April 2016 – Wilderness Safaris represented the tourism industry at an international conference focusing on wildlife crime which took place in The Hague, the Netherlands from the 1st to the 3rd of March. Derek de la Harpe, Wilderness Safaris’ Chief Sustainability Officer was one of the speakers at the event, with a presentation focusing on the vital role wildlife tourism can play in combatting the illegal wildlife trade.
“The illegal wildlife trade is one of a number of threats to conservation in southern Africa. The quality of underlying resources, such as the variety and size of wildlife populations, condition of habitats and scenery, are prerequisites for the success of a wildlife tourism destination and these are in large part dependent on support from local communities. This is where Wilderness Safaris’ vision of building sustainable conservation economies has been so effective, as ensuring communities share in the benefits of ecotourism is central to our ethos,” says de la Harpe.
In his presentation, he explained that the most important awareness role that the tourism industry can presently play is with local communities and host governments. He discussed the various ways that communities can be incentivised to play a more active role in conservation, such as the employment of local people in tourism enterprises and payments to landowners.
For example, Wilderness Safaris employs 2 500 people across seven countries, of which 70% come from remote rural communities, and on average, each employee supports seven people. For 63% of staff, the current position is their first permanent job and 60% stated that their salary was their only direct household income.
“Added to this, tourism’s contribution to the fiscus raises national interest in conservation, which assists in garnering support from government. Tourism can make a major contribution to wildlife conservation and rural development, especially if we focus on incentives rather than just law enforcement alone. As an industry, we have an obligation to operate sustainably,” adds de la Harpe.
Other sessions during the conference focused on tackling important issues ranging from rhino and elephant poaching to the illegal trade in birds, reptiles and mammals. Its primary objective was to identify key international commitments to tackle wildlife crime which needed further efforts.
Attended by a number of government ministers, as well private sector leaders, charities and NGOs, the conference was organised by the Ministry of Economic Affairs in the Netherlands, in partnership with The Hague Institute for Global Justice and The Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit, in cooperation with the European Commission.
Sustainable ecotourism creates numerous job opportunities for local communities which in turn supports conservation.