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How does sustainable tourism help support wildlife conservation and local communities?

Nicola Shepherd By Nicola Shepherd
17 Dec 2019
Kenya Mara Ele Project collared elephant.jpg

‘Luxury travel’ has a new meaning. It’s not about the thread count of the bed sheets or the sparkle of the crystal anymore. The true luxury of travel is to have phenomenal experiences that you will remember forever, whilst supporting conservation and communities in the regions that you travel to.

When one travels this way, one realises that not only are today’s experiences wonderful, but the future of these magical places are being protected too! This elevates the overall experience to become an extraordinary holiday or vacation.

For this reason, whenever I travel, I seek to support conservation and community projects that give back to the local areas. These two are intrinsically interlinked; one cannot conserve wildlife successfully without the support of the local communities.



When local people work in partnership with conservationists to become guardians of their wild places, wildlife thrives and so people travel there to see it. If these visitors support the local community in turn, they will see the benefit of their efforts and be motivated to continue.

This partnership is vital and delicate and has to be built on mutual trust, respect and understanding. I have worked with some fantastic charities and projects across Africa and Asia who have built meaningful partnerships with local communities and in these areas, wildlife is being protected and restored.


It is of course important that tourism itself doesn’t damage the ecosystems and that is why every single lodge, hotel, camp or villa to which I travel must be dedicated to sustainable and responsible travel. When these three essential requisites are met, tourism is a powerful driving force for the protection and restoration of our most precious and treasured wildlife.

Below I have included information about some truly unique and ground-breaking charitable projects that The Explorations Company have supported recently, as well as an overview of how they are making a difference.


Conservation Travel Foundation, Namibia

The Conservation Travel Foundation is an organisation put together to allow leaders in African travel to work with Namibia’s cultural and natural heritage stakeholders to preserve the cultures and ecosystems of Namibia. They support various projects in Namibia where 100% of the funding raised are invested in charities and projects. They also encourage responsible and sustainable tourism as a vehicle to protect natural and cultural heritage.

Via this fantastic organisation, The Explorations Company have supported two of their deserving projects; we have become a stakeholder in the Lionscape Coalition (Part of the Lion Recovery Fund) and also have supported Desert Lion Conservation.


Desert Lion Conservation, Namibia

Dr Philip (Flip) Stander has spent over 30 years in the deserts of Namibia, tracking and protecting the elusive and magnificent desert-adapted lions of Damaraland and Kaokoveldt. This is a very inhospitable environment for lions to survive in, so when food and water are scarce they are compelled to seek these in human settlements, which inevitably leads to human-wildlife conflict and the death of lions.

Flip has fitted individual lions with GPS tracking collars so that their whereabouts can be monitored and provide early warning to farmers when they are in the vicinity of human villages. Farmers can then ensure their livestock are safeguarded, reducing the risk of losing them to lion depredation and the subsequent retaliatory lion killings.

Flip also negotiates with communities to establish safe corridors where lions can travel without coming into contact with humans. Desert Lion Conservation needed support to invest in a new land cruiser to enable lion tracking, as well as training to set up community lion rangers.


Lionscape Coalition, Africa

The Lionscape Coalition was formed as part of the Lion Recovery Fund, to link ecotourism operators to those in need of funding to support lion populations in Africa. Lions are victim to complex threats that increase in line with human population and development. Over the last 25 years, nearly half of all lions in Africa have been lost.

Lionscape Coalition aims to bring safari operators into the arena, investing in lion recovery projects across Africa. These projects are wide-ranging and ambitious, and include: tackling the bush-meat trade; human-lion conflict mitigation; safeguarding lion habitat from livestock and human encroachment; preventing loss of lion habitat connectivity; anti-poaching activities; lion reintroduction into areas they have become locally extinct.


The Lion Recovery Fund and Lionscape Coalition aim to double the number of lions in Africa by 2050. Lions are a flagship species and protecting their habitats and numbers helps to conserve the entire ecosystem.

Mara Elephant Project, Kenya

We have supported the Mara Elephant Project, who do wonderful elephant conservation work in the greater Mara-Serengeti ecosystem in Kenya. Elephant populations here are under threat and if left unchecked, poaching, human-elephant conflict and changing habitats could mean that elephants no longer survive in the Maasai Mara within only 10 years.


The MEP works to protect this iconic keystone species, primarily by elephant collaring and tracking, mobilising anti-poaching patrols and rapid response ranger units, and using innovative techniques and technologies to mitigate human-elephant conflict.

They have had some successes and in 2015, it was reported that the elephant population in the Maasai Mara was increasing by around 11% per year, more than three times the average rate for Kenya.


Excellent Development, Africa

Excellent Development are a truly inspiring charity which use a very effective model to support the world’s poorest people to transform their own lives through water and soil conservation in dry-lands.

Through providing seed-funding and essentially, advising and training the community, Excellent assists communities to build their own sand dams and then to practise good soil management and climate-smart agriculture to increase the crop variety and yields around the area of the dam.



The overall benefit is that there is a year-round supply of clean water available, as well as improved crop yields which leads to new small businesses of farmers who can now sell their excess produce to bring in an income.

