How ecotourists kill wildlife with their cameras

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by Ben O’Rourke

Ask a wildlife enthusiast how to fund conservation in Africa without hunting tourism, or trophy hunting as some like to call it and they will give you one answer: ecotourism. 

Most people will picture khaki-dressed Westerners peeking through binoculars at giraffes half a mile away and snapping away on cameras with very long lenses. The reality is different.

A video posted on 2 November 2022 on a social media group for Southern Africa’s Sustainable Use Coalition shows more than 20 vehicles homing in on a hartebeest that has been attacked by two cheetahs. In about 30 seconds the animals are completely surrounded by four-wheel drives filled with tourists, the drivers eager to get the best spot and parking just a couple of metres from the scene.


“There’s no policing of what happens there,” says Herman Els of SUCo. “The guys just drive as they want to, to get their people to the best possible place. Interestingly, the guy who took the video, you’ll see he sat on that one place continuously.”

This is the vision of Africa held by celebrity comedians and poiticians, who know little or nothing about wildlife or conservation, and who campaign for an end to hunting.

This, many local people in Africa point out, takes the right away from Africans to decide it for themselves.

“If we want to know it or not, the effect of that kind of tourism in the manner in which that is done is worse than decent hunting or decent management practices on game ranches and culling exercises and stuff like that,” says Herman.

“It’s exactly the same as the guys who hunt lion and do it in a bad way and pose with the animals and that sort of thing in a bad manner, without respect. And to me, that’s the worst thing. I might be I’m an old man, but respect for wildlife and respectful nature has to be the key for us to continue with conservation. And that which we saw there, it doesn’t portray respect at all. The guides have a problem there.

“When we were there in 1999, we were three South Africans and when we got into the vehicle, the guide said, ‘Remember, we cannot necessarily see everything which we want to see’. And when we said, ‘Well, we’ll see what we will see’, he was visibly relieved because he says tourists come there and say they want to see lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and they want to see them in that order.”

“The kind of action and the kind of activity where vehicles storm in and make a circle around a kill or where there’s lions or where there’s leopard, in Serengeti it happens continuously every day because the guides are on the radio [to each other] and because the tourists demand to see these animals and the guides want to please. And obviously, you know, it also goes to the tip the guide receives in the end of, of the trip.”

It’s unlikely that promoters of ecotourism such as Eduardo Goncalves and Ricky Gervais will be convinced of its destructive power. They have too much invested in ecotourism as a ‘solution’ for funding wildlife.

Article on this subject in 2023 in The New York Times

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