When you call to mind the rolling landscapes of the Kenyan bush, the scenes will invariably be populated with majestic elephants, skittish zebras, beautiful lions… and trucks full of tourists, attempting to capture the perfect safari snap.
- Kenya’s economic infrastructure is undeniably underpinned by the vast income that the tourist industry generates every year, largely through safari holidays and tours.
- However, in recent years the tourism industry has changed significantly, so that it not only generates national income, but also actively contributes to the preservation of some of the country’s most spectacular ecosystems. Due to the mass buyout of land for intensive farming, many of these ecosystems are being destroyed, and the local people who call them home are slowly becoming displaced. Eco-tourism aims to reverse this process, by giving the land a whole new value.
- Eco-tourism is a relatively new concept in Africa, but has truly taken root in Kenya, more so than in any other of the continent’s countries. Loosely defined, the term means ‘responsible travel that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of the local people,’ and indeed, the industry has welcomed many new initiatives and projects that are doing just that.
Eco safaris are becoming more and more commonplace across Kenya, usually situated within the extended borders of the country’s national parks, and so benefitting from the same environmental protection standards as a result.
- These particular safaris aim to protect the environment and respect the land through measures such as restricting the number of access roads, only providing select tracks from which to view the animals, and only using renewable energy in the sites’ camping areas. The number of guests visiting these safari sites is restricted, to limit the amount of damage done by trucks and trekking.
- Not only do such measures help to physically protect the environment, but the income generated through the eco-safaris is beginning to cause the local people to view the land as having tangible benefits in itself, and to realise that its protection and maintenance is hugely beneficial to their community.
This alternative accommodation trend in Kenya works mainly with native tribes, including the Masai and Samburu, to provide a unique tourist experience that also creates employment for the tribespeople.
- The lodges are situated within the tribal villages, thus providing guests with an authentic and first-hand experience of rural, Kenyan life. The tribespeople are often employed to serve and tend to the guests, which generates an income to supplement money made through their traditional way of life.
- The lodges are also specially designed to respect and preserve local traditions, particularly in terms of their design and décor. Most are built in the traditional round, one-storey fashion, with simple furnishings and no electricity.
- This way, not only are the tribal practices observed, but the accommodation sites cause as little damage and disruption to the natural surroundings as possible. This type of lodge-stay also creates an authentic, rural experience for its guests, and a chance to be immersed into the tribal way of life, rather than staying miles away in a generic, city hotel.
Animal conservation has been of long-standing importance in Kenya, as the country is home to countless endangered and protected species. Elephants are one of the species most synonymous with the country, and their protection has recently been greatly improved, with the conception of ‘elephant orphanages’.
- At the forefront of this development, is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which set up one of the most successful elephant orphanages in the country.
- Here, staff members take the place of the parents of baby elephants who have been left orphaned through ivory-poaching. This involves regular feeding and nursing, as well as the provision of shelter and regular attention.
- Unsurprisingly, the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage has fast become a favourite with tourists, who are able to take an active role in the elephant calves’ upbringing by bottle-feeding them and helping with bathing activities.
- The income generated through tourist visits is then reinvested into the project, thus making it a sustainable endeavour that greatly benefits Kenya’s elephant conservation efforts. Here eco-tourism takes on a new role, as a self-sufficient way of investing in the preservation of some of the country’s most treasured wildlife.
- Kenya’s tourist industry is slowly changing for the better, through the simple idea of balancing the exchange between visitor and country. Through initiatives such as the eco-lodges and safaris, and animal orphanages, it is now possible for the Kenya tourist to actively contribute to the ecological well-being of the country and its people.