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.

  • Hendrik Steyn

    Can only say that I agree 100% with you Simon.Tragic incidents should rather form the emphasis for increased possitive debate and active support for any attempts at finding solutions.Arrogant calls for tourism boycotts will only be counter productive.

  • Anja Denker

    Very very well put Simon!!!

  • Dee Roelofsz

    Completely agree with you Simon – rather than being keyboard warriors people would do better by actively getting involved with people on the ground who are constantly trying to find solutions such as Inki Mandt & Izak Smit. Two of the biggest supporters & advocates for the preservation of the Desert Lions like the now deceased Tullamore & his 4 brothers at the hands of locals in the HWC. They are tirelessly in the field in Namibia educating locals as well as erecting kraals & special lighting etc in order to try to resolve & minimise the ongoing Human Wildlife Conflict!
    People should rather donate to the cause than sit behind a keyboard whining about it!

    For anyone who wants to support Inki and Izak, to help the lions!
    Here are the details:
    Or visit

    • Leonieke van der Laan

      Well, Dee, the keyboard warrior Simon Espley is referring to, and was in discussion with, and whose words have been totally twisted, is me, proudly presenting myself here. I will definitely post all words bring written by me and by Mr Espley and you’ll find that the unbelievable great keyboard warrior is no other then Mr Espley himself. And for me, I’m a very big and loyal supporter of Inki and Izak, and DeLHRA, and always donating do they can continue their amazing work in HWC.
      I don’t know what triggered Mr Espley, but he has misrepresented our discussion on purpose, on a high level I must say, in fact I find it shocking.
      So if I were you, I wouldn’t beleive much coming from Mr Espley anymore.

      • Simon Espley

        Hi Leonieke. The pertinent statement from you, made before we engaged, was: “And I’m sorry, but boycotting Namibia for travel and tourism, seems to be (hopefully) the only effective way in reaching MET.” I took you up on this issue alone, and did not react to your many oblique comments from you and insinuations about Flip Stander, MET and others. You can feign shock all you like and you can muddy the waters all you like, but on that point (of boycott) you were very clear, and you defended that standpoint vigorously. If you wish to defend your belief that Namibian tourism should be boycotted,such is your right. But please stay on topic.

        • Leonieke van der Laan

          Don’t see the point, Simon, cause you’re obviously very keen on pulling words out of their context and frankly, I think that’s a display of inability. I stand by my entire statement on FB, about Dr Stander, about MET not reacting, responding and helping farmers nor lions, and hoping for a finally good collaboration with people like Izak and Inki. There’s tourism now and look how well the lions are doing….. Not. MET might respond to the pressure, wanting to keep Namibias good name. That’s all I want. And if you twist my explanation that the Netherlands do not allow import or trade off this kind, to ‘their response? We don’t have safaris so we can’t be boycotted’, then what’s the point of talking to you? So thank you, but no, I rest my case.

    • Simon Espley

      Hi Dee, big respect for Inki and Izak- they provide us all with good information about the desert lions. Very passionate couple. There are many people out there slaving away for the lions – good people doing their bit to help.

  • Cottonwood

    I agree that boycotting travel will not help the situation. However, I also believe that travelers deserve to know what they are supporting. For example, I would not want to patronize facilities that promote trophy hunting in any way, as I feel that activity does not help wildlife. Travelers have the right to choose where they put their dollars. Additionally, I would not so quickly and callously dismiss so-called “keyboard warriors.” You do not know the individuals involved in various efforts to help wildlife. Many of them are highly educated and are quite familiar with Africa and the very real challenges involved in helping both people and wildlife. The fact is levels of compassion for animals are rising worldwide as more and more people understand that animals are sentient beings and deserve a high level of respect and consideration. This is not something that can or should be downplayed–it is human evolution.

    • Simon Espley

      Hi, I was very careful to refer to ‘some’ keyboard warriors.

      • Leonieke van der Laan

        You were completely twisting my words, Simon, and I won’t let that pass unnoticed, for you, as a columnist, should no better then to publish lies.

        • ResponsibleBreeder

          get over yourself

        • Mike Sebastian

          Classic activist threats and bullsh1t

        • mel

          Leonieke van der Laan, you are a liar and a keyboard warrior. We all see you for who you really are, so don’t think you’re fooling anyone. The world needs less keyboard warriors like you. Do yourself a favor and go support ant farms or flea circuses.

  • Kaz Cobb

    The thing is a boycott is not because an animal died, a boycott is because the Governments lied, and lied and lied, making deals behind closed door with hunting organisations. The boycott would also prove that having wildlife alive will bring money in and its about time humans stopped talking in the term of ownership of wildlife, we do not own wildlife. And before you all start having a go, My charity works worldwide trying to save wildlife from HWC, with no help from Governments who turn their back on the people, the farmers who need help, who ask for help.

    • Leonieke van der Laan

      Kaz, Simon Espley is referring to his discussion with me. I will post this discussion on public, with pleasure. I was honored to be called an activist by him, however being upgraded to keyboard warrior now is in fact ridiculous. In fact, the way he describes my answer, like as if I really said ‘I don’t boycot my country because we don’t have safaris’ – that is so unbelievably noon accurate and twisted that it’s puzzling how this man is a Ceo at all. But I do know now where the term keyboard warriors comes from, Mr Espley. It’s just despicable how you twist somebody’s words for your own good. And I’m very serious about that.
      I was surprised by the way you seemed unable to really read my answers in our discussion,
      but now reading this article you’ve given prove of not even willing to do so, even on the contrary : you paint your own false pictures, print them as a reality in your geographic column, and then you even dare to accuse the – on purpose – wrongly quoted party (me) as a keyboard warrior.
      I laughed about it, here at home, cause you so degraded yourselve in an amazing level by this,
      but on a professional basis, this shouldn’t occur…..

      • Mike Sebastian

        You are trying to twist out of what you said on Facebook – which I saw. Right now you are throwing dust in the air and beating your chest, and hoping to confuse people. Will you employ all of the people who will lose jobs when boycotts happen, as per your wish? Will you convince communities not to kill the remaining wildlife because now they can’t hunt either – because of your sort. Think further than your own emotions for a change.

    • Mike Sebastian

      You are missing the point.

  • Mike Sebastian

    Keyboard warriors do more harm than good

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