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How Tourism Protects Biodiversity

Elephants roam in front of Satao Elerai Lodge

Today marks the International Day for Biological Diversity, as a good a day as any to celebrate the diversity of species and ecosystems in Africa. This year’s theme, biodiversity and sustainable tourism, coincides with the observance of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Since the 1960s, AWF has worked in Africa’s national parks—both conserving land and wildlife and supporting projects that enhance visitors’ experience. AWF built a conservation education center at Nairobi National Park in 1963, and has since partnered with wildlife authorities throughout the continent on projects ranging from improving park infrastructure to developing national tourism plans.

Today, tourism helps provide many of Africa’s national parks with the revenues they need to protect the continent’s iconic species and give them room to roam. Wildlife, however, are known to wander outside parks, where they find themselves more vulnerable to threats like poaching and human–wildlife conflict.

To give elephants, rhino, lions and a host of other well-loved animals the space they need, AWF has worked with local communities and private tourism companies to create conservancies in several African countries.

Support for the local economy

Conservancies operating near well-established national parks can also provide additional benefits. Tourists drawn to an area for its national park often choose to spend time in a conservancy because it offers different activities, such as horseback riding, wildlife walks or night game drives, or simply to get away from the crowds in the park.

By attracting tourists and encouraging them to stay longer, conservancies can bolster the local economy while providing extra land for wildlife.

In 2008, AWF partnered with the Entonet/Elerai Maasai community and Southern Cross Safaris, a leading private operator, to set aside 5,000 acres of land for wildlife and to establish Satao Elerai, a small luxury lodge. The community owns the lodge and the conservancy while Southern Cross Safaris manages both to create a high-quality experience for tourists.

The operator pays rent to the community as well as a portion of bednight fees charged to guests. Receiving a portion of bednight fees ensures that the more wildlife-viewing tourists the lodge hosts, the more income the communities earn—transforming the conservancy’s wildlife into a resource worth protecting in the eyes of the communities.

Revenues from the lodge are invested in education, water infrastructure, and other benefits for the community.

The lodge employs about 70 people, 80 percent of whom hail from the local community. Salaries for conservancy staff and game scouts also come from the income generated by tourism operations on the conservancy.

In this impoverished area, the two most profitable ways to make a living are crop production and employment in the conservation industry—making salaries earned from the lodge critical for some of the poorest households.

Biodiversity impact

This tourism arrangement has proven beneficial for wildlife as well. Satao Elerai lies between Amboseli National Park in Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park in Tanzania. The conservancy helps connect these important habitats for the elephants who travel between them regularly.


All of these charismatic species attract tourists who pay top dollar to see them. Appreciating the role elephants and other wildlife play in bringing in tourism revenues, the community has a lasting incentive to conserve this key habitat.

The impact speaks for itself. Wildlife numbers have increased in this habitat since the establishment of the conservancy and the lodge, making a clear connection between well-managed, sustainable tourism and biodiversity conservation. 

About the Author

Micaela is the Program Design Officer at African Wildlife Foundation and a previous AWF intern. She studied abroad in Kenya and interned with a grassroots NGO in Nairobi. She is passionate about sustainable development on the African continent.

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AWF Blogs bring you to the critical landscapes we work in, where conservation benefits both wildlife and people alike. The blogs are written by our staff - men and women who have dedicated their lives to Africa's wildlife, people and wild lands.