Long term, communities are able to break free from the cycle of disaster-relief-disaster and take charge of their own destinies. Children can be educated, women are empowered by the income they can bring to the families, desertification of dry-lands is slowed and communities are brought together by their own active management of their own destinies.


I was lucky enough to be able to visit a sand dam several years ago and I was truly overwhelmed by the impact it had on people’s lives, so we continue to support them each year so that their work may benefit more communities.

Excellent Development are now extending their program to dry-land wildlife areas in Kenya where drought results in competition between humans and wildlife for water. The aim is to bring safe access to water for communities and also access to water for wildlife without encroaching upon local community farmland. This will therefore reduce human-wildlife conflict.


school tiffin programme, Nepal

We have renewed our tiffin program at the Shree Kumrung School in Nepal again this year. When trekking in Nepal’s Annapura Mountains several years ago I came across a school where most children walked for several hours each way to school and didn’t eat lunch during the day as their families couldn’t afford it.

I initiated a program in which we fund tiffin lunches, which are cooked by parents on a rota. The raw produce required is bought from the families of the children in rotation, providing an income to the communities.


African Parks appeal: Cyclone Idai, Mozambique

When Cyclone Idai caused catastrophic flooding over a 3000km2 area of Mozambique, African Parks’ team at the Bazaruto Archipelago were in a unique position to provide assistance. Nearly 2 million people were affected by this disaster with isolated communities along the Buzi River the worst hit. Thousands lost everything, their homes and livelihoods, they had no access to food and water and disease was soon spreading rapidly.

African Parks launched an appeal to raise funding to allow them to assist, to which we responded. Along with many other donors our contributions enabled them to launch an emergency operation, deploying a helicopter, two boats and thirteen rangers - five of whom had advanced medical training.

They worked tirelessly for several weeks alongside crisis relief organisations to transport aid, medical supplies, personnel and equipment to communities along the Buzi River. As the water receded and their boats were no longer of use, they handed over to the Red Cross and were then able to provide aerial support to Gorongosa National Park to deliver food and maize seeds to communities who had suffered there.


Green Safaris Conservation Foundation, Malawi and Zambia

The Foundation use their bases in Likoma Island, Malawi and Kafue National Park in Zambia to support various local community and conservation project. Likoma Island is a small island in Lake Malawi which houses several communities. The Foundation supports a reforestation project and plastic waste reduction project to restore the local ecosystems, as well as health and education projects to support Island communities.

In and around Kafue National Park, they support and sponsor various conservation projects including a fire-fighting unit within the park, a poacher-detection project, the Zambia Carnivore Project’s base station, and a community farm just outside of the park gates.


Supporting the education of a Kenyan teenager

We have supported a schoolboy in Kenya to go to school over the length of his time at secondary school. He has now taken his final exams and has a bright future ahead of him.

AnTassia, Kenya

The Explorations Company have commissioned AnTassia to create some stunning safari travel wallets, labels and safari luggage bags which are beaded by the Tassia Mokogodo Maasai women.


The AnTassia project creates beautiful beaded items, where possible using recycled materials. Over 100 women from the Tassia village, who would not usually be able to seek employment due to their time consuming and arduous duties, are able to work from home in their spare time without disrupting their traditional role as a Maasai wife.

They choose to put their income towards important things for their families such as: education for their children; building separate kitchens from their mud huts, reducing fire smoke inside their homes resulting in fewer eye problems and chest infections; purchasing kitchen utensils such as cups, plates and pots. This project enables them to nurture the next generation of the community, who will be the future in protecting and conserving the sacred wilderness of the land around Tassia.


TOFT, India

TOFT (Tour Operators For Tigers) are a global alliance that seeks to protect tigers and their entire ecosystems through a multitude of initiatives, including creating economic benefit to rural communities, habitat preservation, sustainable travel enterprises, preservation of heritage and cultures.

Since their launch in 2004, tiger numbers have increased by nearly double, so that well-visited parks now have healthy enough tiger populations that they can help to re-populate new parks. Additionally the sustainable tourism industry drives conservation and creates jobs, support and opportunities for rural communities.


How can you ‘make a difference’ on your luxury holiday?

In addition to the above, I am very proud to recommend a selection of further excellent projects with whom I have worked closely. Some dear friends and clients have contributed to these (among others) as part of their safari or holiday.

On several occasions on their return home they have made an additional donation to the charity or project after witnessing first-hand the wonderful work that is being done ‘on the ground’. They were so moved by their interactions with those working tirelessly to make a difference and their wide-ranging achievements that they wanted to do more. Should you wish to learn more about any of these projects or even make a donation to them, please feel free to get in touch.


Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, Zimbabwe

The Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust aims to find sustainable solutions to human-wildlife conflict in Southern Africa, particularly in the area around Victoria Falls, where a densely populated region of farmland and livestock holdings lies close to high wildlife populations.

The Trust rehabilitates injured or orphaned wildlife, establishes anti-poaching initiatives, provides veterinary assistance, and carries out community outreach and training activities.

