Afrcia's Finest

We know that a good picture is worth a thousand words; a great picture tells an even longer story. Martin Harvey’s cover photograph of a giant tusker – one ofAfrica’s last – with ice-capped Kilimanjaro in the background is undoubtedly a great picture and the stories it tells could fill a library.  The obvious story is of pure wilderness, of the places in Africa that are still untamed, a story offering excitement and adventure. It evokes many of the stories of Africa we know – Out of Africa or Hemingway’s The Green Hills of Africa, White Mischief and The Ghost and The Darkness among them. But look closer and there are other, even more urgent stories to be told about it.

Another story shown here is about a changing continent and a changing world, one we are going to have to hand on to our children, and to the children of those who live there. It may well be in tatters when we do. That great elephant on our front cover is dead (probably from a poacher’s bullet), and possibly all large-tusked elephants in the wild will be shot out in the not-too-distant future along with all wild dogs and possibly most free-roaming lions and cheetahs unless something can be done to stop the dreadful decline in wildlife numbers that started several decades ago and continues alarmingly. Take a look at the thin rim of ice and snow that circles the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro: just 50 years ago the glaciers up there were far, far more extensive, reaching a quarter of the way down the mountain. In just over a decade or two from now there will be no permanent ice left up there. The ghost in the darkness here, as we all now know for certain, is global warming hastened by human greed. The saddest point about the decline in wildlife numbers as well as the reduction in glacial ice, both here and indeed worldwide, is that it has happened in our lifetimes and has in some ways been caused by us, by our over-burgeoning population growth and our unchecked desire for material goods and comforts. That’s a story already well written, and it fills many volumes.

But here’s another one: if Africa’s wild places, and the people associated with them, are to be there to greet our children, their survival can be positively affected by business, specifically a transformed, nurturing, all-inclusive safari and wildlife industry. That is the real message of Africa’s Finest, that those operations that follow sustainable and renewable tourism models and partnerships, will be the ones that secure a future for the wildlife, the extraordinary cultures and people living in or around game reserves, as well as the very land on which all this depends. The flip side of this are those places that do not – the safari eco-pirates, cowboys and money launderers, the green-washers and the fence-sitters. This book shows the best and worst of both worlds, but which will be the one that our children get to see? With luck this book will stimulate debate and help the fence-sitters to leap over to the greener grass on the other side; for the green-washers to come clean and walk the talk; for the money launderers to mend their ways; for the eco-pirates and cowboys to realise it’s now easier and often cheaper to use solar than diesel power, and that in the end, poor environmental practices will lead to the collapse of the natural systems that line their pockets. If you are dreaming of an African wildlife safari, you should seriously consider staying in several of the fine places featured in this book. Each has been hand picked for quality and their environmental credentials have been verified by a team of experts. But go while you – through your patronage – can help ensure that there are still big tuskers when you get there. Back at home you can change your own consumption patterns to help slow the rate at which the snows of Kilimanjaro are melting away. And you can be further comforted knowing that you are helping to preserve the greatest wildlife heritage of our planet, while supporting the livelihoods of the people who live there.

For a living planet

Morné du Plessis
World Wildlife Fund South Africa