New chapter on environment
By Brendan Seery
Johannesburg - It looks like a typical, heavyweight, coffee table book celebrating the beauty of Africa and its ultra-luxury game lodges.
But Africa’s Finest, authored by Colin Bell and David Bristow, is much more than comforting colonial composition.
It’s a searching, thought-provoking exploration of the high-end travel and lodge business and whether the practices in the sector are sustainable and, indeed, whether they may even threaten the environment.
Bell and Bristow provide mouth-watering images of dream camps across Africa, and then subject them to ruthless assessment when it comes to their environmentally friendly (or otherwise) ways of operating.
Everything from the disposal of garbage, to the involvement of the local communities, to the use of red-shielded lenses on game drive spot lamps (to avoid blinding animals) are explored.
Most of the establishments assessed come out of the process reasonably well, although for most there is still a “to do” list – and the authors are not shy about noting these failings.
A number of places visited have committed themselves to improving in those areas in which they have been found lacking.
The question is, of course, what is the point for ordinary, middle- class South African travellers, many of whom can only dream about visiting most of the places covered by Bell and Bristow?
Bristow is a nature writer, environmental scientist and adventure traveller. He is the author of 20 books on wildlife, travel, nature, culture and history of Africa. Bell co-founded Wilderness Safaris and Great Plains. He now lives in Cape Town and is semi-retired, but devotes much of his time to greening the safari industry.
They say they are concerned about the “wild places” in Africa and the threats they face. Animal numbers are in decline, many reserves are dealing with human encroachment and the safari industry – which could be the saviour of people and places – is under-performing, or even making things worse.
The book, they say, focuses on the “eco heroes” (their faults notwithstanding), who can serve as role models for the rest of the tourism industry.
That’s where the importance of this book lies. It is more than a coffee table extravaganza about beyond-your-means destinations; it is a blueprint for all similar businesses. If you are a traveller who cares about environmental issues (and most of us who love Africa’s wild places are) then this book will enable you to assess places you visit. If they are not moving towards environmentally friendly and sustainable practices, you can vote with your wallet.
In so doing, you’ll make a small contribution to the future of our continent. – Saturday Star