Wildlife is critical to Africa's economic development
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There has been a wave of misunderstanding and rhetoric about the value of wildlife-based tourism recently. It’s time to set the record straight.
At the recent Summit on Africa’s Wildlife Economy, in Zimbabwe, an organisation called Space for Giants, working with the UN Environmental Programme, released a working paper, Building a Wildlife Economy, which has an ambition to find ways to increase human-wildlife coexistence. It names wildlife-based tourism as the biggest driver for tourism growth.
The paper demonstrates that there is a financial opportunity for African governments and communities that protect, market and develop their natural assets in the right way for the tourism market - and this is predicted to grow. It is based on non-consumptive opportunities because this is considered the best use for the sector’s long-term sustainability.
Worryingly, the paper noted that the asset was under serious threat as wildlife numbers were declining. A paper published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature states that more than a million species are facing extinction. We’ve seen studies indicating that the world’s landmass is populated by 36% humans, 60% livestock and only 4% wildlife.
In Botswana, we have well-protected natural assets and wildlife tourism has emerged as a key contributor to economic growth and job creation. That the tourism sector employs more than 90 000 people in a country of little more than 2.2 million is significant. In the northern districts, tourism provides 42% of all jobs.
Wildlife-based tourism is responsible for only 3% to 4% of tourism spending globally. It hints at growth potential.
International conservation charity Space for Giants recognises the ecological and economic value of Africa’s elephants and their habitats. Recent surveys in South Africa show that tourists come on wildlife-based holidays and elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards and giraffes are the main attraction. Without the potential of seeing the species, they would probably choose a destination closer to home.
Wildlife tourism improves the livelihoods of citizens. According to Building a Wildlife Economy, it leverages the key assets of rural lands where most Africans live. It generates 40% more full-time jobs than the same investment in agriculture. It has twice the job creation power of the automotive, telecommunications and financial industries. It also provides more job opportunities for women compared to other sectors.
Other wildlife-based “uses” fall short of this delivery. The game-farming sector is small and has issues with trade and export in a minor and often saturated market. In South Africa, breeding specialised animals like black impala or golden wildebeest has virtually collapsed as an industry. In the most popular hunting country, hunting revenues have been declining as the sport comes under criticism.
Hunting contributes less than 0.27% to a country’s GDP. By comparison, wildlife viewing tourism accounts for 96% of all tourism. Wildlife-based tourism generates more than $40billion annually in revenues into Africa.
If we fail to protect the resource, we will be losing the species and the potential tourism dollars that can grow our economies and provide jobs. Until we have robust community involvement in tourism based on passive use, the debate will continue forever.
Joubert is a National Geographic explorer and founder and chief executive of Great Plains Conservation, which operates luxury game lodges in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kenya. He is also a wildlife film-maker.
The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media.