Green is for ongoing

Safari operators, communities and tourists have a role to play in conservation.

Author and environmental scientist David Bristow and Colin Bell, co-founder of Wilderness Safaris and now CEO of the Great Plains safari and conservation company, have collaborated on a book called Africa’s Finest, which is designed to focus attention on safari venues that are leading the way in terms of environmental sustainability.

Why then, did Bristow and Bell decide to publish their work as a large, expensive, high-gloss coffee-table book?

“We did find a sustainable paper product,” says Bristow, “but we know there is a compromise involved. The places we’re looking at cater to an elite market, and we needed something that would help publicise the sustainability of the safari industry within that market, though it comes at the cost of a few trees.”

How much of the concept behind the book is simply pandering to a trend?

“We made up a fictitious character from the Hamptons,” says Bristow, “who wouldn’t come to the places we highlight because the way they’re set up for sustainability may mean sacrificing some luxury.

“But these offer something closer to the real African experience. We need to get away from the false model.”

What Africa’s Finest helps clarify is the complexity of the issue – “stripped down” doesn’t equal “green”, for instance.

“No,” agrees Bristow. “The Singita Pamushana Lodge in Zimbabwe is hugely expensive and doesn’t spare either the luxury or the diesel, but they help feed 20 000 kids in the region, 365 days a year. There is huge social investment there. So there are levels of sustainability, which is good, because I don’t thing tourists are necessarily going to green places as their first choices yet.”

Being asked to pay exorbitant fees and then not be put up in palatial luxury does seem an unlikely driving force.

“The overseas agents are doing a very good job,” says Bristow. “They know their African venues really well, and put the right people in the right places. Those agents and the lodges themselves are the real market for this book.”

How big is this niche? There are clearly people wealthy enough to unblinkingly add responsibility to their bill, but is it, to re-position the buzzword of the day, sustainable?

“How big is it? We’re not sure,” admits Bristow. “At the moment, that attitude is a bonus. Educated people are aware of the green movement and are happy to have that as an add-on. We like to compare it to a situation where you order your food and drinks in a restaurant and then get the bill to discover that the wine is free.

“However, it is the most sustainable niche in this business. In economic terms, it makes simple sense. Community partnerships are essential if you want to navigate issues like power grids, land claims and so on. Being green pays off in the short term because of the energy saved. And it pays off in the long term because things like land tenure can be secured.”

Bristow and Bell hope to see Africa’s Finest become a regularly updated handbook. “Going forward, we will move to an e-book format. With the list growing, there is no way we’d be able to print ever bigger books.”

For more information on Africa’s Finest, go to

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