Ecotourism in South Africa
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More than half the population in South Africa lives below the international established poverty line. However, tourism in South Africa is now starting to have its image turned around and prove to be a profitable situation for people in some areas of the nation. Ecotourism is the idea of bringing tourism into a country without affecting a nation's natural economy by promoting and supporting its biodiversity. Instead of foreign parties entering an African nation to hunt big game, the idea of a "photographic" safari is promoted to attract a more "eco-friendly" clientele. This, amongst other examples, allows a nation to bring in tourism without diminishing its ecological and natural resources while at the same time presenting a more pleasant image to the rest of the world. Ecotourism can help conserve biodiversity and alleviate poverty in South Africa through the creation of local jobs. This is most likely to occur with proper management and planning, both local and regional.
Ecotourism has the potential to alleviate poverty in South Africa by bringing money into the economy and creating jobs. The difference between ecotourism and sustainable tourism is that in ecotourism, the cultural heritages of the specific area are respected and conserved. Also, in ecotourism the local people living in and around the destination are included in the planning, implementing and maintaining of the ecotourist park (Guiterrez, 2006). Through ecotourism, the local people living in poverty are able to have a say in how they would like to develop the park that is going to protect the land they live in. It has potential to help alleviate the poverty of the people living in the areas the parks are built.
It is difficult to know if there is regulation of the term 'ecotourism' as well as what a foundation/association/company needs to do to fall into the category of 'eco-travel'. However, there is a non-profit association that represents the private sector of the "incoming tourism industry in South Africa" (which is a large group) called the South African Tourism Services Association (SATSA), they are "dedicated to providing and maintaining the highest possible standards in the tourism industry within South Africa." (SATSA, 2007) SATSA is focused on the accountability, integrity, and quality control of the tourism industry in South Africa as well as with the companies and associations they are connected to. In addition to SATSA, the website responsibletravel.com partnered with The Times, World Travel Market and Geographical Magazine have established the Responsible Tourism Awards. The goal of the award is to "recognize individuals, companies and organizations in the travel industry that are making a significant commitment to the culture and economies of local communities and are providing a positive contribution to biodiversity conservation." (www.responsibletourismawards.com, 2001)
One foundation that has won numerous awards in the name of ecotourism and travel is Conservation Corporation Africa (CCA) (CCA, 2002), which is a privately funded organization and is the "leading African safari company" operating in five countries in Africa with one of its most popular destinations being South Africa. (CCA, 2002) They promote restoration of land and encourage biodiversity. Conservation Corporation Africa not only brings an economic benefit to the countries they are established in, they also bring awareness to the local communities through building and upgrading schools and classrooms, they helped to fund a 24-hour clinic in Mduku, South Africa with also a six bed prenatal facility so expectant mothers can stay nearby, and to spread awareness about HIV and AIDS the foundation distributes about 200,000 condoms a year.
For many communities it is difficult to obtain clean water and they must travel long distances to get it. It is often done by carrying "20 liter water containers on the head" which leads to "spinal, neck and other physical injuries especially to children." (BEST, 2001) So, in order to save time and energy and future injury CCAfrica has donated around 1,200 'hippo rollers' which are rollers that "roll 90 liters of water along the ground." (BEST, 2001) Conservation Corporation Africa works to not only bring awareness to international travelers, but also works to improve the lives of those living in the communities and areas they operate in. Conservation Corporation Africa is the ideal foundation for ecotourism; they promote travel to the region, educate travelers, promote restoration, and most of all bring a higher standard of living to the communities they are involved in by creating jobs and using the local economy.
