MISSION POSSIBLE SERENGETI
For nearly a century Africa has warmly welcomed safari enthusiasts, travellers, artists, and photographers to celebrate her beauty, drink in her majestic creatures, smile with her people, and marvel at her otherworldly sunsets.
Today I am writing to you because Mama Africa finds herself in the midst of an unprecedented and regrettably, mounting, crisis. Never before has the predicament been so dire and requiring such urgent attention.
COVID-19 has dealt the African tourism industry a sucker punch so hard (that speaking frankly with you), many operators won't make it to the other side. With each new day come new challenges, new stressors and new realities. The virus and the subsequent global lockdown have meant the immediate cessation of any tourism activity. The life blood of tens of thousands has been brutally ruptured and there is no way of knowing when we will return to ‘business as usual’. Camps that should be preparing for the arrival of guests are packed away, game viewing vehicles are parked up, and camp staff have been sent home to be with their families.
The good news in all this is that we have identified a solution to help our staff and the wonderful wildlife on which we rely for our tourism, and we invite you to help become part of a solution to this crisis for wildlife.
To bring this reality into sharp relief; our Tanzanian camps have been empty since late February and with postponements and cancellations we have zero income for the foreseeable future. Alex Walker Safaris has run out of money. We have put all staff on reduced pay for April and May thereafter there is no money.
The consequences are many, but the two I wish to draw your attention to are that:
- The staff complement of Alex Walker Safaris will be impoverished in days. With no money to provide for their families, our staff will possibly turn to the bush to sustain their brood. I regret to share that reports already coming in suggest that the level of snaring has spiked in the past week. This increase will almost certainly continue until things return to some form of normality.
- Thus, the animals are more vulnerable than ever before to poaching. The immediate vacuum of game viewing vehicles traversing these wild areas, coupled with reduced operations budgets for anti-poaching units as a result of a lack of tourism generated fees to the park authorities, will create a perfect storm for the bushmeat trade.
In Africa social responsibility falls to those in work, they support large extended families. Those not able to survive from subsistence farming, will probably turn to traditional roles as hunter-gatherers and other means to find a means of feeding their families.
It is vital to discern the difference between the abhorrent, well-publicised commercial elephant and rhino poacher from this subsistence level meat poacher, who uses a wire snare to catch his prey.
With that point established it is important to note that these snares don't discriminate. What was meant for a small antelope may snare a leopard, a lion and even an elephant.
Our proposed solution for which we need help then, is as follows:
Across much of Tanzania, a considerable portion of camp staff that are employed are locally sourced from the rural communities in the areas where we operate, primarily for their intimate bush skills, their tremendous hard work and their ease at living in these remote environments. In discussions with Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS)- a major partner of TANAPA’s working in Tanzania, we have agreed to build on a pilot and highly successful Serengeti National Park de-snaring programme by deploying these wonderful folk, under TANAPA management, to further supplement the de-snaring teams already in place and thereby provide a critical presence while undertaking anti-poaching and de-snaring work.
More than anything it is about deploying boots and eyes to the ground, where there would normally be multiple game viewing vehicles going about their business within a park. A car or two on the ground, or a foot patrol of eight is a massive deterrent, a presence is often enough sometimes to put off even the most ardent poacher. Our guides and spotters, our chefs and waiters know the areas intimately, their knowledge can help identify high risk areas for the rangers and anti-poaching teams to patrol.
Distressingly Alex Walker Safaris is not able to cover the shoe-string budget needed to fund the already reduced salaries of these men and women, the fuel and maintenance costs for running vehicles and food and provisions necessary to keep the teams sustained.
It does not come easily to reach out to anybody and ask for help but in these uncharted waters we have no other choice. We don't want these people, their families or the animals to suffer.