3 tips for sustainably touring Africa

elephant roaming african plains

Sub-Saharan Africa ranks among the most popular tourist destinations worldwide. An estimated 36 million travellers visit the region annually, per research from the World Tourism Organization. However, this territory and the species that populate it are also under threat. Deforestation is accelerating within the Congo Basin and the Serengeti, the 1.5 million hectare savannah at the core of the region, faces significant water availability challenges linked to climate change, according to the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.These developments pose a major hazard to local animals, including bonobos, elephants, rhinoceroses and fauna considered endangered due to poaching, the African Wildlife Foundation revealed. In short, travellers who enter Sub-Saharan Africa typically encounter fragile ecosystems and should exercise extreme caution; but how?

Embracing sustainable tourism practices is the ideal approach. Using some of these strategies, you can help preserve invaluable habitats and participate in once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Here are some sustainable tourism habits you might consider adopting before your next African adventure:

Choose your operators and vendors carefully

Service providers within the tourism industry have an immense impact on the communities in which they operate. Some partner with residents and nearby businesses to cultivate offerings that generate revenue for the local economy and support sustained environmental conservation while others don't. By spending your money with businesses of the former kind, you can embrace the core aim of sustainable tourism as defined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: "respect[ing]...local people...cultural heritage and the environment." How can you pinpoint vendors that share this mission? The Global Sustainable Tourism Council and other groups certify and list tour companies and hotels that operate with local populations and habitats in mind.

Consider rail travel

Africa spans more than 30 million square kilometers, making it the second-largest contiguous landmass on Earth. As a consequence, travellers typically opt for air travel when navigating the continent. While convenient, commercial airlines and other aviation companies account for 2% of all global carbon emissions, according to data from the Air Transport Action Group. For a more sustainable solution, consider travelling Sub-Saharan Africa by train. The region is home to some legendary train lines, from the luxurious Blue Train which features stately overnight, dining and lounge cars. It runs between Cape Town and Pretoria, South Africa, to the recently installed Madaraka Express, which connects Mombasa and Nairobi, Kenya.

Respect the wildlife

Africa is home to an immense array of plant and animal species that populate vulnerable ecosystems. Most respected tour operators understand this reality and do everything within their power to protect these organisms and the environments in which they live. These organizations normally do this by establishing and enforcing stringent guest behaviour guidelines that prohibit travellers from interacting with wildlife or disrupting their habitats. Unfortunately, the allure of the Sub-Saharan flora and fauna can lead some tourists to test these boundaries, which often causes harm. For example, a recent study from researchers at the Liverpool John Moorse University in the U.K. published in the Journal of Zoology revealed that African elephants that have close encounters with overzealous travellers experience high levels of stress and might adjust their behavior to compensate for the situation. So, to ensure the animals you come across on your trip live happy and healthy lives, adhere to all applicable wildlife contact rules and leave vulnerable wildlife be.

By embracing these sustainable tourism practices, you can both experience and preserve Sub-Saharan Africa.