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Kavey Mar 7th, 2004 11:47 AM

An interesting article on Ecotourism...
I read this in a newspaper recently and kept the page to reread and think about later. Thought some of you might be interested/ have some thoughts about it.

sandi Mar 7th, 2004 03:00 PM

Kavey -

Very interesting and understand why it's important to reread. Both Drs. Southgate and Dunstone have good points, but -

I don't think it's as simple as either seem to wish the reader to think/believe. Take for instance the Gorillas - if not for conservation and protected area, most would have been killed for food. Now that the people living in gorilla countries understand the importance of these animals, and of tourist dollars/pounds, they are protecting the animals and finding alternative food sources from the money earned from tourism. And from recent reports, only a limited number of people can enter the forest and gorilla areas at any time and for a short time only.

Likewise in other ecotourist areas, the attempt is made to limit the number of tourists at a time, though it doesn't always seem so to those who wish to ban such visits by humans with animals.

I can understand that jumping into the water with dolphins can be traumatizing, though recent studies have found that this interaction works very well for children with disabilities. So do we help the children or the dolphins? Is there a clear answer - I can't say.

Friend of ours first visited Kenya over 20 years ago and on a return visit four years ago commented on the fact that there were far fewer animals wherever they visited. I can believe them, though alot has to do with the local populations expanding and into animal territory. We have the same thing happening in California where the population is expanding into areas of the mountain lions, and then the public wants to know why a jogger was attacked by the lion?

Even at Lake Nakuru, the number of flamingos have greatly decreased over the years because of a chemical plant on one side of the lake (needed for the human population) and the expansion of people to the areas around the Lake. The birds move on somewhere else or just die out.

Not unlike how people are taking over the areas of the tigers in India; or the routes elephants have taken for years now have housing complexes built right smack in their way. It's not always ecotourism, it seems more like overpopulation of people where the animals have roamed forever.

While most animals in the national parks of safari countries, in particular, have been acclimated to people/vehicles, it is understandable how 15 or 20 vehicles watching a kill might "upset" animals and this should be curtailed. The fact that some countries limit the number of vehicles that can be out in a particular reserve at any time, is a positive and should be encouraged.

For those animals that have picked up human deseases, well, humans have picked up some animal deseases - AIDS (from green monkeys); wonder also how long these animals would survive in the wild if not for human intervention whether in person or with money.

Though there are those who oppose humans wearing fur and they have a right to feel so, understand that a mink in the wild lives maybe 6-months, yet over 2-years on a ranch. The fact that the mink are killed for someone's warmth, well the alternative would have been an earlier death. This, of course, is no justification one way or another, but the options are a discussion of who rules whom - man or animals?

Also at issue are the countries where ecotourism is conducted. Many are poor countries, with questionnable governments who have little regard for the people they govern. In these situations, ecotourism is a boon the the inhabitants, both animal and human.

There may be clear answers for some, and unclear ones for others, but it does give one pause to consider whether there can't be a way to improve ecotourism in some environments. Or what are the alternatives?

As far as the experts, you're always going to have conflicting responses to such issues, and personally, I don't believe either side is non-political on the subject.

It does, however, make me wonder "what are the animals thinking when they are looking at us?" Food or Life? Maybe they're one and the same!

Thanks for the heads-up on the article.

Kavey Mar 8th, 2004 12:10 AM

Absolutely agree the article is very simplified - too short to go into real depth and more of an opinion/ filler piece but had some interesting ideas...

king Mar 8th, 2004 01:46 AM

I agree with the article. Eco-tourism should be small scale, high end, preserve local wildlife and benefit local communities. A lot of times tour operators or camps incorporate a few eco-friendly facilities or activities (such as solar power or visiting local community, for example the Himba tribe of Namibia)and then claim to offer eco-tourism.

A successful eco-tourism project is in Kenya itself - Il Ngwesi. It has turned 'poachers into game keepers' which has resulted in several benefits for the local wildlife and communities.
However, for these kind of projects to be successful they need the marketing support of those organizations which are at the forefront of promoting eco-tourism. It seems the organisations do a good job at implementing projects but a poor job at marketing them to the general public.

Regarding gorillas, I feel there is tendency by the governments to exploit them. Recently Uganda habituated another gorilla family for the purpose of increasing tourism revenue. Instead they should be thinking of increasing the permit fees to increase revenue and restrict numbers. If there are only 600 mountain gorillas left in the wild, surely people would be prepared to pay $500 (double what is charged now) to see them.

Regarding Masai Mara/Amboseli, these have been overexploited by tour operators, governments and local politicians pretending to represent local communties. As a result there are now too many camps and tourists in rather small areas but equally worrying is that the local communities have benefited very little. The issue is complex and requires political will to resolve it but the political will is lacking.

Tanzania suffers from similar overexploitation of wildlife - just look at Ngorongoro. However, they can reverse that easily by increasing the park fee at Ngorongoro to $200 per day for half-day viewing only and then focusing on their underexploited reserves such as Serengeti, Selous, Ruhaha.

What is required is political will that is bound to upset tour operators and camp owners but in the longrun will benefit the wildlife and the local communities with higher revenues.

