Pioneers of the African Ecotourism and Conservation

We say ecotourism…but what does that mean and why choose it?

Ecotourism is a major buzzword these days. In a time where everyone is keen to recycle, drive hybrid cars and plant bee-friendly gardens, anything with the prefix ‘eco’ can be enough to set one option apart from another. Ecotourism is a well-known subset of tourism, but what does it truly mean from the day-to-day operations, the broader architecture of the company and the values upon which the practices are guided? According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, an ecotourism operation must have the following characteristics in order to qualify as such:

  • All nature-based forms of tourism in which the main motivation of the tourists is the conservation and appreciation of nature as well as the traditional cultures prevailing in natural areas.
  • It contains educational and interpretation features.
  • It is generally, but not exclusively organised by specialised tour operators for small groups. Service provider partners at the destinations tend to be small, locally owned businesses.
  • It minimises negative impacts upon the natural and socio-cultural environment.
  • It supports the maintenance of natural areas which are used as ecotourism attractions by:
    • Generating economic benefits for host communities, organisations and authorities managing natural areas with conservation purposes;
    • Providing alternative employment and income opportunities for local communities;
    • Increasing awareness towards the conservation of natural and cultural assets, both among locals and tourists. (UNWTO, 2019)

Essentially, these guidelines boil down to a few simple concepts: respect and protect nature, respect and support local communities, spread such messages to all involved, and give back.

CONSCIOUS CAPITALISM

Ecotourism lies at the intersection of conservation and commerce. It uses principles of sustainable revenue generation to fund conservation efforts. In an age of conscious consumerism, ecotourism companies compete for business by levying the quality and quantity of conservation and community development projects. In the same way that a camp’s design or quality of dining can be a reason for selecting one option over another, so can the extent to which a company gives back. Potential travellers choose which company to patron based on how socially and environmentally responsible they feel a company is.

WHAT BENEFITS DO YOU GET FROM CHOOSING ECOTOURISM?

When you choose to travel with Time + Tide and other ecotourism companies, you benefit in more than just knowing you are helping support wildlife conservation and community development. The experience is enriching, high quality and offers a variety of wonderful opportunities to travellers. By visiting an area that has benefitted from a long history of conservation, you will experience an in-tact wilderness with healthy ecosystems and a thriving biodiversity. Without any hunting, the wildlife is relaxed around vehicles, having no reason to fear the presence of humans. You will witness natural behaviours, such as tender interactions between mothers and babies. Essentially, you will see animals that are living wild and free as they’re meant to be. Large herds of elephants wander past during your morning coffee break, parading to the river for a drink. Predators lounge contentedly in the shade and giraffes peak shyly from behind the treetops. To experience a pristine wilderness is truly a privilege these days.

The involvement of the local community also enriches your travel experience, allowing you to discover the intertwined relationship of the natural and cultural landscapes. As you walk through the bush with your local guide, they will tell you about tribal legends, folklore and how the wild plants are used in traditional medicine. While in camp, gather around the campfire and listen to stories after a delicious meal of Zambian dishes. Through our community-based education and development programmes, good will is fostered, meaning your visit to the village, school, market or artisan shops will be more friendly and interactive.

AFRICA’S FIRST ECOTOURISM OPERATION

In 1950 when one of our founders, Norman Carr, first started his safari operation, the word ecotourism didn’t exist and largely neither did the concept of wildlife conservation in Africa. Safaris were still a track-and-hunt tradition that relied on exploiting animals so tourists could take home trophies. Norman Carr changed all of this, choosing instead to work with the local tribes to set aside large swathes of land purely for photographic-based safaris. This region would eventually become known as North and South Luangwa National Parks. In doing so, he pioneered one of the first ecotourism operations in the world, well before doing so would hit on all the right buzzwords in an online search.

The ideas and techniques he employed while launching his safari company paved the way for modern ecotourism, creating a road map upon which countless other sustainably minded companies would guide their operations. He approached tribal leaders and convinced them of the importance of setting aside this land, assuring them it would lead to long-term benefits for the community. He worked to train local guides who could lead tourists on walking safaris and tell them about the cultural and natural heritage of the region. He raised orphaned animals, most famously several lion cubs, who continued to share a close bond with him into adulthood. This combination of setting aside land for preservation, protecting wildlife and incorporating the local community into the management and benefits is the foundation of ecotourism.

ZAMBIA

Through our Time + Tide Foundation, we are able to participate both directly and indirectly with conservation in Zambia and Madagascar. We conduct our own conservation projects in Madagascar and in Zambia we contribute donations to highly reputable conservation organisations to support their monitoring, translocation, veterinary and population rehabilitation programmes. Among the groups that we proudly support are Conservation Lower Zambezi, Zambian Carnivore Project, Conservation South Luangwa and African Parks Network. Countless fantastic outcomes and have resulted from their work, including rescuing baby elephants stuck in mud, re-establishing a lion population in Liuwa Plain, significantly boosting Zambia’s endangered wild dog population in South Luangwa and training a local ranger team to enforce anti-poaching operations in Liuwa Plain.

