The great thing about ISV…ok scratch that…one of the many great things about ISV is that they have a dedication to responsible tourism. In other words: we take only pictures, we leave only footprints.
Who cares? Well, tourism can be a pretty powerful thing. Worldwide, it generates $1.5 trillion in exports and accounts for 10% of global GDP each year. It’s also, arguably, the sole reason for a large majority of conservation efforts around the world. It generates 1 in 11 jobs worldwide, brings money to small communities, builds infrastructure, and educates people from all walks of life on the importance of preserving everything from archaeological sites to indigenous cultures.
Like all things, however, tourism is only good when it’s done right. While responsible for preserving some of the world’s most incredible ecosystems, tourism can also turn beautiful sites of culture and nature into their very own Disney Worlds—warped and commercialized beyond recognition.
Not to mention the sad, but blaring truth: tourists can be ignorant and rude, and sometimes the most harmful thing to an incredible local attraction is some idiot trying to feed a rare, endangered animal part of his sandwich or leaving plastic bottles lying around.
This is why it’s so important to be a responsible tourist.
Take my next two weeks with ISV: we’re in the heart of Africa—the greatest place to see wildlife pretty much anywhere, and home to every creature I’ve ever wanted to cuddle (lions, elephants, leopards…you catch my drift).
Many places (ahem, irresponsible places), will take these cute animals from the wild as babies, hand-rear them in tiny cages, offer them up to tourists to cuddle for thousands of dollars, then stick their full-grown furry butts in a camouflaged pasture. Here, they’ll sit around until a guide leads a high-paying hunter around in circles, convincing them they’ve trekked deep into the bush. They’ll “track” the animal, find it, and inevitably, when they do, the animal will walk towards them, recognizing these people as a source of cuddles and treats, as humans have been since its infancy. Within moments, this animal will meet its demise in the form of a trophy hunter’s bullet.
This industry is called can-line hunting, and it sadly makes up a huge portion of tourism in Africa. At least, it does right now. It doesn’t have to, though: consumers are the ones who sustain this market, they’ll be the ones to shut it down, too.
So if you’re going to Africa and need to pet a baby lion, do your research. Accredited zoos and rescue facilities are always an option, and there are also raise-and-release programs, like this one in Zimbabwe, that hand-raise groups of cubs as a tourist attraction. People from all over the world can stop by before their trip to Victoria Falls to pet the cubs and take pictures with them. Once the cubs are big enough (around 18 months), their contact with humans is cut off as much as possible, and the youngsters are released into huge pastures as prides. These groups of lions teach themselves to be a wild, functioning pride: they learn to hunt, learn lion-family dynamics, and learn to integrate into the bush ecosystem. When they’re ready, they’re released into the wild for good.
End result? You get your fuzzy animal fix, and wild Africa gets a much-needed addition to its biodiversity.
Over the course of the next two weeks, my friends and I are going to have the experience of a lifetime. We’ll pet rescued elephants, drive within feet of lions at Kruger National Park, get up-close and personal with rehabilitated wild animals that were snared or poisoned by poachers, jump off cliffs (into water), and swim with wild dolphins (responsibly). It’s going to be the tour of a lifetime, and thanks to ISV’s dedication to responsible, ethical, and eco-friendly tourism, I’ll fly home with thousands of pictures, infinitely more memories, and not a single spec of guilt.