National park boundaries have separated local people from wildlife, both physically and psychologically, to the extent that human communities no longer know how to coexist with wildlife and do not perceive any benefit of protecting wild animals. This growing divide threatens the lives of humans and wildlife species, particularly elephants. The goal of our park visitation program is to begin repairing the disconnect between humans and wildlife, by offering local people the opportunity to directly benefit from living near wildlife in the most intuitive and perhaps meaningful way possible: through personal experience. To date, we have brought more than 2,500 local people to visit Ruaha National Park. This program increases peoples’ opportunities to enjoy positive experiences with wild animals, and has begun a foundation of support for wildlife conservation among local people.
While Tanzania represents one the most biologically diverse countries in Africa, as well as one of the premier tourist destinations on earth, the vast majority of Tanzanians have never had the opportunity to visit a Tanzanian National Park. It is estimated that 95% of Tanzanians have never even seen a lion or elephant in the wild. The reason for this is that the majority of Tanzanians do not have the means to pay for a vehicle, which is most often the required mode of transportation inside national parks. Meanwhile, local people are frequently left to bear the enormous burden of living near protected wildlife. Subsistence farmers frequently experience devastating crop losses due to raiding animals, and pastoralists must remain ever vigilant against carnivores like lions and cheetahs predating upon their cattle.
Despite these conflicts, people living in these areas are as enamored as anyone by the incredible beauty and majesty of wild animals, and are desirous of the opportunity to view and learn about them. It is our view that the ultimate success of any conservation initiative aimed at protecting wildlife species must enjoy the support of local people.
During the summer of 2010, we started a park visitation program for villagers living around the boundary of Ruaha National Park. For a day, participants are provided the opportunity and resources to visit the park with a local, professional guide. Our guide teaches visitors about the wildlife species encountered in the park, including lions, cheetahs, elephants, impala, hippos, etc, etc. Program participants are also given a digital camera of their own to use for the day, and are later given photos that they have taken during their park visit to keep as souvenirs. During their visit, we arrange for conservation authorities at the park to talk with program participants about the socio-economic benefits the park provides to nearby residents, of which most villagers are often unaware, such as funding to build schools and clinics. The program has been incredibly successful, where the number of people who wish to participate far outnumbers our capacity. To see what participants are saying about the program, click here.