Another foundation that appears to conduct responsible ecotourism in South Africa is BAOBAB - Alternative Roots to Travel, it is a "UK-based specialist eco-tour operator" that is part of the short list of tour operators to have won the Responsible Tourism Award (2004). (Baobab, 2007) The founders of Baobab know that travel and tourism can have a huge impact, especially economically on Developing countries, but with that, they also know that tourism has the potential to cause irreversible damage on the environment and local communities. Their goal is to provide an "experience of a lifetime" to specific African destinations by practicing a form of sustainable tourism that does not have a negative impact on the environment or the local communities; it instead benefits the local economy and people because it "provides alternative employment and income opportunities" while appreciating and observing nature. (Baobab,2007) When traveling with Baobab, they avoid the resorts that are made for tourists, but as an alternative introduce travelers to the local people, nature, and culture so the "people can learn about their cultures and traditions." (Baobab, 2007)
Eco-tourism has the potential to alleviate poverty in South Africa through bringing money into the economy and creating jobs. Tourism in South Africa is booming. It is the fastest growing part of the economy.With tourism growing, now is a great opportunity to capitalize on eco-tourism to ensure that the people living in the areas being visited, are benefiting from the economic growth. Instead of just tourism where the local people's voices are not heard, it is essential for eco-tourism to be utilized through including the local people. The amount of money estimated to come into South Africa through tourism is around R62 billion rand a year. Reinvesting a portion of the earnings from eco-tourism directly in the communities living next to the tourist destinations would be a great start to alleviating poverty. The World Wildlife Fund believes that parks set up responsibly can be a great, "generator of jobs, income and overall economic livelihoods (Wildlife; Protecting Communities to Protect the Planet, 2003)". If the local people are involved in the park creation and maintenance there is great opportunity there for employment and sources of income. There are jobs in building the park structure and in giving toured guides of the land plus many other opportunities
One Specific area in South Africa, the Eastern Cape, has aligned its economic goals with that of the national governments and realized tourism is a way to grow their regional economy and create jobs. According to Milazi (2003), "For most of the Eastern Cape's 75 towns, tourism offers the only route out of poverty to economic growth and job creation." They predict that with their new tourism plan, they will attract over 100,000 visitors to their parks. This will bring in around R1 billion rand a year and create over 5,000 jobs in that area alone (Milazi, 2003). Through employing local people and bringing money into the local economy, this is one area eco-tourism is predicted to reduce the poverty rate.
One internationally known park in South Africa is the well established, Kruger National Park. In 2002, this park had over one million visitors. The park employs around 60,000 people. Because each park employee in turn uses goods and services from the surrounding region, the park as a whole supports somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 people.Eco-tourism and the inclusion of local people's employment have been growing in recent years. In some enterprises, local job creation and contributing to the alleviation of poverty have become goals and criteria for success. Another move in the right direction is, "a growing number of community led and managed tourism initiatives in which rural communities capture the bulk of the benefits.It is important that the money be used to help the poor people living in the areas the parks are created. The more power and involvement the local people have in the parks and tourist ventures in their areas, the more likely they will benefit economically. Another benefit gained by the people living where eco-tourism is utilized is better roads, hospitals, schools and communication.Most of the areas that eco-tourism is developed are remote areas where the people do not have access to these things. When eco-tourism is developed, there is necessity for roads, communication and schools for the travelers to visit and spend their money. According to Naughton-Treves et al. (2005), "Conservation cannot solve poverty, but it can significantly help to prevent and reduce poverty by maintaining ecosystem services and supporting livelihoods." Through the use of eco-tourism, ecosystems are conserved and local peoples can be supported through jobs and better economies.
Biodiversity and South Africa
South Africa is the seventh most biodiverse country in the world. The country encompasses about 480,000 square miles (1,200,000 km2) and has about 10% of all plant species on Earth. South Africa and seventeen other countries are considered mega diverse which means those countries contain 70% of the planet's biodiversity. South Africa's unique geography allows the country to support such a diverse population of plants and animals.
Importance of biodiversity
It is important to protect biodiversity in South Africa because people still rely on natural resources for food and medicine. Plants and flowers are widely used as traditional forms of medicine and treatment for common ailments. The Western Cape of South Africa has about 8,000 different types of flowering plants. Some of these plants are currently being researched for treatment of HIV patients.
Large mammals such as hyenas, lions, hippopotamus, rhinos, elephants, and giraffes also inhabit parts of South Africa. There are also millions of invertebrates that provide functions such as decomposition and pollination which are necessary for life. A loss in biodiversity for wildlife would be very detrimental to the ecosystem and to the human population as well. The residents along the country's coast depend on fish as a substantial part of their diet.
Threats to biodiversity
South Africa's forests are under constant pressure due to the increasing population and economic reasons. Rural populations depend on agriculture and grazing both of which require a decent amount of space. Overgrazing can also lead to the degradation of the soil. The world's growing demand for timber is another reason native forests are disappearing. The timber industry is an important part of the local economy but there are many environmental consequences associated with logging. The loss of forests means a loss of habitat for wildlife as well. In fact, 90% of the wildlife in South Africa can be found in national parks and reserves. This includes mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. In contrast, only 34% of plant life in the country is located in protected areas.
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