This is a guest blog by Sally James; a mother and a world traveler!
I’ve always loved to travel. These days, however, it’s hard to reconcile a love for travel, a love for the planet, and a basic respect for local cultures. While most of us travel in order to experience the latter two, the travel industry’s thirst for tourist dollars has done an awful lot of damage to the environment, and has irrevocably altered the character and culture of many communities across the globe. So what’s a travel-loving philanthropist to do?
Well, take heart, travel-lovers. There are a growing number of places out there which are proving that tourism can be sustainable and ethical. And they are not only proving this, they are also proving that tourism can actively be both a driving force for conservation and of huge benefit to local people. One particular place in Kenya nicely exemplifies what I mean by this: Ol Pejeta Conservancy is doing fantastic work to preserve wildlife and using the tourism money it generates from its pristine habitat to benefit the local community.
For someone like me, and there are a lot of us around, beautiful, biodiverse habitats and the creatures living therein are a huge draw. I love the idea of a safari in Africa, for example. Both environmental and tourism groups are now waking up to the idea of using well-conserved ecosystems as an incredible resource. Rather than simply campaigning for ecological preservation for its own sake (and that of the flora and fauna relying on said ecosystems), groups are now teaming up with tourism initiatives and adding ‘loss of tourism’ to their list of reasons not to destroy vital ecosystems. Sadly, money talks. If moneymaking schemes are the main driver behind habitat loss, etc, why not use that same driver to preserve habitats?
Ol Pejeta Conservancy does just that, then takes it one step further. Comprising 90,000 acres in central Kenya, it is the largest sanctuary for black rhinos in East Africa, as well as home to elephants, zebras, lions, the world’s last white rhinos, and many more animals. The Conservancy team also rehabilitates chimpanzees rescued from the exotic pet trade. The work is largely funded by ecotourism, therefore you can stay at the Conservancy and enjoy the quintessential African safari experience (with an ethical, sustainable MO, of course!). In addition, Ol Pejeta is Not For Profit – and this is where things get really cool.
Ol Pejeta plunges its excess funds into local community projects, as well as making active efforts to ensure that local people benefit directly from any tourism income which comes into the area. In the past, the profit from tourist ventures in nations like Kenya has largely bypassed local communities (indeed, they’ve often been exploited by tourist initiatives), and passed straight into the hands of corporate operators. Ol Pejeta works to ensure that this does not happen. Conflict between local human interests and the interests of wildlife is a big problem for many ecological initiatives (Illegal deforestation in the Amazon springs to mind. It’s an ecological disaster, but the local people doing the deforesting are simply trying to feed their families). Ol Pejeta therefore works hard to ensure that the Conservancy’s success benefits the local community. They have helped local farmers harvest rainwater, funded educational projects, supplied ICT equipment for schools, installed solar panels for households. In the future, they plan to continue pouring money into social initiatives to generally improve the local quality of life, and provide opportunities for local people.
Creating a mutually beneficial relationship between people, especially local people, and the environment is, needless to say, a win-win situation. In my opinion, initiatives like Ol Pejeta are very exciting. They provide a beacon of hope, demonstrating that humans and animals really can co-exist to the mutual benefit of all. By being practical enough to recognize that human profit is key if conservation is to work, but idealistic enough to pursue their dream of mutual benefit, Ol Pejeta is blazing a trail for similar initiatives in threatened ecosystems all over the world, so, if you’re booking an African vacation, consider Ol Pejeta!