Tourism and Conservation: Partners for the Environment’s Future
Tourism, one of the world’s biggest industries, is one of the largest drivers of economic growth. It’s also one of the most important forces behind conservation efforts. Global tourism brings greater awareness of the importance of conservation; as the internet helps our world become even more connected so the number of travellers visiting our planet’s sensitive natural regions grows.
So does the need to protect our natural resources. Internationally, conservation projects are being established to capitalise on the economic promise of tourism while ensuring future generations will be able to appreciate our natural areas.
Conservation is defined as “the act of preserving or protecting the environment, natural resources and biodiversity.” Countries with undeveloped economies struggle to implement conservation projects because of limited financial resources, leading to exploitation of natural resources and wildlife by local people trying to make a living. Although understandable, this scenario can have disastrous consequences to the long-term viability of the ecosystems, as well as to the different communities dependent upon them.
When implemented correctly, tourism can help developing economies by encouraging rather than depleting natural resources. Responsible tourism unites community stakeholders around a common goal with tangible results, creating sustainable forms of income such as tours. Responsible tourism brings responsible travellers – and their much-needed cash – to communities.
Poaching has decimated the populations of big game animals such as elephants, lions and rhinos. So too has the black market trade in rare species. Historically many local communities do not see the value in protecting these animals and hunt and kill them for food, or for destroying their crops or killing their livestock. If these endangered species continue to be poached or used for food they will become extinct. So will the communities’ food source.
Tourism has the power to change the mind-set that wildlife is a threat. Rather than seeing lions as a danger to their homes or the pangolin as a source of wealth, communities can be shown to recognise these animals can actually provide for them. Tourists from all over the world are willing to travel great distances and pay significant sums of money to see these unique animals. Countries that invest in the conservation and preservation of their wildlife and natural resources ensure that travellers AND their money will continue to visit for the foreseeable future.
In Zimbabwe conservation efforts are almost entirely sustained and funded by private companies, charitable organisations and individuals. The years of hyper-inflation meant no cash reserves were available to support National Parks and our wildlife areas. Without tourism to supplement their income, Zimbabwe’s wildlife areas could have fallen into ruin.
Without support of private organisations, parks such as Hwange National Park would have been unable to provide water for its animals. Installations of borehole and maintenance of water pumps in Hwange has been funded by property owners and organisations completely reliant upon tourism. Most private lodge and safari owners depend on tourism to train and equip anti-poaching units, operations that are absolutely necessary to deal with the increasing threat of international poaching syndicates. The presence of volunteers or tourists in wildlife areas is an effective deterrent for poachers; daily game drives limit the time frame for poachers to operate. Daily snare sweeps and fence patrols carried out by anti-poaching units are absolutely essential in every conservation area.
Conservation organisations and safari operators create employment opportunities for thousands of rural Zimbabweans. They support schools and education centres, health clinics and vocational training. Donations from volunteers, tourists and the private sector are the sole source of funding for many rural schools. The benefits for conservation and, ultimately, the fight against poaching from these donations cannot be underestimated.
As Footprints goes to print we applaud President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s recent affirmation of his commitment to the preservation of Zimbabwe’s wildlife and natural resources: “Conservation and tourism go hand in hand and my government is committed to ensuring the safety of visitors and to working with partners to increase our conservation efforts to protect our natural world.”