The Elephant and the Tourist

ele and tourists

Last Friday, the U.S. government issued a travel warning for Americans who are planning to travel to Kenya and for those who live in Kenya (click here).  On Sunday, Kenya’s Interior Minister responded, calling the warning “unnecessary and unfriendly. . .” (click here).  Both points of view have merit — our government, albeit overly protective, exercises its obligation to protect American citizens, and the Kenyan government believes one reason for the Westgate Mall terrorist attack is its friendly relationship with the U.S. and that this is no time for its “friend” to withdraw support.  

Travel warnings come with the territory when going almost anywhere in Africa.  It is incumbent upon all travelers to be informed about risks and to take necessary precautions.  Travel for tourism is a discretionary activity; it is up to each individual to decide his or her tolerance for different kinds of risk.  In this case, I would not cancel plans to go to Kenya.  In spite of the “wild animals,” being in a game park with a legitimate guide/tour operator is a very safe activity.  Avoid the cities and areas where tribal or rebel conflict is occurring, but don’t avoid the game parks.  Not only will you be depriving yourself of one of life’s great experiences, but you will also inadvertently be reducing the safety net tourism provides animals from the brand of terror they know — poaching.

Throughout East and Southern Africa, tourism has helped to fund better park management, private and government-sponsored anti-poaching rangers, and general conservation projects.  In addition, local people gain employment and respect the role wildlife plays in their economic betterment and tourists go home with a realistic  understanding of wildlife and human issues in the countries they visit, making them better global citizens. 

In the case of elephants, tourism is enormously important, particularly in East Africa.  Great strides have been made in Kenya in elephant research, patrolling efforts, conservation and education.  All these efforts (in both private and public sectors) depend to a large degree on revenue from tourism.  We can ill-afford to have these programs go un- or underfunded when poaching is at an all time high.  I have had longstanding plans to be in Kenya next June to attend a wildlife symposium and to go on safari.  Have not considered changing those plans even for a nanosecond.  I know the elephants are looking forward to my visit!

Meanwhile, remember tomorrow is the International March for Elephants in 15 cities around the world (click here).  Nairobi is home to the organizers and was scheduled to host one of the 15 marches. That march has fallen victim to the acts of terror, as Nairobi continues to mourn and recover.  The website states:  Please note – due to recent events which took place in Nairobi from 21/09 – 24/09 we have decided to cancel the International March for Elephants in Nairobi. We will hold a vigil for those who so tragically lost their lives in the attacks and also for the elephants who continue to fall victim to the ivory trade. This will be held on the day of the March October 4th at the Nairobi Nursery. More info at: www.dswt.org