Dorine Reinstein
Dorine Reinstein

World Rhino Day, taking place every year on Sept. 22, has sparked creativity among African tour operators with many operators now offering innovative tourism conservation trips and rhino relocation programs. These programs all enable travelers to contribute significantly to the conservation of wildlife in Africa.

Although rhino poaching remains a massive threat to wildlife in Africa, there has been  a slight decline in rhino poaching statistics this year thanks to ongoing conservation efforts. In the first half of 2019, 318 were poached in South Africa, down from 386 rhinos over the same period in 2018.

Lisa Nel, general manager of Jumbari Family Safaris, said that while the drop is good news, the average of two and a half rhinos killed each day is clear evidence that more work needs to be done.

"We strongly believe in passing on our knowledge to younger generations and educating them on the importance of preserving our environment and Africa's wildlife," said Nel.

Unfortunately, the protection of wildlife however doesn't come cheap. It is said to cost $3,500 a year to protect a single rhino's horn from poaching. Conservation tourism can go a long way in helping raise the funds needed to protect wildlife.

Wildlife tourism is a rising industry and one that can help improve awareness of and vital funding for conservation efforts, if done correctly, according to Save the Rhino, a U.K.-based conservation charity. "Put simply, without generating income from tourists, many parks would not be able to continue protecting or monitoring their wildlife. In fact, recent research shows they are already struggling to stay resourced," the organization says on its website.

Betty Jo Currie of Currie & Co. Travels Unlimited, a Virtuoso Agency, said tourism helps all conservation efforts. "If you know which lodges are involved in conservation efforts, travelers can make a massive difference," Currie said. "They support anti-poaching efforts. They support families who work for the lodge and the educational efforts of the children. They support research on lions, elephants, brown hyena and, yes, rhino. Because they understand that tourists hope to see rhino, lodges and camps band together in reserves, parks and concessions to protect the game. To protect the game, locals' needs must be considered, and camps and lodges (the better ones) do just that by providing sustainable employment, and this allows for sustainable conservation efforts."

Travelers are also increasingly interested in conservation and want to actively participate in making this world a better place. A key trend highlighted in the Travel Trends Report 2019 by the U.K. travel trade association ABTA was that responsible tourism is going mainstream, with 45% of people saying sustainability is an important element when booking a holiday.

"Communities worldwide continue to recognize that healthy wildlife populations are of greater value to them in the long term. Ethical, safe and appropriate wildlife tourism brings with it enhanced awareness and financial support for the conservation of rhino and other at-risk populations," said Shannon Guihan, an official with the TreadRight Foundation, a nonprofit created by the Travel Corporation.

Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel Inc., added that travelers have always wanted to see rhinos as part of the Big 5 when visiting Africa. However, as people become more aware about how endangered rhinos are due to poaching and could become extinct within our lifetime, those visitors have become increasingly interested in learning how their visit to Africa can help rhino conservation.

Here are a few exceptional experiences:

Rhino rehabilitation: African Travel Inc. recently launched the Majestic South Africa itinerary in support of rhino conservation with the company donating $100 per couple traveling on the itinerary in support of rhino conservation.

African Travel Inc.'s itinerary takes travelers to the Shamwari Game Reserve and the Shamwari Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, which helps rehabilitate and care for sick, injured, abandoned or orphaned animals under the care of their professional veterinary team. Once these animals have been nursed back to health, they are released back into their natural habitat.

A Family Experience: Jumbari Family Safaris launched a 12-day South Africa and Namibia Rhino Conservation Safari. The 12-day eco-itinerary has been crafted for families who have a keen interest in rhino conservation in Africa. Travelers will support leading rhino conservation initiatives by staying at ecofriendly camps associated with the Rainbow Rhino Initiative, Gondwana Wildlife Foundation and Save the Rhino Trust.

Jumbari's Nel said the operator hopes this trip will bring awareness to the plight of rhinos and teach travelers how they can save the species for future generations. This conservation experience enables families to partake in conservation projects such as the translocation and veterinary care of wildlife, husbandry and care of rhinos, monitoring the cape leopard cameras and elephant dung sampling.

Rhino walking safaris: Wilderness Safaris invested heavily in rhino conservation in Zambia and Namibia. In Zambia, valuable tourism revenue is brought into the park by Toka Leya Camp guests who can view the rhino in close proximity on foot in the presence of the ZAWA (Zambian Wildlife Authority) armed guards.

In Namibia, travelers visiting Desert Rhino Camp have the opportunity to track black rhinos by vehicle and then on foot in the company of armed guides and trackers. By taking part in this activity  in fact, by simply staying at the camp -- travelers contribute toward the protection and conservation of this species.

Rhino Notching: AndBeyond recently reported that 30 calves have been born to its rhinos that have been translocated through Rhinos Without Borders (Rhinos Without Borders' goal is to translocate 100 rhinos from South Africa to the safe haven of Botswana and is on track to reach this goal imminently).

AndBeyond offers memorable rhino conservation experiences at the Phinda Private Game Reserve, including rhino notching as part of the Phinda Impact Small Group Journey.  This 7-day journey combines wildlife conservation (with an experience like rhino notching or elephant collaring), interaction with the local community and the chance to experience a day in the life of an AndBeyond ranger, from learning tracking to rifle training to sleeping out beneath the stars.

Rhinos are not the only animals facing threats. There are a great number of innovative wildlife experiences focusing on other animals.

Pangolin Conservation Experience: Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal on the planet. They are animals in the shadowlands of extinction.

AndBeyond recently released a number of pangolins retrieved from poachers or illegal wildlife traffickers across South Africa in its Phinda Private Game Reserve, the first pangolin reintroduction to take place in KwaZulu-Natal. Guests can now participate in a Pangolin Conservation Experience to help track, locate and replace the monitoring tags attached to the scales of the most poached and trafficked animal in the world.

Elephant conservation: Ker and Downey introduced a 13-day Elephant Conservation Safari. The trip is heavily focused on connecting clients to Africa's gentle giants and, in turn, leaving a legacy in Africa.

This itinerary has been crafted for travelers with a keen interest in learning more about the nature of elephants in their natural habitat while simultaneously leaving a positive legacy for Africa's elephants.

"Sustainable tourism has become a driving force in the luxury travel industry, and we've found an increased desire for purposeful travel experiences which contribute to the conservation of our planet, said Lee Kelsall, CEO of Ker & Downey Africa.

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