In the last year they have: opened a new wildlife rehabilitation centre where they have cared for and re-released four pangolins among other species; translocated two black rhinos to a sanctuary in Zambia; provided equipment for community guardians projects; trained rangers as first responders; deployed predator-proof mobile bomas to rural farmers; run children’s conservation clubs for more than 1,100 children from 32 schools, and many other essential activities.


Kazungula Children’s’ Ark Support Group, Botswana

Based in Chobe, Botswana and supported by Kubu Lodge, this group provides a haven for orphans, under-privileged and destitute children between two-and-a-half and seven years old (when they can attend state-funded primary schools).

The children are provided with a caring and loving atmosphere, educational activities and nutritious meals. There are 29 children cared for daily at the Ark, funded entirely by private donations, often by guests at Kubu Lodge. Guests can also ‘Pack for a Purpose’ when visiting here.

They also have a Youth Centre for children from ages 7 to 15, who can drop in after school to use their library to study.


Ride 4 a Woman, Uganda

This charitable project empowers women in Bwindi in Uganda who are affected by poverty, HIV and domestic violence. More than 300 women use their community centre where they learn skills which will help them earn and manage an income, which in turn helps their children to receive an education.

Micro-financing also supports women to set up their own businesses, and there is a retreat where they can stay and earn a wage whilst learning their new skills. Visitors who are in Bwindi to track gorillas are invited to stay in one of their lodges, visit the community centre to learn various skills from the women, or drop in to see the work that is done here. In doing so, one is supporting Ride 4 a Woman and the women that they help.


Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kenya

I continue to recommend the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to anyone visiting Nairobi, where (for a small adoption fee) can visit the elephant orphanage and watch the elephants be cared for by the dedicated and wonderful team. If one wishes for a deeper interaction, one can visit the stockades at Ithumba for a meaningful insight.

The Trust carries out a plethora of activities which rescue injured or orphaned elephants (and sometimes other species such as rhino), rehabilitates them and eventually allows them to choose to return to the wild.


Uthando, South Africa

Uthando, ran by my dear friend James Fearnie, is an inspirational project which connects visitors and tourism income to essential community upliftment programmes in disadvantaged townships around Cape Town.

When traveling to Cape Town on your safari to Africa, I highly recommend that you take a day to visit some of these projects with James or Xolani to see the real and meaningful effect they have on people’s lives, and even consider making a donation to cover a special project or event.


Gorilla Forest Doctors, Uganda and DRC

Based in the East-Central Africa countries, the Gorilla Forest Doctors monitor the habituated mountain and Gauer’s gorillas and provide veterinarian care for those individuals who may need it. They operate in the Virunga Volcanoes Massif and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and in the DRC. In doing so they protect the health and future survival of some of the most-loved endangered species in the world.


ABC Foundation, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe

The ABC Foundation is the charitable arm of African Bush Camps, who have a series of luxury lodges in wildlife havens in Botswana and Zambia and Zimbabwe. They use profits from the tourism arm to create opportunities that empower rural communities in vulnerable wildlife areas, with a vision to improve the lives of community members and at the same time, work with them to protect their natural environment.


They support a multitude of intelligent and community-requested programs which range from education, community empowerment and conservation partnerships.

Reality Gives, Mumbai, India

Reality Gives operates in Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums located on the outskirts of Mumbai. It provides high-quality education to underprivileged children and young people.


One can take a tour with Reality Gives, which challenges perceptions and shows you the thriving community spirit and entrepreneurship of Dharavi. These tours directly support the educational projects to empower young people by learning English, life skills and computer skills.

SEWA, India

The Self Employed Women’s Association is one of the most unique and exciting social projects which I have been lucky enough to come across. This trade union empowers self-employed women from underprivileged sectors, supporting them at the grass-root level through education and training, social support and providing small business loans to allow them to grow their businesses.


This allows women to independently and sustainably earn their own income, reduce their reliance on subsistence farming and counter multiple social issues including domestic abuse, alcoholism and inequality.

REHWA Society, Maheshwar, India

The REHWA Society empowers women weavers and provides an education for their children. Maheshwar is a small 4000-year old town which is popular with visitors but sadly no longer prosperous and its skilled weaving community suffered greatly with the increasing industrialisation of the weaving tradition.


The REHWA Society, which is 40 years old this year, initially used a grant to buy 12 looms and employ 12 women weavers from the local community to produce exquisite textiles. This was so successful that they now have 250 weavers and 110 looms. The profits from the sales of these products are invested in employee welfare by subsidising housing for weavers and running the Ahilya School which provides primary and secondary education for weavers’ children.

 Please do feel free to contact me if you would like any more information on any of these wonderful projects or philanthropic travel.



Videos copyright to ABC-Foundation, Excellent Development

Images provided courtesy of:

Maureen Kirk, SEWA, Reality Gives, REHWA Society, Mara Elephant Project, Green Safaris Conservation Foundation, Ultimate Safaris, Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust, Uthando (Love) South Africa, AnTassia, Ride 4 A Woman, African Bush Camps Foundation.


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