Is Safari Guiltless?

There Are Serious Problems That You Might Not Be Thinking About

When on an African safari, a jeep door is sometimes all that stands between you and the wildlife you have come to see. That door seems so terribly thin when you roll to within 10 feet of a hyena and can hear its teeth grinding against the bone of a recent slaughter. But the thin skin of that jeep is more effective than you realize and distances you from more than just the claws of a lion.

How much do you really know about the harsh reality of life and, more importantly, death in the wilds of Africa? And, as you ponder the circle of life from the ease of your seat, what do you really know about the effect that you yourself are having on it? What do you know about the politics that made it possible for you to get where you are? What do you really know about the impact you and all of mankind are having on the lives of the animals?

There Is Still Hope
In Africa, the 1990s have been a period of wildlife recovery. After more than a decade of devastating poaching, many of Africa's most famous animals—elephants, lions, white and black rhinos, gorillas—have been pulled from the brink of extinction. Protected national and private parks, improved understanding of animal lifestyles and needs, coordinated international lobbying, public relations pressures, and so much more have resulted in increases in the number of many of the almost decimated animal populations. Just when many people thought it was too late, there are now sure signs of hope.

But hope should not mean relaxing vigilance. Just as the attention focused on animal welfare issues and conservation has borne positive fruit, so do the devastating effects of war, increases in the human population, overgrazing animals, tourism, and much more require ongoing attention and our redirected concern. That, and wisdom on the part of travelers choosing to allow the thin skin of a jeep to distance the bitter reality they may be playing a part in prolonging.

Think about the Following
Endangered animals, especially predators like the big cats of Africa, continue to be threatened by a dramatic reduction in genetic diversity (more than a decade of heavy poaching has resulted in inbreeding and threatens the strength of the species), a dwindling habitat lost to humans and grazing herds of domesticated animals, and direct conflicts with humans (like smugglers, and commercial and survival poachers).

Think about some of this when you are watching that lolling lion or that cute baby rhino. And, because it is important to understand something about the efforts being made to battle the destructive effects around us, take a moment to learn about the international, national, and local initiatives being taken to secure lasting wildlife survival.

Commercial Smugglers and Poachers
On April 9, 1999, in Namibia, the first legal sale of over 12 tons of ivory saw the end of an international nine-year ban on such trade. Four days later, Zimbabwe auctioned off 20 tons of tusks, and four days after that, Botswana saw 18 tons go to the market.

These sales were sanctioned by a committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES, initially agreed to in 1975 and now signed by 150 countries, bans "commercial international trade in an agreed list of endangered species" and regulates and monitors trade in others that might be endangered. The big question is whether or not renewed ivory sales open up a can of worms best left shut. Although CITES removed the elephant from the endangered list of the southern African countries in 1997, there is concern that conservation controls are still inadequate and abuses will continue.

Commercial poaching is still the most serious threat to the survival of Africa's great animals.

Survival Poachers
While illegal poaching is still problem number one, add to that the poaching by many of Africa's fishermen, pastoralists, and herbalists—those who have traditionally used natural resources to stay alive—who now find themselves illegally depleting protected resources.

Human Land Exploitation
Africa's rangelands are not what they used to be. Overgrazing, poor crop management, depletion of soil quality, escalating demand on a limited water supply, and the increased use of arable land to feed growing numbers of humans have all cut into the resources available to animals. Now there is even a third element: leleshwa weed. The kudzu of Africa, leleshwa weed spreads quickly, is difficult to control, not eaten by local fauna, and chokes edible grassland flora. Scarce land is now even more scarce and competition for it even more fierce.

Mass tourism in Africa has been on the rise. Over the years, delicate natural resources have been trampled and normally feral animals made dangerously accustomed to the wowed and eagerly shutterbugging humans who surrounded them on numerous occasions. Guide services have not always been fully qualified and business practices have been questionable.

Other Threats
Large tracts of beautiful forest are routinely cleared by loggers and road builders. Once-protected habitats are now easily accessible. Others are practically destroyed.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »