African wildlife has been in the spotlight lately with recent release of Disney’s remastered The Lion King, sparking interest for travellers seeking an African safari experience.
While the Lion King franchise (the musical, the national and international tours, the merchandise, the films) has grossed more than $8.1 billion dollars, the value it can have on the awareness to conserve Africa’s wildlife can be priceless.
Simba the lion might have triumphed in the movie, but in real life, lions are suffering. The number of lions in the wild has fallen from around 450,000 in 1950, to 40,000 when the first Lion King came out, to around 20,000 today. Whereas lions were once dispersed throughout the African continent, they now occupy only eight percent of their historic range.
They can be found in only 25 countries, although most are found in only eight. There are no lions left in North Africa, they are functionally extinct in West Africa, and they are under threat everywhere else. The species is on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s ominous Red List, right alongside the more publicised elephants and rhinos.
Across environmental, conservation and philanthropic circles, the hope is that the 2019 version of The Lion King will finally attract attention on the big cats’ predicament and serve as a catalyst for their conservation.
Unfortunately, the movie is also encouraging a dark side to wildlife tourism, as more people are keen to get up close and personal with the animals in the wrong way. For example, to cuddle with a Simba (lion cub), is attracting visitors to the unethical tourism practice of canned lion farms.
These farms often take young lions from their mothers and allow tourists to pay to cuddle them. Tourists are fed with the lie that the lion cubs were abandoned, or their mothers injured, and they are there to be looked after until old enough to be released back into the wild. The truth is, these lion cubs will grow to be hunted and shot.
This is just one example of unethical tourism practises that travellers can fall trap to when visiting South Africa. The good news is, there are many ways you can ethically enjoy a South African wildlife and safari experience. You just need to be aware of what to look out for.
Where Wild Things Roam has some handy tips to help guide you to making the right choices when engaging in a South African wildlife experience or safari.
Book with reputable companies
Australian company and African Specialist, Bench Africa, is always delighted when its clients show an interest in conservation and sustainable practises when in South Africa and encourage them to get involved if the opportunity is there.
There has to be a certain amount of caution required though with ethical conservation activities as for many years there have been operators touting their conservation bona fides whilst engaged in unhelpful or harmful behaviour. Walking with the lions is one such example. There is a large amount of due diligence required by both the client and the agent in regard to these activities to make sure they put their money where their mouth says its going.
No interactive animal experiences
It is important to book with companies that uphold strict standards when it comes to this. According to Cameron Neill from Bench Africa, the company has a blanket ban on all interactive animal experiences.
“Defined, interactive animal experiences are activities that take animals away from natural behaviour and often from natural environments,” Cameron explained.
For example, the meerkat visits in South Africa are conducted in their natural environment with limited or zero contact with guests (which is of course at the animals discretion) and in these cases the animals are merely habituated to the presence of people, not trained out of natural behaviours.
This is similar with animals on safari, they remain wild animals in wild spaces but habituated to safari vehicles viewing them respectfully. We try to educate travel agents as best as possible on the differences through our channels as well as through our reservations team.
Do it for the right reasons
Travellers often want to get involved, but it is important to do it for the right reasons. The difficult part is to distinguish the difference between actual conservation work (which is often less glamorous) and the faux conservation that trends so well on Instagram. Whilst the latter has been a big movement in the past the most recent trend is for engaged experiences with authentic activities and more about the experience itself, less about the sharing of it with an online audience.
There are companies that are doing it for the right reasons and in an effort to educate and conserve properly, not just to make a tourist dollar. In some cases, yes, there will be rehabilitation centres that will monopolise on their wildlife in an unethical way, however there are also centres that are doing incredible work to ensure the proper rehabilitation of the animals. Do your research before visiting any of these centres.
The same goes for tours. The good news is, Where Wild Things Roam Travel offer travellers ethical wildlife experiences in their tours that actually aid in conservation. Yes, you will get your hands dirty, but this hands-on experience aids in the very survival of these animals. All profits from these tours go straight back into conservation.
To learn more about wildlife experiences and safari’s in South Africa, visit South Africa Tourism’s website at https://www.southafrica.net