10 Ways to Support Biodiversity Conservation on Your Next Trip to South Africa
1. Don’t be sold on the Big 5
Elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino. The iconic ‘Big 5’. Unfortunately, lodges and protected areas sell themselves on having the Big 5 which encourages guests to spend their whole time looking for 5 species when there are hundreds of thousands to observe. When you have the opportunity to learn about an entire ecosystem it seems a shame to only focus on 5 species.
2. Don’t go cub petting
Lion cubs are cute. So why wouldn’t you pay to pet an orphaned lion cub? You’re supporting lion conservation and these animals will be returned to the wild, right? No and no. It’s extremely uncommon to find an orphaned lion cub and do you think that being handled by humans is helping this orphan prepare for their return to the wild? Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous lion breeders who take advantage of well-meaning tourists. Please think twice and don’t be one of them.
3. Find lodges that support communities as well as wildlife
There are few protected areas in southern Africa that aren’t (or weren’t) home to people too. These communities are in remote areas and therefore education and work opportunities are a real struggle. So, a lodge can be life changing. They can provide jobs and support community development projects. Make sure you pick a lodge which supports local people as well as wildlife.
4. Learn before you travel
Read some blog posts, listen to a podcast or learn a few words of the local language. Starting out with a bit of knowledge will help you to understand why your guide gets excited when there are vultures close by or why they ask you to not post geo-tagged photos of rhinos on social media.
5. Support lodges with APU
The reason a guide might ask you to do that is because rhinos are being poached to extinction. Evidence suggests that poachers use images on social media to identify locations with rhinos. Anti-Poaching Units (APUs) work tirelessly to protect rhinos. You can help by not posting your images, but if the reserve that you’re visiting has rhinos you want to be sure that the lodge you’re staying at supports their APU.
6. Visit the less well-known areas
Kruger National Park, the Okavango Delta and the Masai Mara are the classics. They are spectacular and unfortunately this can lead to over-tourism. So, consider finding protected areas that aren’t as well known - you’ll appreciate their splendid isolation. Try Mashatu Game Reserve or visit Selous Game Reserve for some spectacular wildlife sightings. There is so much diversity you will be amazed at the gems you can find.
7. Embrace the little things
Take time to watch the spectacled weavers building their nest or observe how a dung beetle meticulously builds and rolls their ball. The wild areas of southern Africa have so much to offer. It can be meditative to sit and observe the smallest events happening right around you - just don’t forget your binoculars.
8. Go for a walk
The best way to observe the little things is to take a walk in the wilderness. Many lodges will offer this so take the chance if you get it, it will be a transformative experience. You will be able to get up close and personal with some fascinating biodiversity and you’ll return feeling connected with the environment around you.
9. Look for ethical guided experiences
Did you know that most safari guides are paid a very low salary with the expectation that guests will top this up with tips? So, it makes sense that guides might want to rush around the bush damaging everything in their path on the way to find you exactly what you’ve asked for in the hope that you might tip them. Make sure you have realistic expectations and find a guide who doesn’t chase down sightings, doesn’t drive off road unnecessarily and who takes time to educate you about the wilderness you’re in.
10. Share what you’ve learnt
Your experience in southern Africa will transform the way you see the world and your role in it. It presents you with the opportunity to become a wildlife conservationist everywhere you go. Share your experiences with your friends and family and encourage them to visit these incredible wild spaces. Together we can all make a difference. We should all support biodiversity conservation in our travels because we are part of ecosystems, just as much as elephants and meerkats.