Jonathan Scott: Tourism’s Role In Conservation And Why Now Is The Time To Visit Kenya

Jonathan Scott, zoologist, wildlife photographer, conservationist and TV presenter of the BBC’s Big Cat Diary and Big Cat Live series has lived in Kenya for nearly 40 years and travels the world campaigning on animal conservation. Here he explains the vital role tourism to Kenya plays in saving the country’s endangered wildlife and why now is the time to visit

I love Kenya and have lived here for nearly 40 years.Kenyans have got to be the friendliest and most welcoming people on earth. If I had only one day left in my life, I know where I’d spend it – in the Maasai Mara with my wife Angie. There is nowhere else like it.

Without tourism we will not be able to protect the best of our wildlife areas.There are a lot of people in Kenya desperate for land to settle on. For the moment, the government has been able to protect amazing wildlife places like Tsavo, the Maasai Mara, Samburu and Amboseli, because people can see the financial benefits. But as the human population continues to expand there will always be pressure on the land. Tourism is one of Kenya’s biggest industries along with the exportation of tea, coffee and cut flowers. We are always lobbying to ensure that more of the money from tourism reaches the pockets of the local communities – that is the best way to protect wild places.

If we turn our back on wildlife-based tourism, we are making it easier for poachers.The benefit of tourists visiting Kenya is that it is much harder for poachers to target the country’s national parks. There are more eyes and ears and telephoto lenses on the ground – and the money from visitors’ park fees helps to pay the costs of protecting our wildlife. But it is a constant battle and we have to be vigilant. You only have to look at what happened in the past to see how important tourism is to conservation.

When Tanzania closed its border with Kenya from 1977 to 1983, the number of visitors to the Serengeti dropped from 70,000 a year to around 10,000. The loss in revenue caused a 60% decline in anti-poaching patrols; there just wasn’t enough money to ensure that the rangers had the equipment they needed, or the vehicles and fuel to administer the anti-poaching effort. The result? The rhinos disappeared from the Serengeti, the elephant numbers dropped severly and meat poaching skyrocketed.

So if the world is serious about helping us to prevent poaching, well, believe me, we need those tourist dollars.

Read the travel advisories carefully and do some research. Don’t interpret a warning against visiting Mombasa Island as a warning against visiting the whole country – or against visiting the Kenya coast. I’m not saying ignore travel advisories – but take the time to read, listen and then make up your own mind as to where to go.

If you are worried, talk to your tour operator.Most are reputable companies and members of KATO, the Kenya Association of Tour Operators. They pay their dues and are regulated by the industry. Believe me, they’re not going to send you to places that are dangerous. They are going to do everything they can to try and ensure your safety.

When you come to Nairobi, stay at one of the lovely places on its outskirts.There are a number of locations that come to mind such as Machushla House, Giraffe Manor, Ngong House and House of Wayne. They’re all nice, tranquil places to stay, away from the traffic and congestion of central Nairobi. You can also go to the giraffe sanctuary and come face to face with a giraffe on the viewing platform or go and see the elephant orphans we featured on the BBC’s Elephant Diaries having fun in their mud wallow.

If I was a first-time visitor to Kenya, the Maasai Mara would be first on my list – but I would visit it last making it the highlight.First I’d headnorth to Samburu or Buffalo Springs to see Grévy's zebras, reticulated giraffes, the long-necked gerenuk antelope and all those dry country birds you won’t see in the Mara. I would also look at taking in Lake Nakuru or Lake Bogoria. Nakuru’s got lions and plenty of rhinos, and the trees along the lake are wonderful for leopards and bird species too. But right now if you want to see flamingos, you might be better off heading to Lake Bogoria – home of the magnificent greater kudu.

Finally, I see this moment in time as an opportunity.Anyone who comes to visit Kenya now will not be complaining about the amount of vehicles at the river crossings in the Mara during this year's migration! You’ll be getting an even better quality safari experience if there are fewer people and tour operators are offering a range of great Kenya deals right now. So is this time to come and visit us? Yes it is!

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