Responsible travel comes in many different forms, whether it’s a positive impact on wildlife, the environment, or local communities. However, when planning and booking a safari, it can be tricky to figure out whether your tourism dollars are going to the right people or initiatives.

Africa Encompassed spoke to Cameron Neill, Trade Relations Manager at Bench Africa, about what travellers can do to ensure they safari and experience Africa in an ethical way.

What is Bench’s stance on engaging in ethical conservation activities while in South Africa?

Bench Africa is always delighted when its clients show an interest in conservation and sustainable practises when in Africa and encourage them to get involved if the opportunity is there. There has to be a certain amount of caution required though with ethical conservation activities as for many years there have been operators touting their conservation bona fides whilst engaged in unhelpful or harmful behaviour. Walking with the lions is one such example.  There is a large amount of due diligence required by both the client and the agent in regards to these activities to make sure they put their money where their mouth says its going.

How do you educate travellers on ethical travel standards?

Bench Africa has a blanket ban on all interactive animal experiences.  Some people get confused as to whether than means we don’t visit any animals on safari or if we do things like the gorilla trekking.  Interactive animal experiences are activities that take animals away from natural behaviour and often from natural environments. Gorilla trekking or the meerkat visits are conducted in their natural environment with limited or zero contact with guests (which is of course at the animals discretion) and in these cases the animals are merely habituated to the presence of people, not trained out of natural behaviours. 

This is similar with animals on safari, they remain wild animals in wild spaces but habituated to safari vehicles viewing them respectfully.  We try to educate travellers as best as possible on the differences through our channels as well as through our reservations team.

How do you decide if you engage with a ground operator that offers conservation style activities?

We are conservative in nature with who we work with.  Bench Africa has been around for 50 years and have developed a reputation for being one of the most trusted Africa specialists with long standing relationships with suppliers, camps and ground operators in Africa, in some cases decades. We know the conservation activities of all the companies we work with and have also advised them in the past with the public mood of these activities to encourage change. If taking on a new supplier in 2019 and especially for conservation style activities we would look thoroughly through our contacts to find out if they can support their statements on conservation.

Have you found there is an increased interest in travellers wanting to do more for conservation when travelling to South Africa?

Absolutely. The difficult part is to distinguish the difference between actual conservation work (which is often less glamorous) and the faux conservation that trends so well on Instagram. Whilst the latter has been a big movement in the past the most recent trend is for engaged experiences with authentic activities and more about the experience itself, less about the sharing of it with an online audience.

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