The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has been closely monitoring the difficult situation for safari operators in Africa since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic when travel bans and government closures began impacting protected areas and local communities on the front lines of wildlife conservation.
In April, AWF convened a meeting of 12 CEOs of leading safari companies operating in Africa to update the impact that COVID-19 was having on their core business operations as well as the threats to wildlife conservation areas. The goal was to determine the best ways for organizations, like AWF, to assist the tourism industry in order to help keep wildlife protected and communities afloat that rely on tourism.
An overarching concern during the pandemic is that people in wildlife communities, who typically gain from tourism dollars, will loosen their commitment to conservation behaviors as they seek alternatives to provide for their families, and that three decades of conservation progress may now be threatened.
“During our process of identifying how to assist our partners in the safari industry, we recognized the opportunity to share the information with donors through virtual safaris,” said AWF Safari Program Manager Carter Smith in a statement. “Many tourists have been introduced to the concept of virtual safaris, to experience wild animals and wildlands from the comfort of an arm chair. Our blue print was to reverse-engineer events to help both the safari-goers, who are grounded from international travel, and the communities in Africa on the front lines of wildlife conservation.”
The virtual safaris need to give participants an insider’s view into the wildlife conservation work on the ground, and introduce them to the heroes who are working tirelessly to defend Africa’s wildlife and wildlands. By pivoting to virtual safaris, wildlife tourists have a chance to hear stories of perseverance, develop meaningful connections, and learn how they can support the communities and field programs protecting wildlife directly.
AWF is engaging its donors though virtual safari offerings and offer them tangible takeaways as to how their donations support livelihoods and wildlife. The virtual safari-goers can go on a wildlife drive and chat with their guide or meet a ranger on a patrol with one of their sniffer dogs. They liken it to a fireside chat. These are not webinars. They are an enriching cultural experience, which is also informative and entertaining.
“We are designing virtual safari series around our 2021 safari portfolio to showcase our group safaris that will launch in October. Our guests will be transported to safaris in Uganda, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. There will be local guides on each safari as well as our Country Directors to speak about the programmatic and emergency response work we are doing in each country,” concluded Smith.
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