It’s the question we get all time: is going on safari in Africa ethical? I can’t speak for the whole continent, but after a decade as a conservation and security manager at one of Kenya’s largest wildlife conservancies, I can offer some insight. The quick answer is, yes it is – and what’s more, visitors here most certainly help our conservation goals.
Depending who you ask, Kenya has lost something like 50–70 per cent of its wildlife since 1980, most of it the result of poaching. The species hardest hit was rhino and that’s why our conservancy, Ol Jogi, was set up in 1980: to protect the endangered black horn rhino in particular. For a while it looked like the tide was turning. Ol Jogi didn’t lose a single rhino to poaching until 2012, but since then the poachers have returned with a vengeance and we’ve lost 15 between then and 2015.
It boils down to one reason. Price. In 2007, rhino horn went for around $2,000 a kilogram, but by 2012, demand had helped that figure to skyrocket to $65,000 per kilogram. You read that right.
So let’s be very clear about the threat: we’re not talking about poor Kenyans trying to make a living. We’re talking about a highly sophisticated, international crime syndicate that invests heavily in high-tech tracking equipment, automatic weapons and their own intelligence network, and who get paid Wall Street salaries to kill endangered animals. And my job is to stop them. Day to day, when I’m not showing guests around the conservancy (and, sometimes, even when I am), my team and I are effectively up against a wildlife mafia. And that costs money. Sadly, lots of it. Which is where tourists come in. To finance the fight against the new poaching insurgency, Ol Jogi opened to tourism in 2013. And, yes, while our prices have roused shock headlines around the world, guest revenue only covers around a third of our conservancy costs. Like other rhino conservancies in Kenya, we’re a non-profit. So all our money goes into supporting the wildlife and the communities around us. To do that, we’re targeting the very top end of the market – we offer a luxury safari like nowhere else in the world. I know not everyone can for afford it. But for those who can, there’s an opportunity to not just see the wildlife but save it, too. How do you put a price on that?