John Scanlon recently wrote about the importance of wildlife tourism in fighting poverty and wildlife crime in a June 2017 article for the Guardian. “Well-managed wildlife-based tourism can offer an economic opportunity that supports wildlife [but] it must be responsibly managed and operators must engage with staff, customers and, most importantly, local people.” He writes. “Evidence shows that when local people have a stake in it they will be the best protectors of wildlife, as is evident in the Northern Rangelands Trust… Tourism operators have the power to lift local people out of poverty in a manner that will be mutually beneficial and self-sustaining. Or they can choose not to engage with local communities and to invest in a manner that sees all of the profits go offshore – in which case I would say they are no better than the poachers and the smugglers… the reality is that the tourism sector is not a fringe player in the fight against illegal wildlife trade – it is right at the centre of it.”
For at least 13 NRT member conservancies, tourism provides a valuable revenue stream. Conservancies split revenue 60/40, between social projects and conservancy operating costs respectively. The latter includes ranger salaries, security equipment, field rations and vehicle fuel — all critical to securing wildlife and curbing insecurity. Tourism also provides valuable job opportunities in areas were employment options are limited for local people - there were 155 tourism jobs in NRT conservancies in 2016, an 18% increase on 2015.
Saruni Lodges have been operating in Kalama Community Wildlife Conservancy since 2008. Kalama receives revenue from bed night and conservancy entry fees, which in 2016 totalled $86,000. Kalama have already received almost $70,000 in the first 6 months of 2017, and Saruni’s total projected payments to the conservancy for 2017 are between $116,000 and $135,000.
But the benefits to conservancy members extend beyond conservation entry fees. Saruni contributes to conservancy scouts' salaries, as well as offering retail space and a captive market for local women selling crafts. Almost all of Saruni Samburu's staff are employed from the local area, and from January to September 2017 they had paid out over $106,000 in local salaries.
On the back of their successful partnership with Kalama, and Saruni’s faith in the community conservancy model, the tourism operator entered into an agreement with the nearby Sera Community Conservancy in late 2016. ‘Saruni Rhino’ officially launched in February 2017, in a partnership that seeks to support Sera in capitalising on the new black rhino sanctuary. To date, Sera Conservancy has received $24,000 in conservation fees revenue from Saruni – which markets the experience as the only place in east Africa visitors can track black rhinos on foot. Even with the lodge closing for over a month to construct an additional room, projected revenue to Sera is just under $39,000. All this at a time when Kenya is still seen to be recovering from a series of bad international press.
Tourist dollars are not only helping to protect the wildlife upon which the industry is built, but just as importantly, helping to instil a pride and an ownership of wildlife amongst conservancy members, who can see direct and tangible benefits between the elephants and rhinos that share their pasture, and their children’s education, jobs and more secure future.