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Community-based tourism is the silver bullet for protecting African wildlife

by Nicole Rivard

Janis Carter is known as the primate who taught other primates how to survive in the wild. She was a graduate student in psychology at the University of Oklahoma when she accompanied two chim – panzees being released in the wild in Gambia in 1977 to teach them how to forage for safe foods, communicating through chimp vocalizations. 

Two years later, she helped establish a sanctuary for orphaned and captive-born chimpanzees on three islands in River Gambia National Park, known today as the Chim – panzee Rehabilitation Project (CRP), a conservation project supported by Friends of Animals that has also become a destination offering ecotourists the trip of a lifetime. Boat expeditions guide people through the river where they will see some of the 129 chimps, who live in four groups, as well as hippos, crocodiles, baboons, red colobus monkeys and more than 240 species of birds. Carter recognized early on, though, that the support of local villagers was essential to ensure the chimps’ safety. In the mid 1980s one of the original chimps died, possibly at the hands of a poacher, and Carter realized how little she knew about the people who occupy the villages along the Gambia River. 

So, she started reaching out to them and to communities in neighboring Senegal and Guinea to educate community leaders about chimpanzee feeding and migration areas to help them direct farming and logging in places they wouldn’t interfere with chimp survival. 

She told Smithsonian Magazine in 2005: “The best hope is to forge a relationship between people and chimps living close to them.” We couldn’t agree more that without the involvement of local people in conservation in Africa, it is impossible to reduce poaching, human-animal conflict or agricultural encroachment on wildlife habitat. That’s why we are proud that the CRP channels 10% of tourism profit into local communities. 

Tourism revenue from last year is being used to purchase a boat so sick villagers can have easier access to a health clinic. CRP also raises money for the Clean Water and Gardens Project, which started in 2012 in four villages. The project consists of constructing a borehole for clean water extraction, establishing a community garden and training community members about horticulture, pump maintenance and business practices.

 “These are all measures of improvement of life but also less stress on the environment—giving habitat and wildlife a break,” Carter says. Between 2012-2014, a total of 13 boreholes and accom – panying gardens were provided to villages neighboring the CRP and River Gambia National Park. An estimated 10,000 rural Gambians benefit from the program. 


 Being on the front lines in Africa, Friends of Animals is disgusted that the trophy hunting industry continues to perpetuate the myth to protect itself from public backlash that without them there would be no money for conserva – tion in Africa. Safari Club International, a hunting organization, brings that message to legislators at the same time we are working tirelessly to pass a bill that we drafted that would ban the importation of the trophies of lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes and rhinos into New York and Connecticut. 

The fact is, trophy hunting contributes significantly less to economies, job markets and conservation in Botswana, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe than what is claimed by them, according to the study, “The Lion’s Share?” The industry ignores the economic importance of the non-consumptive activities like ecotourism that it displaces. 

Bertrand Chardonnet, a wildlife vet and protected-areas consultant, revealed the average trophy hunting operator in Tanzania spent $0.08 per 2.5 acres per year, compared with tourism concessions in Kenya’s Maasai Mara paying $40 per 2.5 acres per year in his 2019 report “Africa is changing: Should its protected areas evolve?” Chardonnet also revealed that in Kenya, which does not permit trophy hunting, tourism recorded a turnover of $2.8 billion in revenue in 2017 for 429,500 direct jobs. In neighboring Tanzania, tourism figures were $1.9 billion and 446,000 direct jobs off 14.5 million acres of tourism areas. 

By contrast, big game/trophy hunting in Tanzania generated only $30 million in revenue and created 4,300 direct jobs off 50 million acres of hunting areas. Even if the trophy industry can claim some economic contribution in African countries, it never provides details on how that money provides incentives for greater conservation. 

“One cannot automatically conclude that simply because there are economic activities associated with trophy hunting, that this is inherently benefiting conservation,” the “Lion’s Share” says. 


A recent article in National Geographic Traveler highlights five trends transforming traditional safaris for the better, and that’s the best news for wildlife and humans. 

“From emerging wildlife havens to women-led expeditions, safaris in Africa are no longer about hunting big game or having a camera-toting adventure led by male guides. The future of African safaris has arrived,” Costas Christ wrote. Community action, one of the five trends, is exemplified by the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, located on ancestral land near Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya. 

The goal is to protect nature and share the Maasai way of life with visitors in a direct and meaningful way, Chairman Samson Parashina told the magazine. Guests stay at Camp ya Kanzi, an eco-lodge located on 283,000 acres of community conservancy land between Tsavo and Amboseli National Park, where zebra, giraffes, antelopes, lions, eland and leopards roam. 

FoA caught up with Kenya’s Luca Belpietro, founder of Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, via email to talk about what makes Camp ya Kanzi special. “The Trust was founded to make sure local communities could benefit economically by the protection of their wilderness and wildlife,” Belpietro said, adding that a contributing factor to poaching in Kenya is lack of employment and desperation of poor communities. Belpietro explained that the Trust was the first in Africa to create a tourism Payment for Ecosystem Service, where each guest pays a daily conservation fee, earmarked to compensate local landlords for livestock losses caused by predators. Consequently, the lion population is thriving. 

“We are proud to see that the local Maasai now see wildlife as their asset and are fully engaged in protecting it, as they benefit from it with our education and health programs. In the 21st century, community-based tourism is the silver bullet to protect African wilderness and wildlife,” Belpietro said. FoA believes community-based tourism combined with shutting down trophy hunting and wild animal “wet markets” worldwide will guarantee a future for African wildlife (see page 11). 

Poaching in Africa is driven by sophisticated, wealthy criminal syndicates that profit greatly from setting thousands of snares and catching large numbers of animals to supply large-scale markets around the world, principally in Asia.


Belpietro cautions tourists that not all places that say they are working with communities are telling the truth. 

“Ask for international awards or certifications if you are truly interested in making sure your holiday has a positive impact,” he said. At Pathway Safaris in Kenya, one way Director Andrew Mweti ensures his guests can make a positive impact is by partnering with places like the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage and Lewa Conservancy, and offering trips there. Entry fees support local communities. Lewa invests heavily in the livelihoods of its neighbors through education, healthcare, water, micro loans and skills training for women, youth empowerment and more. 

According to Lewa’s 2018/19 impact report, it invested $1.6 million in community education and livelihoods. Lewa also provides a haven for the critically endangered black rhino and the endangered Grevy’s zebra, as well as the elephant, lion, giraffe, wild dog and other iconic wildlife species in Kenya. 

“It’s amazing observing wild dogs, who are highly social, or impala defending their territories, or the interactions between all monkeys, or the elegant walk of a giraffe, or the tiny dik dik antelope, living as a couple for all their lives,” Belpietro said.

 “But what is most awe inspiring is simply having a Pleistocene wilderness with thriving wildlife. It still exists in Africa and we need to protect it, by making sure the local people—who are asked not to farm it, not to ranch it, not to hunt it—have real economic benefits from the active role they can play in its protection.”