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African Safari Outfitter Lauded as "Best of Breed"

TravelWatch
George W. Stone
National Geographic Traveler
Updated April 16, 2004
 
On June 8, 2004, at National Geographic's Washington, D.C.,
headquarters, Queen Noor of Jordan is scheduled to again present the
World Legacy Awards (WLA) for sustainable tourism—a joint
program of
National Geographic Traveler magazine and
Conservation International ( target="_new">www.wlaward.org).

Queen Noor presided over the first WLA ceremony last year, announcing winners in three categories: Nature Travel, Heritage Tourism, and Destination Stewardship. Each winner works to protect the natural and cultural quality of the places we visit, supports local communities, and gives us lasting travel memories.

This week, in anticipation of the 2004 ceremony, we present the winners of 2003 as described in Traveler (September 2003), starting with the Nature Travel category:

Wilderness Safaris, Southern Africa

"To me, there is no more uplifting, inspirational, or educational form of travel than a safari," Colin Bell, founder of Wilderness Safaris, tells me. So I'm learning in northern Namibia at the company's Skeleton Coast Camp, a 600,000-acre (240,000-hectare) reserve, one of 44 eco-friendly Wilderness Safari camps in seven African countries. The experience is more than just touring Earth's oldest desert (55 million years) with sand dunes that vibrate and hum under the chilly Atlantic winds. It's more than tracking springbok and desert elephant; more than combing beaches flecked with garnet, agate, and diamond; more even than visiting the nomadic Himba to witness their centuries-old way of life. It's complete immersion in the large, fantastic world of the desert.

When I ask if any industrial use threatens this land, our amiable guide, Douw Steyn, says, "Yes. It's widely used in the tourist trade." He shows us a gravel plain lacerated by the truck tires of joyriding tourists, saying the tracks will take a century or more to disappear. Southern Africa-based Wilderness Safaris, by contrast, has built its reputation on minimizing tourism damage and maximizing its benefits to both people and nature.

At the Mombo Camp in Botswana's Okavango Delta, for instance, my gin and tonic came with a slide show on the Wilderness-backed rhino reintroduction program here. Poachers eradicated rhinos here in the early 1980s, but now 21 white rhinos nibble about. On a walking safari at Jao Camp, also in the Okavango, local guide Frank Mashebe thrilled guests by unlocking the secrets of—of all things—termite mounds. (They have an air-conditioning system, for instance).

Wilderness Safaris won its award partly because it hires, trains, and promotes talented locals like Mashebe. At Botswana's Savuti Camp, another skilled guide, Benson Siyawareva, tracked down the rare African wild dog, or "painted wolf." Only 5,000 or so still roam, but he finds a pack of 16—the gift of conservation.

"Our conservation ethic and community-based tourism model have resulted in threatened land becoming protected," Bell tells me. "And our Children in the Wilderness project, which has given week-long safaris to a thousand underprivileged African children, should help create the next generation of African conservationists."

For more information, see www.wilderness-safaris.com; in the United States, book via safari specialists such as Connecticut-based Classic Africa, 888 227 8311 (U.S. and Canada only).

Watch for the Heritage Tourism winner in two weeks, and the announcement of the 2004 World Legacy winners on June 8.
 

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