I have long been of the opinion that wildlife will only survive in Africa if it is widely perceived to be an economic resource. The notions that wild creatures have a right to life independent of humanity and that biodiversity is self-evidently a good thing cut very little ice in developing countries. And the idea that motivated the creation of America’s national parks — that wilderness areas are of spiritual benefit to the entire population — also tends not to have many takers. But tell people that wildlife will create thousands of well-paid jobs and you are likely to find a much more receptive audience. I was reminded of this on my visit to Rwanda.
The government now goes to enormous lengths to protect its mountain gorillas, including providing regular medical checkups by specially trained veterinarians, because they are critical to the development of an upscale tourism industry. Any animal that people are willing to pay $1,500 an hour to see is clearly a valuable asset.
Elsewhere, the Singita organization, whose 12 safari lodges are uniquely popular with Andrew Harper members, now employs around 1,200 people in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. The company has taken a particularly enlightened approach to conservation, providing reading and food programs for children, as well as assisting in the development of local small businesses.
In 2017, Singita Grumeti in Tanzania provided 114 scholarships for secondary school, vocational studies and university education. As a result, the lodge has become enmeshed in the economic and social life of the region. In addition to projects that it funds itself, Singita Grumeti enters into partnerships with external organizations. The lodge’s 120 game scouts, some of whom are reformed poachers, have now been joined by Radar, Tony, DJ and Popo, the founding members of a new canine unit, responsible for detecting wildlife contraband such as ivory and rhino horn.
This program was established in partnership with Working Dogs for Conservation, a company based in Bozeman, Montana. The operational headquarters for the dog unit was a considerable expense. However, I’m told that two American guests were so impressed by Singita Grumeti’s imaginative conservation efforts that they wrote out a check for the entire amount of $250,000. If African wildlife is to have a future, this is probably what it looks like.