Africa’s natural resources surpass that of any other continent. Home to the richest, most varied and most concentrated biodiversity on the planet, the last remaining megafauna (big animals) in the world, the longest river and the most populous lake, the largest desert and the oldest desert, where in one day you can see the world’s largest land mammal, and also the tallest, fastest and smallest. Africa has 134 million hectares of officially proclaimed protected areas – half the size of India. With the world’s wide open spaces disappearing fast, and with more and more species becoming endangered, Africa’s abundant and unmatched natural heritage – wilderness untouched by industry – is becoming one of the most valuable products on earth.
Open Africa’s social mission links community tourism and conservation - a unique way to build livelihoods and create wealth responsibly, where both people and the Earth benefit. Open Africa sees conservation as an asset and demonstrates to the local communities how these natural riches can be a wealth creator for the people of Africa. By realizing this and taking ownership of these natural assets, African communities can invite the world to experience and enjoy these unique products, generating income while at the same time protecting their environment for future income.
The objective is to stimulate development and encourage conservation by creating tourism routes in biodiversity-rich areas. Each travel route selects a flagship species, which is an endangered or endemic species (plant or animal) that shows significant conservation purpose in the respective route area. The route collective is then guided in the construction of a conscious and active effort to educate the surrounding areas, as well as the travellers that pass through the areas, and protect and conserve the selected species in a practical and sustainable way. Conservation and monitoring plans for each species are developed and monitored through an event book system, which contributes to increased interest in and awareness of biodiversity and better biodiversity management of sensitive ecosystems.
Examples of conservation efforts along Open Africa routes:
The Karoo Highlands Route
The Karoo Highlands Route in South Africa was launched in partnership with EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust) to assist with the conservation of the critically endangered riverine rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis). The riverine rabbit is endemic to the area, and there are less than 200 left. The Riverine Rabbit Conservation Project consists of a wide variety of role players, all dedicated to conservation of this species, its habitat and the ecosystem upon which it depends. The route serves as a tool to help raise awareness around the importance of conserving the riverine rabbit, while establishing it as a tourism attraction.
Networking in Zambia
Six Open Africa routes in Zambia have started including conservation monitoring of various local flagship species such as cheetah, elephant, warthog, the Emperor Moth, Tiger Fish and the Black Lechwe. An event book system has been implemented, whereby guests tick off species sighted on a checklist to help identify the frequency of particular animals in the area as well as monitor their movements. This also helps to stimulate interest in biodiversity and promotes a collaborative approach to conservation. An Open Africa Biodiversity Networker assists communities with this process together with local experts on how to interpret results over time and when to take remedial action if necessary.
The Kanna Biodiversity Route
The Kanna Biodiversity route, also in South Africa, runs through an area internationally recognized as one of the world’s high-priority conservation areas, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area has a vast array of unique fauna and flora, the most remarkable feature being the overlap of three critically endangered biomes. The Fynbos, Subtropical Thicket and Succulent Karoo are all unique vegetation types endemic to the area and globally recognised CEPF biodiversity ‘hotspots’. To qualify as a ‘hotspot’, an area must have at least 1 500 species of endemic plants or animals, and more importantly, a ‘hotspot’ must have already lost at least 70% of its original habitat. This area is therefore one of Earth’s biologically richest areas and, at the same time, one of its most endangered. As part of its activities, the Kanna Biodiversity Route supports the efforts to conserve the threatened biomes, giving significant attention to educating the scholars and youth in the area on their rich biodiversity heritage found nowhere else on Earth.
For more information on exploring rural Africa, browse through the 60 self drive travel routes established by Open Africa!