“Habituation of the great apes is essential for the species to thrive,” says Amos Wekesa, CEO of East African specialists Great Lakes Safaris. “Local communities need a reason to protect the species that are stealing their crops and stopping them from hunting in the forests.”

If not handled properly, however, tourism can be damaging. Over the years, I’ve witnessed some appalling behaviour on game drives in the Masai Mara as vehicles jostle for a position, disturbing cheetah hunts, chasing leopards and forcing several thousand migrating wildebeest to change course.  A solution lies in community-owned conservancies, where numbers of visitors are carefully controlled and stakeholders can attach a financial benefit to protecting the wildlife on their doorstep.

“In an ideal world, we’d like to see national parks and their attendant wildlife conserved because it’s the right thing to do; because we believe that we should leave the planet in a better state than when we found it,” says Chris McIntyre, Managing Director for Expert Africa. “However, in the real world, we understand that these areas, and their wildlife, usually need to pay for themselves to be conserved.”

Camps like the Mara’s House In The Wild and Angama Amboseli do an excellent job of making communities central to their story. Asilia and Kicheche are other good safari companies to consider.

When choosing any type of wildlife holiday, Jarrad Kyte from Steppes Travel recommends three key considerations: community, conservation and code of conduct. Terry Moohan, Head of Africa and Indian Ocean at cazenove+loyd, also warns tourists to manage their expectations and accept what nature provides. 

A window into an animal’s natural world is far more rewarding than a forced close encounter. But it’s important to remember that the concept of pure wilderness is a romantic fantasy when every inch of our planet has been impacted by humans. Any form of wildlife tourism is – at best – a compromise.

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