Magazine article Geographical

Raising the Game

Magazine article Geographical

Raising the Game

Article excerpt

Africa leads the world in the use of sustainable tourism to both conserve wildlife and empower local communities. And responsible safaris, often with a side-order of luxury attached, are becoming increasingly easy to find.

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Getting stuck in a four-wheel-drive between a huge bull elephant in musth (a periodic condition characterised by highly aggressive behaviour) and a herd of elephant cows is not a terribly good idea. The trick, I was told, is to stay calm, control the surge of adrenaline and wait for your driver to interpret the tell-tale signs of the bull's mood. Thankfully, my driver was Patience Bogatsu, a guide from the local Molatedi community whose ancestors have long had to deal with such encounters. She recognised the danger immediately, carried out a nifty five-point turn on the narrow, dusty road, and off we sped into the bush, leaving the bull to pursue a receptive female elephant rather than our quaking jeep.

Patience is one of the first black women in South Africa to become a certified safari guide. She works at Thakadu River Camp in Madikwe Game Reserve on the border with Botswana. The camp is run as a collaboration between North West Parks, a South African tour operator and the local Molatedi community, which owns the lodge and has traversing rights across the reserve.

It's typical of a new breed of lodges in Africa's safari hotspots, where the local communities gain substantial benefits from tourism. The safaris are led by local guides who not only teach you about the wildlife but also about their traditional culture. And just because there's a local connection, don't expect mud huts and cross-legged dining. Thakadu is a luxury camp--there are double beds with cotton sheets, an en-suite bath and sliding doors onto a private outdoor deck, as well as a swimming pool overlooking the Marico River. Yet at these progressive lodges you get an insight into the real Africa--a fascinating mixture of wilderness and development, of innovation and tradition, of dance and music.

FAIR-TRADE TOURISM

So how can you find this new breed of responsible safari? Leading safari tour operators such as Tribes Travel, Rainbow Tours, Expert Africa and Discovery Initiatives carry out their own vetting procedure. In particular, Tribes Travel, which runs tailor-made holiday in 13 African countries and is widely considered to be one of the UK's leading responsible tour operators, carries out its own 'eco-review' of safari camps based on their environmental performance and social responsibility. Of the 300 reviews, the best performing include Chole Mjini in Tanzania, Sarara Camp at the edge of the Mathews Ranges in Kenya, and Amboseli Porini, a tented camp in the Selenkay Conservancy, a 6,000-hectare private game reserve on the northern boundary of Kenya's Amboseli National Park.

Several African countries have their own ecotourism associations, which list the most responsible lodges and safari operators. The Ecotourism Society of Kenya (www.ecotourismkenya.org) currently awards its gold rating to just two lodges: Basecamp Masai Mara and Campi ya Kanzi. In South Africa, Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa is the world's first fair-trade tourism certification scheme, which assesses travel businesses on fair-trade principles, such as whether they provide decent wages and working conditions for their staff. It has certified more than 30 South African businesses, including a rhino safari at Leshiba and balloon safaris from Umlani Bushcamp in the Timbavati Nature Reserve. …

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