay, the importance of the wildlife to community life before tourism, and its place in cultural history.

Community Involvement

The host population’s acceptance of wildlife tourism is likely to vary depending on the way in which the host community interacts with the tourist and wildlife. A rural community whose lifestyle has incorporated consumptive/destructive activities (for example, shooting for food, sport and trophy hunting, destruction of habitat) may be introduced to a new understanding of wildlife. The establishment of an ecotourism venture based on wildlife or an enclosure venture may broaden world views of local residents.

Some concluding thoughts

Host participation is not a proven solution to all problems. If hosts resent the intrusion and attention of outsiders, for whatever reason, then it is reasonable to assume that they might also resent the existence of a wildlife tourism attraction.

Community involvement in wildlife tourism attractions varies widely from region to region and from one attraction to another within a region. For example, there exist wildlife tourism attractions that have a high level of community involvement as well as attractions that have little, or no, involvement from the local community.

The attitudes of host community members will also vary from region to region and from one individual to another within a region. For example, attitudes towards activities such as hunting and fishing will vary from one host community to another and also between members of a host community.