African Wildlife - Future Uncertain, Future Hopeful
An Opportunity for a Contribution of Substance from the Safari Industry

David Peddie
September 2016 / July 2017

Overhead a bright, infinite Milky Way hangs in a moonless night sky. Below, huge grey shapes glide silently, ghost-like, across the sand of the dry riverbed, relentless, towards the field of ripening maize. Shouts erupt, flame torches flare, drums beat, tin plates clang and clatter, shadows flicker and run bravely into the field. Shrill, angry trumpets rip the still night air, maize flattens under massive charging feet. Desperate cries of fear, agony, a flame arching high, cartwheeling through the dark. Silence and then nothing, nothing but the ripping of stalks and cobs and the deep rumble of the bull elephant; curved, tusks gleaming under the starlight. The wailing of the women and children will soon follow.

The timeless drama of the African wilderness continues today, sometimes almost unchanged, in the fields of many of the rural people living with wildlife and in proximity to wildlife protected areas. These are wild areas, often with little in the way of modern infrastructure, where most of the people still follow a pastoral and subsistence cropping existence. This balance, this conflict, between human and wild animal, in so many areas that are prime wildlife habitat, is a harsh reality. It cannot be ignored, especially in the light of burgeoning rural populations.

The recent announcements that China plans to end its domestic ivory trade and the centuries old carving and sculpture tradition, have once again had me lamenting the lack of collaboration and cooperation amongst the diverse elements of the international conservation community and, especially, with the rural people of Africa. It has me thinking back to a comment made when penning some thoughts on an approach to making use of ivory as a solution rather than a problem, back in 2015. 

Thus it was that, immediately prior to last years CITES Meeting in Johannesburg and in the midst of all the ideological controversy, notably over ivory and rhino horn, I expressed my irritation and frustration with some of those who have the resources and the political means to resolve so many of Africa’s conservation and rural development issues. At times there appear to be agendas disconnected from the complexities of ecosystem conservation; dogma and egos seem to cloud reality, logic and innovation. Somehow, there needs to be wider and more objective and honest debate from all sides - including, for example, the trade / no-trade divide - about how to ensure the future of Africa’s wildlife, and how to develop her rural people by integrating them into that goal.

The following, written at the time, is rather cynical, I know, but after reading all those disingenuous commentaries clogging the media before and during the CITES Meeting, and observing what has transpired since, my opinion is not much changed.

"On the eve of the arrival of the CITES Jamboree in Johannesburg, I fear that this particular round of the battle to ensure a lengthy future for Africa’s wildlife and, consequently, the critical functionality of her diverse ecosystems, is already lost.

Lost in the imposition on the rural people of Africa of the emotive self-righteousness of people with warm and comfortable homes and the arrogance of a full belly. People far from the realities of chasing an elephant out of your maize field in the dark of night, with nothing more than an old pot to bang and a flaming torch to wave.

Lost in the denial of the explosion of Africa’s humanity and the link to the consequent expansion of inappropriate land use and, thus, to the degradation of ecosystems and loss of wildlife habitat.

Lost in the pursuit of “saving" charismatic rhino, elephant, lion, pangolin or anything else that will grab the wealthy publics imagination and raise a few more dollars to finance the lifestyle of the saviours.

Lost in the corruption, endemic throughout so many facets of the “international wildlife industry” and in the many chronically incompetent governments of the continent.

My hope, though, remains for rational debate and the rejection of unrealistic protectionist policies, and the narrow, militaristic conservation philosophies, that have failed to halt the devastation of African wildlife. My hope flares, equally illogically, for the wide-spread emergence of sensible, pragmatic and holistic conservation strategies that focus on the fundamental causes and not the symptoms, and, thus, on the longterm security of wild land on an ecosystem scale. Especially, too, for the inclusion of the rural people of Africa in innovative socio-economic development and land use that anchors itself in the sustainable management of those wild ecosystems and their wildlife.

Unfortunately, these hopes, I fear, are destined to be dashed in the rush to burn ever more stockpiles of ivory and to strut in the glare of the cameras, while the crime bosses simply send out the next order for more.

Then, when the talking, bribing and voting are said and done, and the experts have all gone home, all of those resolute souls out there in the field getting their hands dirty doing what really needs to be done, with few of the resources they need, will continue doing just that, and actually make a difference.”

Environmental conservation is about ensuring the functionality of the planetary ecosystem, such that it continues to support the highest possible level of “wild” biodiversity and, consequently, maintains a global environment that will perpetuate the survival of all life, including humanity, indefinitely.

