Leonard Ncube in Victoria Falls
THE tourism industry is facing a gloomy future as some international tourism agents from America are reportedly campaigning for closure of tour activities that involve wild animals.
Indications are that elephant rides and lion walks will be closed in December this year despite the activities being one of the cornerstones of the industry.
The international agents bring clients to local tour operators and have reportedly given conditions that if they do not close they would stop marketing the tour operators’ products and services.
Sources said the animal activists are even offering large sums of money to operators to stop activities involving wildlife.
The companies are under pressure and have agreed to close in December so that they remain in business.
More than 90 percent of tourists that enjoy elephant rides and lion walk come from the same agents.
The activities have stopped in Botswana and South Africa and pressure is now on Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Zambian tour operators who offer elephant rides have advertised to their clients that they would stop on December 31 while Business Chronicle is reliably informed that locally, Wild Horizons, one of the tour operators in Victoria Falls, will also be closed on the same date.
However, authorities at Wild Horizons told this paper that they were yet to decide on the date to close the activities.
Adventure Zone, Elephant Express, Shearwater are also part of the companies that offer elephant rides in Victoria Falls while Lion Encounter does lion walks.
“We will be stopping but we don’t have a date yet. Yes there is an international campaign to stop activities involving animals such as elephants,” said Mr Craig White of Wild Horizons.
He however played down the issue saying the company was voluntarily scaling down the rides.
Sources told this paper that the company was under pressure from its major agents who have threatened to stop bringing tourists if it continues activities involving animals.
Asked about the implications of the closure on business, Mr White said it would definitely impact negatively on his business.
Shearwater spokesperson, Mr Clement Mukwasi, who is also president of Employers Association of Safari and Tourism Operators said there was a need to strike a balance instead of closing abruptly.
He said the drive was coming from the source market mainly in the United States which targeted countries such as India and African countries were suffering from spillover effects.
“The campaign against use of wild animals in tourism has always been there by wildlife activists. As an industry we say there shouldn’t be an abrupt closure but a system must be devised with a budget for rehabilitation of those animals and compensation of those employed in the sector in the event that we close,” he said.
Mr Mukwasi said the elephant rides is one of the key sectors of tourism as it employs many people and contribute to tourism growth.
“They have to strike a balance. They should give alternatives in relation to people’s jobs and rehabilitation of these animals. Those who are able to close must not do so for scientific benefits without first putting proper measures.
“There is a lot of campaign against animal activities in the source market especially USA as they target India and in our case we have no track record of abuse of animals.”
While other operators have indicated that they will be closing, Mr Mukwasi said his organisation was still consulting.
Sources said Shearwater and Elephant Express have refused to budge because they no longer deal directly with some of the agents pushing for the closure who are based in South Africa.
Across the Zambezi River in Livingstone, only Mukuni Big Five Safaris, run by Chief Mukuni would continue offering animal activities as it also does not directly deal with the concerned agents.
The agents have reportedly planted posters at airports in Zambia stating that any tourism activity involving wild animals was cruel to the animals.
Operators were likely to divert from animal interactions while some have already started setting up restaurants to replace lost activities and business.
It costs $150 per person to ride an elephant for 45 minutes and $165 in Zambia.
Source: Pressure on Zim to stop activities involving wild animals (15/06/17)