9 August 2015

East Africa: Poaching Undercuts African Tourism

Photo: Andréa Turkalo
Baby elephants in Sangha Trinational parks of Cameroon, Central African Republic and Congo

Africa's ongoing poaching crisis is responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of elephants, giraffes, and other animals every year writes JOHN R. PLATT.

That's the word from Tanzania, where Adelhem Meru, the country's permanent secretary in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, says poaching will cost Africa 3.8 million jobs over the next 10 years.

"We are worried with the trend of wildlife killings, because this would have a devastating impact to the sector and economy," Meru said last week at a tourism conference in the city of Arusha.

Tanzania, like many African nations, has been hard hit by poaching over the past decade. Last year a survey revealed that the country had lost more than half its elephants, with populations declining from 110,000 in 2009 to fewer than 44,000. Tanzania's iconic giraffes, the country's national symbol, have also suffered, as has much of its other wildlife.

While poachers are profiting from these beloved species, tourism could suffer. Meru said Tanzania has 700,000 tourism-related jobs and predicts that number could double, but only if "the ongoing rampant killings of wildlife" stops. "If the current situation will remain unattended, these jobs would vanish in air," he said at the conference.

"The poaching crisis is not simply an environment issue," said Richard Thomas, global communications coordinator for TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. "It relates to development issues, including tourism, which is a vital sector in a number of national economies, and even national security and the underlying criminalization of society that is associated with the influx of organized criminal gangs."

The poaching threat creates two major problems for the tourist industry. "If the animals aren't there for tourists to see, they won't come," Thomas said. "If there are security concerns, that also will understandably hit the tourism sector heavily too."

So, Why Should You Care? Meru's harsh predictions come on the tail of a recent report from the United Nations World Tourism Organization that found wildlife watching represented 80 percent of all African tourism. The animals that tourists are most likely to want to see in Africa include elephants, rhinos, cape buffalos, lions, and leopards-all of which also face the greatest threats owing to poaching. Meanwhile, people on wildlife-watching tours spend an average of $433 per day on the tour itself plus $55 a day on related purchases and expenses, according to the UN report. The average tour lasts 10 days and includes six people. Positions related to wildlife tourism include guides, hotel and restaurant staff, drivers and pilots, and cultural performers for evening activities.

John R. Platt covers the environment, technology, philanthropy, and more for Scientific American, Conservation, Lion, and other publications.

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