Community education is another important component of how we support the long-term sustainability and preservation goals of our destinations. One of the key aspects of creating a lasting legacy of conservation in a region is to ensure the local community supports and understands the objectives, the expected benefits and the manner in which these benefits are obtained. By incorporating the community directly into obtaining these benefits, it solidifies the likelihood of success for generations to come. We hold several community conservation education programmes, focusing primarily on children. Since 2017, we have partnered with Conservation Lower Zambezi to bring Conservation Theatre to the entire Chiawa Chiefdom. Not only was there a 61% increase conservation, wildlife and ecotourism related knowledge compared to children who did not participate, the children also reported 70% increase in confidence and demonstrated a 17% improvement in teamwork skills. We also support the Field-Based Education Centre operated by the Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust, which conducts full-day sessions covering environmental education to the 760 students of the Kakumbi and Nsefu Chiefdoms. In 2018, a total of 228 hours of education happened covering the theme of ‘Conserving the Luangwa River’. Additional subjects covered include local food cycles, ecotourism, other freshwater ecosystems in Africa and the bushmeat trade.

MADAGASCAR

In Madagascar, we have three excellent conservation projects including monitoring of threatened species and translocating wildlife from areas of high poaching into the safety of our island sanctuary. Within our archipelago of five islands, we have a healthy sea turtle population and a seasonal tern colony that resides on an uninhabited island. Daily monitoring walks are conducted along the islands’ beaches, searching for new nests to be marked and protected, with the approximate hatching date noted on a stake planted by the site. Around the expected date, monitoring increases in frequency until the hatchlings make their way to the ocean. If possible, the number of hatchlings is counted and reported, but most emerge nocturnally, making it difficult to fully track. This information contributes to a database tracking the long-term welfare of sea turtle populations in the entire Indian Ocean basin. A similar monitoring programme is conducted with the terns when they arrive in the tens of thousands to lay their eggs and rear their young. Population estimates are done, as well as habitat monitoring.

One of the projects we are most proud of is our Madagascan lemur translocation. Lemur populations are threatened in many parts of the Madagascan mainland due to deforestation and illegal poaching. With a forested sanctuary stretching across much of our 360-hectare island of Nosy Ankao, we saw the opportunity to provide a better life for a colony of lemurs in need of protection. In October 2017, we partnered with local authorities and conservation groups based in Madagascar and abroad to bring five endangered crowned lemurs from the Bekaraoka Forest to Nosy Ankao. It involved a mainland capture crew, a wildlife veterinary team, the Time + Tide helicopter pilots on stand-by and a group of biologists who specialise in lemurs to monitor the transfer and introduction. It was truly an epic undertaking, which was beautifully documented in our video found below. Since they arrived on the island, they have adapted well to their new home, even producing three new pups in 2018. We eagerly anticipate another round of translocations to happen in the coming year or two.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND DEVELOPMENT

As previously discussed, one of the key aspects of creating a lasting legacy of conservation in a region is to ensure the local community not only understands the objectives/benefits and how they are obtained but are actually receiving them. Through the Time + Tide Foundation, we are able to conduct several excellent programmes that support education, girls’ empowerment and disabled children. Across all three destinations (South Luangwa, Lower Zambezi and Liuwa Plain National Parks), we support schools, including funding the teaching staff and acquisition of appropriate schooling materials and lesson plans. In addition, we also provide scholarships for promising students to attend that may not otherwise be able to due to financial or familial reasons.

In the South Luangwa, we operate a home-based education programme that works with disabled children and their families or caregivers to provide specialised training in physiotherapy, the biological and environmental determinants of disabilities and the best way to structure individualised education plans. The ultimate goal is for all children to be fully integrated into a standard primary school within three years of entering the programme. Not only does this benefit individual children, it also lays a foundation for future disabled children to be better accepted and incorporated into society by removing stigma and taboos. For instance, prior to the programme 77% of volunteer caregivers attributed disabilities to witchcraft. After two years of participating, 92% were able to explain the biological causes of disabilities and 0% cited witchcraft as a cause. All children involved in the programme showed marked improvement in their ability to complete tasks that will benefit them in education and life, including self-feeding, dressing, walking, grasping objects, speaking, playing with others, communicating needs, understanding others and remembering information.

Female empowerment is also an important cause to create a lasting improvement in communities. Countless studies have demonstrated that educating and supporting women dramatically improves the welfare of an entire nation by improving health, family planning and economic development. In the South Luangwa, the Time + Tide Foundation operates the Yosefe Girls’ Club, which aims to foster academic advancement, increase their acceptance rates into secondary school and improve their self-esteem. We design activities and programmes to help them gain a sense of self and recognise their strengths, abilities and values as young women. We work with them to improve their English language skills, create consciousness around gender related topics, make informed decisions about healthy living, and provide them with safe space to express their opinions, feelings and ideas. Through their involvement with the Yosefe Girls’ Club, we hope that the next generation of women will help drive the development of their own communities.

Beyond our work with the Time + Tide Foundation, many in the local community find excellent employment by working in our camps or as a part of our operations team. Offering jobs ranging from safari guide and chef to mechanic and gardener, there are countless opportunities afforded to both men and women. Several have transitioned from their education in our schools into our employment as adults. Providing high quality employment that allows them to support their families and pay their children’s school fees helps reduce the likelihood that they would turn to jobs that exploit the region’s natural resources rather than protect them, such as illegal fishing or poaching.

 

The best part of it all is that it’s the best value time of year to experience a world class safari. The rates are lower, the crowds are fewer and the temperatures are pleasingly mild. Don’t let this incredibly special time of year pass you by. The road less travelled offers so much more, come and let us show you…

Book your own dream safari and experience the beauty of Zambia with us
cath@timeandtideafrica.com
or contact your current Time + Tide travel designer

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