Africa’s most lauded Indigenous-owned eco-lodge, Il Ngwesi — which hosts rich tourists amid giraffes, elephants, and rhinos above a watering hole on the Laikipia plateau near Mount Kenya — is facing the toughtest times in its 25-year history. The Covid pandemic has decimated bookings from the United States and Europe, as it has for tourism throughout sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, drought has pushed cattle herds from neighboring tribes into its protected areas, and the lodge, run by the local Maasai tribe, faces reckless politicians stirring up land disputes and arming bandits.
On a continent where state-run parks often falter, the Il Ngwesi Eco-Lodge’s model of community conservation that integrates people and wildlife is increasingly seen as the best hope for Africa’s iconic megafauna. So can the lodge, which was founded in 1996, survive the pandemic and growing security threats in the months ahead with its borders, animals, and finances intact?
The pandemic has been disastrous for African wildlife tourism. Visits to Kenya crashed by more than 70 percent in 2020 and only gained back a sixth of the loss in 2021. Visitors to South Africa’s national parks were down 96 percent in the second quarter of 2020, with some recovery since. Conservationists have reported a surge in poaching as rural communities deprived of vital tourist revenues struggle to get by. Early in the pandemic, the Kenya Wildlife Service, which runs the country’s national parks, reported a 56 percent increase in seizures of illegally hunted bushmeat.
This is an excerpt from an article by Fred Pearce, originally published by YaleEnvironment360