There are pockets of hope however in Il Ngwesi and Laikipia area of Kenya. Here the politicians have been kept at bay and private enterprise has taken the role of conservation,wildlife management and tourism and the results are pleasing. This it seems should be the way ahead in Africa.

Botswana seems to be heading in that direction but even there the Bushmen have been driven from their lands (could it be by diamond companies working closely with the government?)and put into protected settlements which are now exploited by the tour companies. Their fate is similar to that of the aboriginies - the loss of their ancient homelands has led to breakup of social structures, subsequently increase in lawlessness, drunkeness and in the end terrible rejection by the exploiting society.

Politicians and profits will always win unless the travelling public gets smarter and begins supporting the worthy eco-tourism projects. A Kitemark to guide them in the right direction will certainly help. But more important is that the projects receive the right amount of publicity and marketing help to lure travellers in the right direction. Perhaps this forum at Fodors can serve as a springboard.

Thank you Kavey for bringing the article to our attention

Kavey Mar 8th, 2004 02:39 AM

Thanks for your insight, very interesting. I feel quite conflicted about our visit to Gudigwa Camp in June because I have read many articles about the displacement of various different San groups from their ancestral lands by the government (particularly in the diamond-rich areas of the Kalahari). At the same time I have read articles that suggest that, given this displacement, and the subsequent loss of a traditional way of life, that tourism such as the Gudigwa project, gives economic reasons to San people to keep their way of life alive and to be able to make a living from it in the modern world that has encroached. I am still not sure how I feel about it but I figured the best thing was to include it in my itinerary and work out how I feel based on first-hand information.

king Mar 8th, 2004 03:25 AM

Gudigwa Camp - I don't know much about this project to comment but if it was an afterthought at putting the 'wrong' right then I feel it should be discouraged as it is 'artificial' and exploitative. The right way forward would be to resettle the San into their original homelands and then create eco-tourism projects. 'Artifical' villages definitely do not constitute eco-tourism in my mind. On the other hand if the wrong is done and virtually ireversible (due to poor/corrupt governance), then perhaps such projects could be allowed on a limted scale provided 100% of the revenue/profits go towards the wider San community and into resurrecting and promoting their traditional way of life. Does this happen at Gudigwa?

In contrast, the Masai at Il Ngwesi are still in their original homelands, keep majority of their tourism revenue and also have a say in how their project is run and managed. They also have a model masai village, earnings from which go to the whole Il Ngwesi community rather than only to the village residents.

Kavey Mar 8th, 2004 04:39 AM

King, my understanding is that it's a joint project between WS and the local San in that area.

This is what the WS site says about it:

Gudigwa Camp has been developed by the Bukakhwe Cultural Conservation Trust, a trust that represents all the people of Gudigwa Village. Gudgiwa Camp has a marketing partnerhsip with Wilderness Safaris. Conservation International, an environmental NGO, helped develop the Gudigwa Camp project together with the community and Wilderness Safaris. As the largest remaining Bushman village in Botswana, the Gudigwa people are proud to be promoting this cross-cultural exchange with guests while reviving their traditional way of life.

It doesn't strike me as a project to put a wrong right since the government aren't involved, that I can see, and it's run/ managed by the Gudigwa people.

Kavey Mar 8th, 2004 04:44 AM

PS The site also says that the camp is 100% community owned - that's what attracted me to it initially.

I'm still torn about the experience itself though - I guess what worries me is the question of how much what we see is genuine (in that genuine today for most San is the same as it is for their non-San countrymen) and, if it's not genuine (since it's really a &quot;show&quot; about what the San life <i>used</i> to be) then does it still have an instrinsic value?

I've heard the phrase &quot;preserving traditional life&quot; but sometimes feel that this can mean Western tourist pressure leading to the creation of phony showcases to satisfy their curiousity.

king Mar 8th, 2004 05:14 AM

I am sure Wilderness Safaris have their hearts and minds in the right place to a certain extent but an independent Kitemark would help resolve that issue.

What would worry me is if Gudigwa is used by Wilderness Safaris to promote themselves as a wholly eco-tourism company working in the interests of local communities. Let's face it that is not what they are. I find in their case that majority of the lease owners, decision makers, camp managers, senior guides are not local Africans.

In Namibia at Damaraland Camp I thought the Namibian staff were excellent but the camp was run by an import from South or East Africa. Who benefits in the end? Wilderness and their costly overseas staff or the locals? Wilderness need to put more faith in their local people to manage their properties and operations. It has happened in South America and the Indian sub-continent so why can't it happen in Africa? Il Ngwesi, Intrepids and Serena are shining examples that it can.

The only way you can judge Gudigwa is by experiencing it yourself. You should also put in recommendations if you feel things are not right. If every guest goes in there praising the 'San experience' without ever considering whether the 'project' has wider community benefits then it would be an opportunity lost.

Kavey Mar 8th, 2004 05:34 AM

Yes, I felt same about Damaraland. I really liked that it did have many local staff, especially our guide Charles, who took us to meet his aunt (who bought him up) in their nearby village - it was eclipse day and he asked if we'd mind letting her look through our eclipse sunglasses - of course we didnt - WS provided them in the first place. But the manager was a South African.

I have never got the impression WS market themselves as wholly eco-friendly - what I notice is that they do point out the aspects of each operation that IS eco-friendly without trying to claim that the operation overall is.

I liked that.

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