Big beasts, big business: The countries cashing in on wildlife tours
5:57 AM EST, Thu March 2, 2017
The brutal killing of Cecil, Zimbabwe's famous black mane lion, has caused outrage around the world, highlighting once more the persistent threats faced by endangered animals.
For decades, the majestic wildlife found across Africa has been a major draw for tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of roaring lions, towering elephants and rare rhinos.
But wildlife tourism should always be a case of look, but don't touch.
For several African countries, wildlife is more than a tourism treasure. It's also a key source of revenue. A recent study by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) compiled figures from government and tour operators throughout the continent to assess the state of the wildlife tourism industry. It found that the industry contributes 80% of international travel sales to the continent, a large percentage of the $34.2 billion African tourism industry.
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One of the best performing sub-sectors within the wildlife tourism industry is gorilla treks, such as in Bwindi Forest National Park, Uganda. Permits to visit a gorilla family cost between $500-700, meaning the forest, home to roughly half the world's wild mountain gorillas, generates approximately $15 million annually.
The Serengeti-Ngorongoro southern circuit, a key migration route, is another tourist hotspot. It receives 300,000 visitors a year, spending $500 million in total on trips to the 300-kilometer stretch between Arusha and Serengeti, Tanzania.
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Of the countries who submitted data, 14 generated a total of approximately $142 million in entrance fees to protected parks, bolstering the coffers of various conservation initiatives. Around half of operators contribute to anti-poaching projects, and governments are taking steps to counter the elevated threat in recent years.
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UNTWO worked out that across the continent, the average wildlife tour lasts 10 days, has six participants and costs $433 per day. It also found that France, the UK, the U.S., Germany and Portugal are the biggest long-haul markets for Africa.
Courtesy Leopard hills
There's more to wildlife tourism than safaris. Although 96% of operators questioned did offer them, bird watching tours, whale watching and a variety of treks also came under the UNWTO's census. One of the most popular non-safari activities in Zambia is a visit to Victoria Falls -- 30% of tourists will make the trip to the 1,708-meter wide falls, the "largest curtain of water in the world."
courtesy united air charters
Globally there were 12 million wildlife tourism trips in 2013 (the last full year of data available), and numbers are rising 10% annually, suggesting positive signs for the industry -- should it counter the existential threats to it, such as "the dramatic increase in poaching and illicit trade of wildlife products since 2005," which "threatens to undermine conservation achievements," according to UNTWO.