Written by Sharon Gilbert-Rivett
A hot wind is blowing over Botswana’s Okavango Delta. But it doesn’t bother Onks Letsholathebe. The safari guide from Maun has just found a young female leopard relaxing on a floodplain close to Xigera Camp, and he and his guests are enraptured.
“She’s very relaxed,” he smiles, accompanied by the sound of fervent camera shutters and various “oohs” and “aahs”. The leopard poses perfectly, completely oblivious to Onks, the safari vehicle and the delirious tourists.
Clouds are gathering on the horizon and rain beckons. The heat builds steadily, but nothing seems to faze the hardy Onks. In this part of the world, the wildlife is among the best in Africa and the safari experience is pretty much perfect. But Onks doesn’t get bored. “No two days are ever the same, you see,” he explains, “I love my job.”
Tourism is a major economic driver in Botswana, regularly outstripping mining and related industries in its contribution to GDP, so Onks is not alone in his love for his work. Like a growing proportion of the country’s population, he and his family are also directly benefitting from the steady influx of international tourists, thanks to Botswana’s deep commitment to the principles of sustainable tourism.
Xigera Camp is one of a growing list of camps and lodges across Botswana which are recognised by Fair Trade Tourism – one of Africa’s leading sustainable tourism organisations – through its pioneering partnership with the Botswana Tourism Organisation and its Ecotourism Certification programme. By staying in camps and lodges like this, tourists contribute in meaningful ways to the livelihoods of people and protection of the planet.
“Protecting the wilderness is what makes us get out of bed each day,” says Xigera’s maintenance manager and relief GM Gideon Kgalemang back in camp. Gideon comes from Tutume, near Francistown, and has worked for Wilderness Safaris, which owns and runs Xigera, for 10 years. With housekeeping manager Obonye “OB” Baitseng, he is responsible for the smooth, day-to- day running of the camp.
“We take our natural heritage very seriously,” says Gideon, “without it, we have nothing and tourism here would not exist.” OB agrees wholeheartedly. She has seen significant changes in the decade she has spent with the company and is a prime example of how tourism is changing lives for the better. “I have been given amazing opportunities through my job, and have learned how to live a more sustainable lifestyle,” she says, “I have passed this knowledge on to my family and friends and they too now understand the importance of sustainability.”
We are interrupted by a loud crack of thunder and the wind picks up significantly, sending staff scrambling to baton down anything which could be blown away. A lone elephant bull passes in front of the lounge area and pauses to shake his head at the frenetic human activity.
“Isn’t he amazing?” breathes OB, pausing long enough to take a quick snap on her cellphone. “I am blessed to be working here,” she sighs.
Indeed she is, and at the same time OB is a blessing herself, along with the rest of the team at this lovely camp who are working so hard to protect this incredible wilderness for generations to come.
Xigera and Fair Trade Tourism
For more information on Xigera, visit www.wilderness-safaris.com. For more information on how the camp works with Fair Trade Tourism and for other sustainable tourism destinations in Africa, visit www.fairtrade.travel or download the Fair Trade Traveller app free from the Apple App Store here or the Google Play Store here.