Klaserie River Sands

Let’s boycott African tourism. Not.

Some keyboard warriors regularly call for the boycott of an entire country’s tourism industry, in reaction to the death of animals that could conceivably have been prevented.

This is particularly so when the animals are hunted or culled or when the government in question has been slow in preventing human-wildlife conflict situations that result in the death of animals. And the resulting angst is magnified when a charismatic, named animal dies.

I disagree with this strategy (tourism boycotts) and, after having engaged personally with a number of these keyboard warriors over the years, thought I would summarise my basic counterargument in this opinion editorial.

Wildlife, safari, elephants

The author on safari. ©Simon Espley


The keyboard warrior logic seems to be that threatening the government’s treasured revenue streams will convince them to change their ways, thereby saving the animals. This logic does not hold up to scrutiny, because damaging the tourism industry will result in:

1. Fewer people being employed in tourism, and those in rural areas (where the animals are and where there is little scope for alternative employment) could then turn to some form of wildlife extraction (as they did in the past) to meet their basic needs. Habitats will be modified to suit cattle and goats and tolerance of wild animals, which are often a threat to lives and livelihoods, will disappear. In other words, more animals will die and ecosystems will be damaged.

2. Less tourism revenue for government coffers, and the resultant need to switch to alternative revenue streams in order to keep the lights on – such as hunting, mining, fishing, logging etc. In other words, more animals will die and ecosystems will be ruined.

And so, the call for tourism boycotts to save animals is logically flawed.

The personal dimension

All of us that care react emotionally when confronted with grizzly images and bad news, and we all seek the end of the carnage. And herein lies the rub – most calls for tourism boycotts come from a deeply personal place, and the call for boycott is really saying ‘if you don’t change your ways to reflect my personal ideology I will take you down’.

This is where some keyboard warriors lose the plot and cross the line into hypocrisy (IMHO). Many of those that argue aggressively for tourism boycotts are from the western world – where most wildlife has been removed, and the countryside has been tamed and turned into the wealth that provides a comfortable lifestyle, free of the daily issues that plague most African countries. There seems to be a pervading view amongst this sect of keyboard warriors that Africa should remain wild and undeveloped, so that they (the keyboard warriors) can feel at peace with life.

Some of this personal bias is because of the ongoing ‘Disneyfication’ of Africa, where mainstream media portrays Africa as having two dimensions: On the one hand we have sprawling human poverty, and on the other hand we have pristine wilderness sans humans, where animals roam freely.

Here at Africa Geographic we host active discussions on a 24/7 basis that stem from our articles. And so often the reaction on Facebook to tragic news such as R.I.P Tullamore, the last lion of the 5 Musketeers is: “What are humans doing there in the first place, they should be removed!”.

The inconvenient truth of course is that humans live in these vast areas where lions and elephants roam, and have done so for a long time. And humans are expanding their ranges in Africa, as they are doing all over the world, and human-wildlife conflict is on the increase. We need solutions for that, and boycotting the entire tourism industry is not one of those solutions.

This might come as a shock to those who have grown up believing in a ‘Disney’ Africa, and who think that entire countries should bow to their personal demands. There is a really big need in the western world, and particularly amongst keyboard warriors, for education about the real Africa.

During a recent Facebook discussion with a person from Europe – who called for boycotts to Namibia because of the named lion Tullamore’s death (refer to the link above) – I questioned whether they had called for boycotts of their own country because it voted at the recent CITES Council of the Parties conference in favour of trade in ivory, baby elephants and lion parts. Their reaction? “My country does not have safaris, so we cannot boycott them.” Such is the depth of their western world indoctrination.

The best way to build up any African country’s wildlife and ecosystems is to help them justify to their people why these animals should be tolerated and the ecosystems not turned to pasture for cattle and goats. Tourism is a massive part of that process. Yes, many African countries have corruption problems and many are not very efficient in the carrying out of their duties, but name one country in the world that is free of these issues. Just one.

This topic (the lack of genuine awareness of how wildlife impacts on the daily lives of rural African communities) was hotly debated at this year’s Conservation Lab, an invaluable workshop for African travel and conservation game-changers.

Keep the passion, keep travelling to Africa.

Simon Espley

Simon Espley is an African of the digital tribe, a chartered accountant and CEO of Africa Geographic. His travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, real people with interesting stories and elusive birds. He lives in Cape Town with his wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells, and when not travelling or working he will be on his mountain bike somewhere out there. His motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". The views expressed in his posts are his own. Connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.

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