The thrill of spotting wildlife in their natural habitat is hard to explain. It is a tiny look into the lives of those with whom we share this earth. And though wildlife programmes or Tik-Tok videos can engage our interest and fascinate us, there is nothing, nothing at all, that measures up to seeing a wild animal in real life, in its natural environment, just going about its business.
Imagine seeing an elephant herd with their young bathing in a river, or the annual wildebeest migration thundering past, or a leopard at night tracking down its prey. These sights can, unfortunately, not be taken for granted these days. A 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services noted that up to one million plant and animal species are facing extinction due to human activities. A staggering loss with unthinkable consequences. Preventing further biodiversity loss is one of the fundamental issues for Peace Parks Foundation and partners, who are developing large cross-border protected landscapes, restoring and rebalancing ecosystems through rewilding, and species protection.
Notably, the only income from national parks and reserves comes from charitable donations or eco-tourism. The latter is zero- consumptive utilisation, the idea being that one takes a picture, maybe leaves a temporary footprint, yet takes home an unforgettable experience.
Tourism is the world’s largest employer and, in Africa, for every one international tourist, eight people are positively affected by it. Moreover, 80% of people who visit Africa cite wildlife-watching as a key motivator for their trip, alongside the incredible landscapes.
So, ensuring that thriving populations of wildlife live in the vast protected landscapes, is vital to the future of southern Africa and its people’s fortunes.
Here in Zinave National Park, the rangers come across herds of eland and wildebeest. Although they approach quietly, the animals’ survival instinct kicks in and they move on. Monitoring the numbers, health and position of wildlife in protected areas is an essential part of the rangers’ job who understand the vital part wildlife plays in the future of the parks and the communities that depend on tourism for their livelihoods. This means that every healthy animal spotted is a joy.