You’ll hear plenty of tour operators and conservationists talk a lot about eco-tourism, but what actually is it and why is it important?
Well, simply put, eco-tourism is using the money generated from tourism to conserve a specific area or habitat.
Sounds simple enough right? Well it is, and it’s a brilliant and effective form of conservation.
A great example of eco-tourism would be Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, home to nearly half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas. 30 years ago the forest that makes up the national park was shrinking at an alarming rate due to the vast amounts of gold mining in the national park, the valuable timbers that could be made from the trees and to make room for grazing animals and crops. But now, with the money generated from gorilla tracking permits, the national park is protected and the gorillas home is now safe. This is carried out sustainably and responsibly by only allowing each gorilla family to be tracked for one hour a day by a maximum of 8 people. This keeps the disturbance of the
gorillas to a minimum, whilst still being financially viable and offering an amazing tourist experience.
Another example of sustainability and responsible tourism is keeping safari vehicles on the roads and tracks inside the national parks, which keeps the environment and habitat loss to a minimum, whilst still offering great wildlife viewing opportunities.
There is another massive win for eco-tourism, and that is the change of attitude it gives to the local communities surrounding the national park. Whilst 30 years ago a farmer would be able to go into the forest and cut down a mahogany tree to sell for furniture making, the
farmer knew that that practice wasn’t sustainable and didn’t make for a reliable income. But now, with eco-tourism in full force, he finds his wife finding work in a local lodge as a cleaner, his son as a waiter and his daughter as a guide in the park. The forest has provided his family with a regular and reliable income, and a reason to become a conservationist himself to protect the park.
The importance of this change in attitude should not be underestimated, and is the best way to stop dangerous practices like poaching and illegal logging.
In short, eco-tourism provides national parks across East Africa with a reliable
and sustainable form of conservation, preserving the landscapes, wildlife and economy for generations to come.