It is the conservation of terrestrial, aquatic and oceanic ecosystems, and all the natural biota within them that is the key to the future. Within that goal, there is the critical need for sustainable management and utilisation of renewable natural resources to the benefit of humanity.

Ultimately, it is not about saving an orang-utan, a pangolin, a whale or stopping people buying rhino horn or ivory, it is about ensuring that there is space for biodiversity to flourish and ecosystems to function. It is about giving the Planet the opportunity to regenerate what we have damaged or destroyed, and, thus, to provide us with all those life-supporting services that only Nature can.

I have said this often, but I share the conviction of many in the forefront of innovative conservation, that conservation in Africa is about integrating people and sustainable socio-economic systems with the land and landscape in functional ecosystems. The elephant, rhino and great apes are charismatic species under imminent threat of extinction, but which, along with other high profile species, are merely the torch bearers for the future of all wildlife in Africa. To focus conservation efforts on specific charismatic species and individual animals at the expense of investing in habitat, ecosystems and rural people, is likely, all too soon, to consign those wild species to history.

This, I believe, is where the safari industry can make a real contribution in Africa. Not by individual members trying to “do something” independently, but by working together with all the participants from the different facets of the tourism and conservation industries in coherent and coordinated programmes. Programmes that optimise the application of the available funds, and the material and intellectual resources, that each of these elements and individual participants are able to harness.

There are numerous large scale locations where wildlife, safari and rural communities are all part of the ecological and economic landscape - locations that can be geographically, socially and politically distinctly defined. Within each of these locations there is the opportunity to work together to bring about concerted and coordinated conservation and development strategies. Strategies where each participant and stakeholder contributes to achieving the long term goals of ecological conservation on a landscape scale, and wherein rural people, and humanity in general, derive socio-economic benefit from the management and utilisation of wildlife and natural resources. Working together, the retention of biodiversity and the functionality of large scale ecosystems can be achieved.

In southern Africa, the evolving Trans Frontier Conservation Area programme is one of those initiatives which has the potential to help achieve just that level of cooperation, and on a scale that will provide the basis for the success of individual species conservation efforts. Progress, though, is hampered by politics - government and NGO - and funding.

However, in approaching these issues, it is essential to acknowledge that given the rate of population growth of the rural people of Africa, and the accompanying expansion of their demands for land and resources, it is they who will play a key role in the ultimate determination of the future of wildlife and, thus, of the safari industry in Africa. They are both the threat and the solution.


The safari industry in Africa has features and attributes which, if harnessed and applied judiciously, are financially, economically and politically significant enough to influence conservation and rural development efforts throughout the continent. One only has to consider the number of businesses selling, hosting and transporting tourism to, from and in Africa, along with the numbers of tourists, to realise the scale of the contribution the industry could make to conserving the resource on which it depends.

By drawing on some of the revenue generated at each stage of the safari chain and from each element therein, the financial resources potentially available to support regionally coordinated, strategic investment in conservation and rural communities are enormous. The possibilities for expanding wildlife range, and by implication the safari industry, by incorporating these rural community areas in multi-faceted land-use and socio-economic development programmes, that incorporate wildlife as a principle element, are equally enormous and diverse.

As tourism is a significant contributor to the GDP of many Eastern and Southern African countries, and reaches into so many economic sectors, the catalyst to real collaboration between governments, private enterprise, rural communities and non-profit conservation organisations to radically change the wildlife conservation paradigm, could well come from within the safari tourism industry.

No-one underestimates the difficulties of establishing agreement and cooperation between, even, the different elements of the tourism industry, let alone such diverse stakeholders as governments and their various departments, rural communities, and NGOs. Similarly, no-one underestimates the issue of corruption, which seems to be so devastatingly pervasive, especially when considering the illegal harvesting and trafficking of wildlife, and the extraction industries which, unbridled, can be so destructive of the natural environment. 

Although much of this has been envisaged by the TFCA Programme, that initiative is still less than successful. As suggested, there are many opportunities, locations, around Africa where a group of like-minded participants from the tourism industry could initiate the funding, the planning and the implementation of a collaborative and coordinated approach to conservation and development that draws in all the other necessary stakeholders. The knowledge and expertise are available, the need is desperate and the opportunity beckoning. In each of these areas the safari industry could be the catalyst to change the status quo and drive a wave of landscape scale conservation, as envisaged by the TFCA programme, that integrates rural communities into wildlife-based socio-economic development, and vastly expands the area under sustainable natural resource management.

Curriculum Vitae                                                   Conservation    Community    Commerce    Culture                                      © David Peddie 2017