“Canned hunting is a blight on the reputation of the country and it does not contribute to biodiversity conservation objectives, is an inhumane and unethical practice and in fact may pose a threat to conservation.” That is the kind of judgement we like to see, delivered recently in the South African High Court. The Court also found that “economic considerations may never be used to condone or ignore practices that either compromise the country’s biodiversity, undermine the humane treatment of hunted animals, or that may taint the reputation of the hunting industry.”
If Africa is to leapfrog to the front of the environmental queue, as we at Open Africa believe it can and should, then our courts need to be as tough and uncompromising as this one in protecting the continent’s biodiversity.
The rationale behind Open Africa’s thinking regarding conservation has from the start been that this concept is a bit of a misnomer in Africa, for how can one expect people whose children are starving to care about animals and plants? Seen from their perspective this is an affront that makes no sense in practical terms. Our approach is that therefore to be viable conservation must be made to work for them, and that one way of doing that is to materialize its value through tourism. The reasoning is that if nature resources can be turned into assets that earn money, locals will be incentivised to protect them. Thus a tourism route that highlights the biodiversity of an area in a manner that attracts tourists will elevate that biodiversity into the equivalent of a cash crop worth nurturing.
Until now, with 56 routes developed, this plan has proved to be viable but only mildly effective. The daily grind of eking out a living is the focus of most people’s attention and more needs to be done to create awareness of how even the tiniest biodiversity feature can be big when it comes to attracting visitors. So now we have developed and are installing a method of exciting interest in this by having each route choose a flagship species to monitor. The idea is to re-awaken pride in local habitats and bring the indigenous knowledge surrounding them to bear on taking care of their status. It is too early to tell whether this works but initial interest is quite strong.