Kenya is a landlocked country in the continent of South Africa. It is surrounded by five countries. Kenya is a popular destination for tourists travelling to Africa as it offers tourists camel safaris, trekking, game fishing, white water rafting, ballooning, diving, wind surfing and donkey safaris. The major ecotourist attraction in Africa is one of the 40 national parks in Kenya that offer an insight into the lives of animals and their habitat. Unfortunately, 70% of national parks and game reserves are on pastoral lands, particularly Masai land.
Ecotourism is a major contributor to Kenya’s economy. There are 55 000 people employed in the wildlife industry alone. And the wildlife market generates half of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. Therefore, the wildlife market is the biggest contributor to Kenya’s foreign economy.
Ecotourism has had both positive and negative impacts on the wildlife environment, people and economy of Kenya. The economy, the livelihood of the people, and the maintenance of the ecosystem have had positive impacts on Kenya. Kenya’s foreign exchange earnings are from tourism and 80% of the tourist market is drawn from wildlife. Also, the Masai herders who inhabit bush land north of Mt Kenya have allocated 8 765 hectares of their land, (which teems with elephants, zebras, giraffes, wild cats) for wildlife conservations. The revenue from tourist lodge tours then go back to the community which is used for children scholarships, maintenance, development and general income. Therefore, the above have had a sustainable impact on tourism.
Ecotourism also promotes sustainability of the wildlife. In Kenya, a living elephant is worth around $14 375 for every year of its life whilst the ivory from an elephant is worth about $1000. Each elephants herd earns as much as $610 000 each year. This promotes the maintenance of the elephants, minimises poaching and ensures protection of wildlife as well as livelihood for the people. Another area, the Serengeti Plains, is famous for the migration of wildlife. The national park attracts large numbers of tourists, who are attracted to the large migration of wilder beasts, cats and zebras. This experience encourages travel to the area and highlights an appreciation for the ecosystem. In all these encounters, education is a characteristic of the various tours.
There have also been some negative impacts that have affected the environment, the indigenous population and tourists. Some of these include pollution, habitat destruction, littering and armed banditry. An example of this is the indigenous people of Masai Mara. The Masai Mara tribe have lived in harmony with the animals for over four centuries. However, when the game parks were created they were forced to move without compensation. Revenue from this park have not flowed proportionality to the tribes. These negative effects have created a lot of conflict for the Masai Mara tribe.
As documented above, ecotourism is vital for the economy, lifestyle and on going maintenance of wildlife in Kenya. What is required is a balanced approach to sustainability of ecotourism. Ecotourism in Kenya and in any location of the world should have minimum impact on the indigenous culture, a steady income stream and reduction on land degradation and wildlife destruction. The revenue of tourism should support the lives of the grass root people and enable them to have suitable standards of living. This will encourage their commitments to programs as they will see the benefits of their co-operation.
The specific initiatives that should be looked at include an increase in tour prices during peak season as it will generate an even flow of tourists each year. Non-motorised vehicles, such as microlight flights and hot air balloons should be used for tourists to explore the wildlife as they create no pollution. Also, the management of parks need to be cared for by promoting campaigns and raising awareness to all tourists about the effects of littering and pollution of the fragile ecosystem.
Kenya needs sustainable ecotourism for its survival on the economy. Kenya needs to develop strategies that will have minimal effects on social, cultural and the ecological environment. If the initiatives above are followed, it will ensure that the future generation of the world will still be able to enjoy one of the last undisturbed natural environments.