The wild ride of the coronavirus pandemic continues to have its ups and downs around the world, but it is wonderful to see some countries turning a corner with this terrible virus. I have been so inspired to hear the stories coming out of Africa from our partners on the ground, who in spite of ongoing costs without any tourism income, continue to support local communities and play the all important role of preventing poaching.
In Rwanda, our friends at the Akagera Management Company are continuing to patrol the park, so we know there are boots on the ground and rangers patrolling to protect the species we love. With the park closed and an outbreak on the other side of the country forcing the Rwandan government to keep travel restrictions in place, tourism income is still non-existent for the Akagera guides. Thanks to the ongoing generosity of our safari guests, this month we were able to send across another US$3000 for food supplies for the 30 guides in the Akagera Guide Co-operative to ensure these families can put food on the table. Enormous thanks to our safari guests who generously donated to this appeal and even did some of their own fundraising among their friends (thanks Heidi Meeke!).
All photos above by Herman Nkusi
In addition, two of the founding safari guests who joined me in the first year of the Akagera Elephant Project, PK Wong and Josephine Au Yeong, raised an astounding US$12,000 to provide food support for 180 families living on the border of Akagera National Park over two months in May/June, benefiting approximately 900 people. This extraordinary effort was made possible on the ground by Godefroid Nyamurangwa, who worked with government officials and local volunteers to ensure that food reached the homes of many, many people during the coronavirus pandemic. Huge thanks to Josephine and PK for really stepping up to help! Below are some photos of the first food distribution to the Mukoyoyo village, taken from PK and Godefroid's report. Supporting families who live on the borders of national parks is so important as it provides a tangible benefit from tourism and conservation and helps prevent bush-meat poaching.
Godefroid has been an absolute legend being voluntary chief co-ordinator of food supply and distribution for both the guides' and local village families over the last couple of months and we owe him a debt of gratitude. I am quite sure that when he agreed to be my elephant research guide two and a half years ago neither of us was expecting that anything like this would happen, but it has been an incredible thing to enable something positive to happen during what is otherwise a very challenging time.
There are many fundraising appeals across Africa at the moment that are trying to help local people get through this time without the normal income they would receive indirectly or directly from tourism. Tourism represents almost 10% of Africa's GDP, so if you are able to help out over the coming months it's a great time to reach out and lend support where you can.
Of course the most important thing for all of us is to remember that the best thing we can do is postpone rather than cancel your safari if you have a booking in place with us. A lot of our tourism partners in Africa like Natural Selection and Asilia Africa are continuing to pay many of their staff even though their safari camps are closed, so keeping your payment in the system will help keep them afloat and enable their many conservation and community projects to keep going during the pandemic.
For example, Natural Selection in partnership with Ecoexist's fabulous Elephant Express, a regular bus service that enables local kids to safely get to school in Botswana in an elephant corridor is continuing to be supported by the company this year. You can support this project and learn more about it here. Natural Selection is also continuing to run their Covid-19 Community Support Program in Botswana, which I know several of our guests have already supported (thank you!).
And at the place that first stole my heart in Africa, the Save Valley Conservancy, the Whittalls are trying to re-unite a very young rhino that they pulled from the mud in the last week with its mother. It's an expensive operation and AU$9000 is needed to pay for helicopters, vets etc in this operation. Save African Rhino Foundation in Perth is running a fundraiser to help cover these costs and ensure this young critically endangered animal has a chance at survival in the wild. You can support this at Save African Rhino Appeal - all donations go fully to the cause. Anne Whittall is taking care of this 12 day old rhino in the meantime with the help of her grand kids, so he is in good hands, but the best thing for him is a return to the wild with his mother.
I was expecting to send out a blog this month with all my amazing photographs and video footage from my two group safaris in Tanzania and Botswana, but alas we will have to wait a bit longer for this. In the meantime, if you haven't seen it already, please take a moment and enjoy my short 4 minute video about the wisdom of elephants below. There are many more videos I've made over the years on safari you can watch on our youtube site and please like us on facebook and instagram for regular updates from Africa.
And finally, safari die-hards (like me) are going nuts over the Wild Earth virtual dawn safaris you can watch daily from about 4.30pm Australian Eastern Standard Time. Check it out here!