In the African bush, safari tourism and wildlife have long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, depending on each other for survival. The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to the continent’s tourism sector, estimated to be worth around US$38 billion in 2018. Consequently, Africa’s vulnerable wildlife has been hit hard too. A new initiative, Ride4Rangers, led by UK Africa tour operators in partnership with conservation charity Tusk, of which Prince William is Royal Patron, is aiming to soften the blow – by getting on their bikes.
Safari lodges and camps have remained eerily empty for months, starving national parks of essential income from visitor fees. The lion’s share of a reserve’s revenue comes through tourism, with park fees averaging around US$75/£57 per person per day. According to the Game Ranger Association of Africa, some 40,000-50,000 rangers are employed across the continent: many are out of work or have had their salaries cut by 50-80%. With fewer patrols, poaching has soared, potentially turning back the clock on years of conservation efforts to protect vulnerable species.
Ride4Rangers aims to raise £100,000 to support Africa’s rangers, with a 50-strong team cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats. Cumulatively, they plan to cover 30,000km, equalling a circumnavigation of Africa.
The project is the brainchild of Ben Morison, founder of Far & Wide Travel. “Our entire industry has been built on selling the magic of Africa’s wildlife areas,” he comments. “We wanted to do something positive to help raise awareness and vital funding for rangers. We’ve been overwhelmed with the positive response from travel industry colleagues both here and across Africa.”
The trip will take 10 days, starting on August 15, and they’re encouraging clients, conservation enthusiasts and keen cyclists to join them, even for just a section of the journey. Alternatively, supporters can cycle their own route anywhere in the world, contributing to the target mileage and fundraising.
Ride4Rangers is part of a wider Tusk project, the Wildlife Ranger Challenge, which aims to raise US$10 million. This includes a staggering US$5 million match-funding by The Scheinberg Relief Fund, established to help alleviate the impact of Covid-19.
“The Wildlife Ranger Challenge is a collaborative initiative specifically to fund the continued employment and deployment of rangers across Africa,” explains Charlie Mayhew MBE, CEO & Founder of Tusk. “The combination of redundancies and cuts in rangers’ salaries is threatening both livelihoods and the protection of iconic species and their habitats.”
Tusk’s challenge involves 50 rangers from across Africa running half-marathons on October 3, carrying their 25kg backpacks and equipment. They’re asking supporters to ‘Run with Rangers’, taking part in 5km, 10km or 21km runs in their own localities. All funds, to be distributed over the next six to nine months, will support around 5,000 rangers working in over 60 projects.
Communities that depend on the safari industry are struggling too. According to the online portal Safaribookings.com, the safari industry in Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia is normally worth some US$12.4 billion a year. But unemployment in the sector is rising sharply. Add to that the decline in guest donations to myriad grass-roots projects led by local safari operators and lodges, and it’s clear that communities are facing a double whammy of hardship.
While travellers may not be able to visit Africa’s wild places, they can still donate to such projects. In Zambia, a team from Remote Africa Safaris is currently walking the length of the Luangwa Valley totalling 350km over 17 days, raising funds for local initiatives. In Zimbabwe, Imvelo Safaris and African Bush Camps continue to support their local communities through the Covid crisis and in Kenya, Gamewatchers Safaris are encouraging supporters to ‘Adopt an Acre’ in the Mara Conservancies to help Maasai communities. There are countless more such projects across safari destinations, all needing support.
“If we learn anything from this crisis, it is that our own wellbeing and the health of the natural world are intrinsically linked,” Tusk’s founder Mayhew comments. “Wildlife Rangers are the guardians of our natural world and never before have they needed our support so urgently.”