This past Sunday, March 3rd, was World Wildlife Day, a day the United Nations declared to celebrate the many living beings that populate this planet alongside us. The main goal behind this celebration is to raise awareness of not only the presence of millions of plants and animals — some discovered and described, many still unknown to us — but also to examine how our daily lives impact theirs. How does this apply to tourism, you ask? Quite directly, in fact.
Have you ever gone, or wanted to go, on a safari? Personally, I think it sounds incredible to be able to witness the majesty and beauty of such amazing creatures in real life, animals I’ve only seen on calendars or drawn in my notebooks in elementary school. To be able to get up close to an elephant or a cheetah must be a breathtaking experience (and educational to boot). And I’m not the only one that thinks that — over 30 million tourists travel to African countries each year! Granted, not all of them are going on safaris (and it’s difficult to find data on the subject), but imagine if even 25% of them are. That would mean that 7.5 million people roam across the African plains each year to see these amazing creatures, and Travelshift asserts that this trend is on the rise.
In the past (that is, colonial times), safaris were primarily glorified hunting trips, where hunters would travel to shoot big game like lions and elephants to take them back home to have taxidermied and displayed as trophies. Of course, logically speaking, that’s not quite sustainable. Safaris have come a long way since then and are now part of conservation efforts to raise awareness about the importance of such animals. That’s one of the characteristics that makes a safari such a unique travel experience — what was once used as a way to destroy life is now used to protect it.
That being said, many safari tours are still not perfect. Chris from Lessons Learned Abroad, in his post “Are Safaris Ethical?”, recounts his personal experience, which may come as a bit of a surprise for us animal lovers:
“I saw driver after driver – including our own – get questionably close to the animals over the course of the three-day tour. We were so close, in fact, that some animals actually got up, walked 5 feet away, and then sat back down to chill. You could almost sense the animals feeling awkward – THAT’S how close we were!
“Drivers would speed away from the dirt road, kicking up dust as they bounced around the park in search of photo opportunities for their patrons. Roads were mere suggestions, used when convenient and discarded when the drivers wanted to get up close and personal. It was so bad, in fact, that, on our final day, our driver was actually fined $300 because he was caught breaking the rules.”
While it’s true that poaching has been illegal for quite some time now, that doesn’t mean our work to protect the natural world from ourselves is done. Safari tour operators have not only a laboral but also a moral obligation to follow the rules and regulations set out by governing authorities to keep safe the environment that people have traveled so far to admire. And we, as (potential) safari tourists, have the right to demand that this respect be maintained as we admire these amazing creatures. Safari tour operators are doing truly amazing work; they allow ordinary people like you and me to get close to animals we’ve likely only ever dreamed about, showing us they are real and therefore sparking a personal and emotional connection with them. Seeing is believing, after all.
Let’s do our best to hold ourselves accountable and respect the wonder and intelligence of our natural world.
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