Eco-Tourism: Saving Wildlife One Species at a Time

When you ask people why they travel to certain places, you get all sorts of answers: To get away, to explore nature, to learn about other cultures, to find adventure, etc. I personally never needed any reasons to travel, simply because there’s nothing in the world I’d rather do. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my favorite places. On the contrary. In recent years, I have been particularly selective about my destinations since my interests have become more focused on issues of preservation of wildlife and natural habitats as well as the effects of global climate change.

African Countries Face Great Obstacles
In Their Efforts to Preserve Wildlife

I’m not alone in this quest, of course. As a matter of fact, there’s a consistently growing section of the travel industry called “ecotourism.” Ecologically minded travelers – some also call us “doomsday tourists” – go to see the wonders of the world, knowing that some of those may not be there tomorrow.

On my last trip to Africa, I was invited to see first hand what an uphill battle it can be to save even a few of the many endangered species from certain extinction. So I spent a day at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) in South Africa.

The HESC is located near the Kruger National Park on what was once a 2000-hectare farm, now called the Kapama Game Reserve. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation and protection of wildlife anywhere in Africa but especially to the species found in the region.

Since its inception in 1990, the HESC has become an exemplary success in breeding and research of endangered species, like cheetahs, rhinos, African wild dogs, African wild cats and other animals.

The project is mainly financed through private donations and income from tourism. The Hoedspruit Cheetah Project is open to the public and has many educational programs to create awareness about environmental issues and the need for immediate action to save at least some of Africa’s dwindling wildlife. Due to its success as a tourist attraction, a veterinary clinic and animal hospital with recuperation and quarantine facilities were added in 1995.

The Cheetah Project was originally intended to breed cheetahs in captivity. Although it has eventually expanded its programs to save other acutely endangered species, it remains primarily focused on the survival of the cheetah.

Cheetahs have been bred more successfully in captivity than most other big cats. Although they are truly wild animals, cheetahs have been domesticated for the purpose of hunting and even as elegant pets. Cheetahs are the fastest land-bound animals on earth, capable of reaching up to 120km/hour (approx. 80 mph). The most prominent distinguishing features are their tearmarks that run from their eyes to their mouths.

Caring for fully grown cheetahs is not cheap. They consume about 60 kg of meat per month. The Centre also pays for veterinary care, construction and maintenance of facilities and the wages for caretakers and administrative staff, which all add up to more than R 25.000 (South African Rand) or $2,603 USD per year. Needless to say, the HESC is constantly looking for financial support wherever it can find it.

The main reason for the decline of the cheetah is lack of habitat. Like the other big cats of Africa, cheetahs need lots of open space to roam and hunt. Agriculture and other industries as well as urban sprawl reduce the land that is available for all wildlife in Africa. Even now, there is just one species of the cheetah genus left in Africa. The only other place besides Africa where wild cheetahs can be found is Iran.

All the efforts of the HESC on behalf of these beautiful animals will only be successful if enough land is set aside to create more wildlife sanctuaries. This will not happen unless tourism and other related industries form a viable economic alternative to the ever expanding agricultural and industrial developments in the region. In other words, the survival of many animal species in Africa and around the globe depends on the extent of our commitment to conservation – that is whether we sufficiently value their existence today and tomorrow.

To learn more about the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre and the Hoedspruit Cheetah Project, please visit http://www.wildlifecentre.co.za

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