Sharon Gilbert
Sharon Gilbert-Rivett

Sharon Gilbert-Rivett recalls her trip to Botswana to report on sustainable tourism and why your holiday choices could help to change the world

Onks Letsholathebe is in his element. The safari guide from Maun has just found a young female leopard on a floodplain close to Xigera Camp in the heart of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, and his guests are enraptured as the leopard poses perfectly.

Xigera Camp
Wilderness Safaris own and run Xigera Camp.

He smiles, as “oohs” and “aahs” accompany clicking cameras. Onks sees sights like this almost daily. Such is the life of a safari guide here, where the wildlife is among the best in Africa and the safari experience pretty much perfect. Does it get stale? “Never,” smiles Onks. “I love my job. No two days are ever the same.”

Thanks to Botswana’s commitment to sustainable tourism principles, it’s a vibrant and rapidly growing industry.

Xigera Camp, owned and run by Wilderness Safaris, is one of a growing list of Ecotourism Certified lodges across Botswana and Fair Trade Tourism, one of Africa’s leading sustainable tourism organisations.

Gideon Kgalemang of Xigera with Obonye “OB” Baitseng.
Gideon Kgalemang of Xigera with Obonye “OB” Baitseng.

By staying in camps and lodges like this, tourists contribute to the livelihoods of people and protection of the land. “We must protect this amazing wilderness,” says Gideon Kgalemang, Xigera’s maintenance manager and relief GM. From the village of Tutume, near Francistown, he’s worked for Wilderness for 10 years. Along with housekeeping manager Obonye “OB” Baitseng, he is responsible for the smooth, day-to-day running of Xigera.

“Preserving our natural heritage is what we do here,” says Gideon. “Tourism has to benefit our staff and the communities living on the periphery of conservation areas while also protecting the wilderness.”

OB has been part of this balancing act for 10 years. “Through my job I have learnt to live more sustainably and passed this knowledge on to my family and friends. They too understand the importance of sustainability.”

Selinda Explorers Camp
Selinda Explorers Camp

These sentiments are echoed tenfold at Selinda Camp, almost an hour by plane to the northeast. Koketso “Koki” Mookodi, community liaison officer for Great Plains Conservation, says: “Conservation underpins our business on the Selinda Reserve, and across all of our camps.”

We bump our way across what’s left of the legendary Selinda Spillway, now a loose collection of pools and lagoons.

Koketso “Koki” Mookodi, community liaison officer for Great Plains Conservation.
Koketso “Koki” Mookodi, community liaison officer for Great Plains Conservation.

“It’s vital to equip young people with conservation knowledge and an understanding of how tourism helps protect our environment.”

The Botswana government has helped establish conservation clubs at school level across the country.

Koki adds: “Seronga and Gudigwa are two villages we’ve adopted on the Delta’s panhandle and rolled out a conservation education programme in their schools. Now those children are teaching their communities about the importance of protecting wilderness areas and the wildlife. They are also champions of our Big Cat Initiative and Rhinos Without Borders campaigns.”

The Zarafa Dhouwvsuite at Selinda
The Zarafa Dhouwvsuite at Selinda Camp.

Seronga women also produce crafts to be sold in the shops at Ecotourism Certified Selinda Camp, Zarafa Camp, Selinda Explorers’ Camp, and other Great Plains camps in Botswana at Duba Plains.

Selinda guide Motsamai “Mots” Morundu says: “We want to make sure that what we have can be enjoyed for decades to come,” he says. “It’s not just about recycling, reducing energy and being green, it’s about benefitting everyone involved – animal or people.”

American tourists Celsea and Wyatt Jenkins.
American tourists Celsea and Wyatt Jenkins.

Does sustainability really matter to tourists? Americans Celsea and Wyatt Jenkins are among a growing number of international travellers who make a point of engaging in authentic, local experiences that benefit communities no matter where they are in the world.

Explains blogger and fitness guru Celsea. “We live in San Franciso and use solar energy, recycle, give to community programmes and try to live as consciously as we can. So it makes sense for us to choose our holidays based on how sustainable they are.”

Business developer Wyatt agrees: “We need to feel comfortable with our footprint. There has never been a greater need for sustainability. Communities and people need to feel the benefit of tourism in remote and wild places to see the value of protecting them for future generations.”

The sun sets over the floodplains and a breeding herd of elephant files past Selinda Camp as if in silent agreement with all those who dedicate themselves to a sustainable future.

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