Be­yond the Big Five

Action Asia - - AFRICA -

IN THE BE­GIN­NING THERE WAS AFRICA, t h e most e n d u r i n g l a n d mass o n E a r t h . Evo­lu­tion’s clock started tick­ing here first and so the an­swers the con­ti­nent has pro­vided to the ur­gent ques­tions of sur­vival are di­verse and dis­tinc­tive. Ul­ti­mately, they in­clude our­selves. It was here too that sa­fari tourism was born, on the aca­cia-dot­ted sa­vanna of East Africa. Cu­rios­ity about its dis­tinc­tive species built an in­dus­try. It also sparked my long­ing to see the world: as an eight-year-old, bor­row­ing library books from the adult sec­tion to learn about the plains and their an­i­mals. To­day wildlife tourism is a cru­cial part of the econ­omy for many eastern and south­ern African coun­tries and the of­fer­ing is diver­si­fy­ing. While more af­ford­able na­tional parks serve ever larger num­bers, in­clud­ing more and more lo­cal tourists, con­ser­van­cies – land leased from com­mu­ni­ties or pri­vate landown­ers for the pur­poses of con­ser­va­tion and tourism – are blos­som­ing. They prom­ise more ex­clu­siv­ity around sight­ings – a max­i­mum of three jeeps is the norm – and more lux­u­ri­ous lodges. Jeeps are al­lowed to off-road for bet­ter ac­cess, un­like in most parks, and walk­ing and rid­ing sa­faris are eas­ier with smaller num­bers to look out for. Crit­ics say some con­ser­van­cies are a form of neo-colo­nial­ism, with pri­vate own­ers keep­ing the cream of wildlife tourism for them­selves. The best of them, how­ever, en­sure lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties are in­volved through em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and the fund­ing of schools, clin­ics and in­fra­struc­ture. Na­tional parks and con­ser­van­cies alike make a lot of fuss about the ‘Big Five’ – lion, leop­ard, ele­phant, rhino (white and black) and buf­falo. This is a list com­piled by game hunters of the hard­est, most dan­ger­ous species to track on foot. The tra­di­tional game mam­mals are far from the only char­ac­ters about.

• red- and yel­low-billed horn­bills – com­mon but al­ways en­ter­tain­ing • gerenuk – a gi­raffe-necked an­te­lope • hye­nas – hunch­backed op­por­tunis­tic cats that act like dogs • painted wolves – the re­spect­ful re­badg­ing for African wild dogs • sec­re­tary bird – clad in sober grey but with a flam­boy­ant ruf­fle • warthogs – cute lit­ters of piglets but be­ware of in­dig­nant mums

MY EYES HURT The en­dan­gered Grevy’s ze­bra is an in­ter­fer­ence pat­tern on legs.

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