The Serengeti is straining under overtourism

2019-11-08 14:45
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Like European cities, African wildlife is also feeling the negative effects of overtourism, especially in the Serengeti.

A famed stretch of preserved nature and a refuge for wildlife across Kenya and Tanzania, this region is facing a deluge of visitors and tourism development that's becoming unsustainable. Tourism is oft-touted as a key economic driver, especially in these two countries.

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"It’s a seductive idea, therefore, to keep growing tourist numbers indefinitely to maximize the benefits," writes Serengeti Watch - a coalition of advocacy and funding initiatives dedicated to the Serengeti, the people living there and the adjacent reserves - in a report on overtourim in the region.

For them, the definition of overtourism is too human-centric - something that affects local humans - but it should also be expanded to include the other species sharing this blue planet with us. "Moreover, locals do include human communities around the Serengeti, which need to get tangible benefits from tourism. Otherwise, they may turn their backs on conservation," adds the agency.

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Stressed out animals and guides

In the Serengeti, convoys of safari vehicles descend upon watering holes and animal hot spots, racing to get the first spot. 

Guides are under immense pressure to produce the goods for demanding tourists looking for that perfect photo to boast to friends back at home. It might be phenomenal for the tourist, but the animals end up stressed, the homes invaded and even disrupting their reproductive cycles. 

This is especially evident in the Mara section of the Serengeti, where visitor density is ten times higher than some other Kenyan parks and 17 times more than Tanzania Serengeti, according to Kenyan publication Standard Digital. Even the famous wildebeest migration is getting disrupted by crowds, forcing the animals to change their movement to quieter spots.

"The Mara has lost much of its wildlife, and it is not unreasonable to believe this is in part due to overcrowding, overbuilding, poor tourism practices, and lack of enforcement of regulations," writes Serengeti Watch.

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And this is only set to increase - government from both sides of the Serengeti want more than double the visitor numbers, focused on the tangible economical boom rather than on the sustainability. New markets like India and China are also being targeted for growth, which could explode into even worse overtourism.

In South Africa we have our own problem with crowds at the famed Kruger National Park, where domestic and international tourists sometimes bump cars to see a pack of lions lazing in the sun. Over last year's festive season, 190 000 people visited the park.

Here the key is to promote other parks in the country to lessen the strain on Kruger, but there's a reason everyone wants to go to Kruger.

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How can we fix this?

The one option suggested by Serengeti Watch is to fight this overtourism is to create 'high value low impact nature tourism', but this would mean making it accessible only to those who can afford it, and pricing out locals. 

"There must not only be a wise strategy to keep tourism in check, but the will to enforce it. Governments need to plow back more tourism revenue into conservation and park administration rather than siphoning it off. And this should include support to local communities.

"Finally, it’s up to the tourism industry and travelers to step up and give back with real support."

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