Eco-tourism is an important function within South Africa’s overall wildlife industry complex – and it needs to be nurtured and pursued with vigour. I have been very conscious in recent months, however, that there is a huge drive to develop eco-tourism facilities in South Africa without any mention being made of the fact that expansion in this field does have limits.
Eco-tourism is dependent on a stable natural ecosystem base. Without the proper maintenance and management of wild habitats and wild animals, and/or of spectacular wild scenery, there would be no eco-tourism. It is necessary for the eco-tourism industry to understand, therefore, that SUSTAINABLE eco-tourism can only be constructed on SUSTAINABLE natural ecosystems.
The goose that lays the golden eco-tourism eggs is our wildlife and our wild places, and if eco-tourism is allowed to develop (and expand) in game reserves and beautiful scenic spectacles – that are not, themselves, sustainable and/or stable – whatever the nature of the tourism developments, they will founder when the ecosystem collapses.
And ecosystem collapse is a certainty in areas where the size of eco-tourism development is too large – or too intrusive – for the natural resource on which they depend. That means, no matter how much money is poured into eco-tourism developments, if they are too large – or if they undermine the natural resources upon which they depend – the venture will fail.
The eco-tourism developers, therefore, would be well advised to take this opinion to heart; or their expensive programmes will founder; and the natural landscape on which their works have been developed, will become a white elephant and its future potentials will be spoilt forever.
The maintenance of biological diversity is an even more important matter than eco-tourism – but it is linked.
What many people do not understand is that the primary management objective of our national parks is the maintenance of their biological diversities. That objective is far more important than our management options for elephants and rhinos, for example; and/or the desire to maintain huge animal spectacles for tourists to see.
Many of the wildlife managers in charge of our various game reserves are seemingly unconscious of this reality. Demands for the maintenance of ‘the Big Five’ animals for tourists to see in our game reserves, is seemingly a dominant desideratum.
The demand to have large numbers of elephants in the Hluhluwe/Umfolosi complex in Kwazulu Natal, for example, is destroying the habitat for the much more important black rhino – which will almost certainly become extinct there if the management regime does not change. And the lack of appropriate elephant population management in Kruger National park – which has already caused the destruction of 95 percent of its top canopy woodland trees – is most certainly impacting negatively on that park’s biological diversity.
Eco-tourism, the urgent need to maintain biological diversity, and the proper ecosystem management of our protected areas, need not be in conflict, but in many places, they seemingly are. This fact, however, can be remedied wherever there is a will to do what is right and proper. Coordination in all these matters is all that is needed; and South Africa has far too much to lose by having all the various facets of this multifaceted conundrum not working together effectively.
SOUTH AFRICA MARKS INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
22 MAY 2017 – ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS
The Department of Environmental Affairs today marks the International Day for Biological Diversity- under the theme “Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism.”
The theme has been chosen to coincide with the observance of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
The United Nations in 2000 adopted a proposal to proclaim May 22 the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues.
The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, says this year’s theme has particular resonance at a time when eco-tourism is growing in popularity and making a greater contribution to South Africa’s economic growth.
“Nature-based tourism, or rather eco-tourism is recognised as a driver and critical component to the sustainability and efficacy of conservation management,” says Minister Molewa.
Biological and physical resources are in fact the assets that attract tourists. Ecosystems on the other hand provide the much need resources, such as water and food that support the tourism sector. However tourism, if not sustainably managed, may lead to the degradation of the natural environment.
“The conservation of species and ecosystems protection, in conjunction with the promotion of energy and water efficient practices, overall supports responsible tourism,” adds Dr Molewa
South Africa is amongst the world’s most mega bio-diverse countries, and its well-managed natural resources have made it a premier destination for tourists.
The Tourism Indaba held in Durban from 16 to 19 May played a significant role in creating a platform to promote South Africa’s tourism products and the development of sustainable and inclusive tourism for the benefit of all South Africans.
“Sustainable, nature-based tourism directly benefits our people and communities, and is an important vehicle for rural development given the location of many conservation areas in rural areas,” said the Minister.
In 2016 alone, over 10 million tourist arrivals were recorded in South Africa; representing a 13% increase from the previous year.
Key to major tourist attractions in South Africa are national parks, nature reserves, world heritage sites, cultural and natural landscapes as well as beaches and marine protected areas.
In the 2016/17 financial year, six million people visited the 19 parks that are managed by South African National Parks (SANParks).
“Tourism has to be developed in harmony with environmental considerations. Sustainable tourism can generate employment and income, thus providing a strong incentive for conservation,” the Minister said.
Minister Molewa added that through tourism, public awareness can be raised about the many goods and services provided by biological diversity, and of the needs to respect traditional knowledge and practices.
The implementation of the National Tourism Sector Strategy aimed at the development of sustainable and inclusive tourism for the benefit of all South Africans, as well as the “I Do Tourism” campaign launched by South African Tourism is moving South Africa forward to make Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism a reality.