Africa just has its way with people, something that can’t be explained unless experienced, the ‘TIA’-feeling (This Is Africa) it has been described as. The continent’s wild and wonderful places lure people from all over the globe, to come and explore, and then to return wherever they are from, only to make plans to come back once again…
With the natural world under threat more than ever before, with animal numbers plummeting and species becoming extinct at an alarming rate, a new kind of tourist is venturing to these shores. The need to become responsible custodians and to give future generations the chance of seeing nature’s inhabitants the way they are supposed to be viewed – free – has created a different kind of African experience. The notion that there is no conservation without education has certainly never rung more true than in the present day, with vast acres of land being gobbled up with human encroachment stretching its greedy fingers all over this planet we call home.
Héctor Cebellos-Lascurain, a Mexican landscape architect and environmentalist, was the first one to use the term eco tourism back in 1983. In 1999 the IUCN adopted his definition of “environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features – both past and present) that promotes conservation, has low visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socioeconomic involvement of local populations” as the official definition of eco tourism. Today the International Ecotourism Society’s definition of eco tourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.”
Whether you call it adventure tourism, eco tourism or green tourism, the fact remains that is has become part of today’s travel calendar. Itineraries are built around very specific requirements as a holiday today is much more than just hopping on plane, taking a handful of pictures, and departing for home once again, unaffected by what has been seen, heard and experienced.
Adventure and eco tourism meeting conservation is where companies like EcoTraining are stepping in and creating an important niche, an experience with a difference so to speak. Although they are essentially a field guide training company training guides for the safari industry (from 55 days to a year), with shorter courses and excursions on topics like birding, tracking and photography, they are also catering to the tourist with a conscience.
Like Richard Schmid from Switzerland who was born in Mombasa and spent the first seven years of his life in Kenya. He maybe has a deeper connection to the continent than most, with his grandfather and his father born and raised in East Africa, but that doesn’t diminish the reason for his current trip. This time around his visit to the country of his birth is to take part in an EcoTraining 28 day Field Guide Course in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.
He admits that it is a special visit.
“I travel like this all the time, to go out and actually do something, on a course like this to be directly and actively involved in something. I saw this article about EcoTraining and the courses they offer in a Swiss newspaper. For three years it was buried in a drawer in my desk, with me initially thinking why should I do it? We have nothing like this back home in Switzerland, no wildlife of this nature, so why indeed?
“But I can tell you that I now know so much more, my base of knowledge has broadened considerably and I’m not regretting it for one moment. We have an ecological responsibility and I think people are becoming more and more aware of it all the time.”
Michael Clark, who trained with EcoTraining 10 years ago, did his course for a very different reason than Richard. He is currently in Nepal, training up young Nepali naturlists. But essentially the importance and essence of what they experienced on their separate courses are the same.
“The variety of subjects is incredibly diverse and comprehensive, and the practical element provides you with experiences that are hard to put into words. Anyone who is serious about a career in eco tourism or simply wants a sabbatical from work, the experiences you can have on a course like this can lead to a whole new way of life, and provide you with memories to truly cherish.”
And what better way to obtain literally hundreds of interesting and unique facts about Mother Nature and her inhabitants in a setting like this – with grazing Grevy’s and Plains zebra, browsing Reticulated giraffes, frolicking impalas and the twittering of superb starlings and white browed sparrow weavers. This was how Richard from Switzerland experienced it at the campsite in Lewa during his course. It is much the same at the other EcoTraining wilderness camps across southern and east Africa.
Tourists of all ages wanting an understanding of Africa’s web of life and to gain a greater appreciation for conservation, or adventurous spirits looking for a holiday with a difference, will return to the “real world” with an altered outlook on life after attending one of EcoTraining’s courses. The wilderness areas of this vast continent come alive and the environment is discovered in an exciting, in-depth and sensitive way.
Today’s tourist is a thinking traveller with a conscience and it is clear that, although for a variety of different personal reasons, each one ultimately has the same goal – to have fun while gaining a better understanding about all things wild and wonderful, and also to make their own contributions, however small, to the conservation of the natural world.