Africa’s big­gest con­ser­va­tion suc­cess was once

The East African - - OUT­LOOK -

It also op­er­ates the largest anti-poach­ing force of any pri­vate or­gan­i­sa­tion in Africa, with al­most 1,000 rangers, and builds lodg­ing for vis­i­tors that range from ba­sic rooms to $1,300-a-night lux­ury tents. That, and the rein­tro­duc­tion of big an­i­mals, has helped boost tourism in un­likely places such as Chad, which at­tracts the su­per-wealthy with a re­mote sa­fari camp in the vast Zak­ouma na­tional park that’s fully booked un­til 2021.

“Tourism to Africa is still pri­mar­ily about na­ture and wildlife,” Pe­ter Fearn­head, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the com­pany, said in an in­ter­view in Jo­han­nes­burg.

“What we try to do is build an econ­omy that’s di­rectly linked to con­ser­va­tion.”

It is an ap­proach that’s been crit­i­cised by some ac­tivists, who say the fenc­ing-off of land and the in­creased use of heav­ily armed rangers to pro­tect wildlife points to the mil­i­tari­sa­tion of con­ser­va­tion and crim­i­nalises peo­ple who tra­di­tion­ally hunt for food.

“The huge con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions have a colo­nial model of con­ser­va­tion and scape­goat lo­cal peo­ple, who are hunt­ing for the pot as they have al­ways done, as poach­ers,” said Fiona Wat­son of Sur­vival In­ter­na­tional, a Lon­don-based ad­vo­cacy group.

There have been set­backs. In 2007, African Parks with­drew from two fa­cil­i­ties in Ethiopia af­ter the gov­ern­ment failed to back ne­go­ti­a­tions with lo­cal res­i­dents to limit the use of the land. Two years later, 15 staff, in­clud­ing rangers, were killed in an at­tack by a rebel group in Garamba in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo.

In con­trast, ar­rests in Ak­agera dropped to 19 last year, and there hasn’t been a gun­fight since two rangers were killed by hippo poach­ers in 2010.

Funded by char­i­ties and phi­lan­thropists in Eu­rope and the US — Ak­agera was re­cently given a he­li­copter by the Howard Buf­fett Foun­da­tion — African Parks got its start in Malawi and Zam­bia in 2003 fol­low­ing three years of ne­go­ti­a­tions. To­day, it runs 15 na­tional parks in South­ern and Cen­tral Africa and is ex­pand­ing into West Africa, in­clud­ing Pend­jari in Benin, a UN­ESCO World Her­itage site and host to the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered West African lion. Fol­low­ing the ex­am­ple of Rwanda, which con­trib­utes fi­nan­cially to Ak­agera, Benin has pledged $6 mil­lion over the next five years to help fund the restora­tion of Pend­jari.

“This model is be­gin­ning to de­velop where coun­tries learn from other coun­tries that there is a value to their park, so much that they are pre­pared to in­vest in it them­selves,” said Mr Fearn­head, a Zim­babwe-born re­source econ­o­mist who co-founded the com­pany with four oth­ers. The goal is to man­age ar­eas big enough to rein­tro­duce species that had dis­ap­peared, ne­ces­si­tat­ing ar­eas no smaller than 70,000 hectares.

In­creased rev­enue

In­come from tourism is still small com­pared with African Parks’ bud­get of $45 mil­lion, which comes largely from donors. At Ak­agera, tourism rev­enue in­creased al­most ten-fold from 2010 and was on track to reach $2 mil­lion last year on

Photo AFP

Burchell’s Plains ze­bra at Ak­agera Na­tional Park in Rwanda. Be­low; Boxes con­tain­ing lions brought from South Africa are placed on a truck head­ing to Ak­agera Na­tional Park. Rwanda rein­tro­duced lions af­ter they were wiped out of the coun­try.

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