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«ECOTOURISM AND SUSTAINABLE WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT EXPERIENCES IN THE GAMBIA by Mamudu Wally, Community Conservation Warden, Ecotourism and Community ...»

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by Mamudu Wally, Community Conservation Warden, Ecotourism and Community Wildlife Management Unit,

Department of Parks and Wildlife Management, The Gambia, West Africa.

This information was presented in the conference "Atelier régional - Faune sauvage et bétail" on

January 16-19, 2001 in Niger

Summary :

1. Income Potential

2. Rural & Cultural Benefits

3. Elasticity of Demand, Substitution & Competition

4. Image of The Gambia

5. Ease of Implementation

6. Product development in neighbouring countries Information sheets and/or books Marketing Policies/Proposals & Plans For the tourism industry, ecotourism is the fastest growing market segment. Interpreted merely as a product, however, it may be ecologically based but not ecologically sound, responsible or sustainable.

To incorporate these vital characteristics, ecotourism must adhere to three essential principles. The first is perhaps the most obvious. As an industry based on the beauty and diversity of nature, it is evident it should not deplete or degrade those resources and thus prejudice its own future. Ecotourism must therefore be ecologically sound, requiring a two-way link between itself and environmental conservation. To consider nature without recognising the link with people will however, compromise sustainability. It is now widely recognised that conservation cannot be divorced from development issues. The second principle is therefore that ecotourism must be responsible paying regard to local needs and improving local welfare. However to be truly sustainable, ecotourism needs to fulfil the ambitions and expectations of all interests. The third principle then is to consider not only the interests of tourism enterprises but also visitor satisfaction, the needs of tourists.

If ecotourism embodies these essential principles, symbiotic relationships between varying interests should follow, with environmental protection resulting both from and in enhanced standards of living for local populations, continued profits for the industry, sustained visitor attraction and revenue for conservation. Tourism income may be captured locally through revenue sharing schemes, through enterpreneurship and labour. Tourism can also act as a catalyst and even provide finance for improvement of essential services. It has been recognised that as people realise the benefits of ecotourism, support for conservation increases. This was shown for example, in a study by WWF in Belize. This found that the designation of Hol Chan Marine Reserve met with the approval of 63% of nearby residents of San Pedro. 44% of residents received direct economic benefits from tourism.

The advent of ecotourism provides the conservation community with an opportunity to demonstrate first hand to a growing audience the connections between the health and preservation ofprotected ecosystems and the global environment. Knowledge of these operative systems and the issues surrounding their support is crucial to their survival. The ecologist David Orr refers to the ability to distinguish between health and disease in nature systems and their relationship to health and disease in human ones as "ecological literacy", a literacy that is more effective when acquired out of doors where it can be driven by a sense of wonder.

Greater local involvement makes practical sense as improved understanding of local circumstances is likely to improve project efficiency. Indigenous use of local building materials has practical implications for more appropriate forms of development, reduces leakages, lowers costs and enhances local multiplier effects. Local involvement is not without its problems though. Revenue sharing schemes may neither benefit the most needy nor those most adversely affected. Beneficiaries may often be passive recipients, rather than active participants. The emphasis must be on participation rather than patronisation if traditional livelihoods are removed; they must be replaced with others. Local participation however often consists of employment rather than entrepreneurship where constraints of costs of entry, language, education and skills operate.

There are however many practical and institutional obstacles to effective ecotourism management, not least of which will be the problem of vested interests who are more concerned with short term profits than with the long term. Another dilemma is the sheer numbers. Rapid growth rates imply inevitable change. Psychological carrying capacity as well as other types of carrying capacity will probably be breached and visitor satisfaction compromised. This is especially true when visitors are concentrated in space and time. Over 60% of birdwatchers visiting Abuko Nature Reserve for instance are concentrated in a four-month season. However much a principled definition of ecotourism is advocated, it must be recognised that so called ecotourists are not a homogeneous group. The spectrum of participants embraces hard core nature tourists through to casual day visitors. Their behaviour and consequent impact will vary accordingly. It is essential therefore to attempt to match numbers and types of ecotourists with destination characteristics.

In terms of price elasticity, ecotourists are an almost homogeneous group. Willingness to pay surveys of ecotourists across the globe shows a consistent response of $10 as a reasonable visitor's fee.

Certain unique sites or those harbouring more charismatic species can support higher fees. The mountain gorilla preserve in Rwanda charges $170, the Galgapos Islands $80. Indeed, the pricing mechanism may be used to regulate numbers. Tourists visiting Bhutan, limited to 5,000 per year must spend $200 per day. The major role players in ecotourism all have a stake in its sustainable development. The grand challenge is to reconcile sometimes complementary but often conflicting interests. The essential dilemma is to balance demands of ever increasing tourists escaping from the confines and pressures of urban life and reacting against the characteristics of mass tourism with environmental needs, the aspirations of the industry and the basic needs of the local population.

Although a win win scenario, where all interests gain is the ideal, there will often be situations where one interest gains at the expense of another. For example, at Lao Pako ecotourism lodge in Laos, the cost of installing environmentally benign solar panels together with imported maintenance free heavy duty batteries, could have employed 2 locals for ten years to maintain a more conventional generator.

It is necessary to recognise conflicts and identify relative costs and benefits. Arriving at the most sustainable outcome is likely to involve trade offs. Environment is not just about animals and trees. It is about the liveability of human habitat. We need to look no further than London's West End in the summer months to see that truth. It all boils down to a question of numbers. Good practice is not enough. There must be limits to growth. To paraphrase Gede Ardika, head of the Bali Office of Indonesia Tourism, the partnership between conservation and tourism is not a marriage of love but an arranged marriage that must be managed with great care.

The Gambia lies at 15W longitude and 13-14N latitude, midway between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. It is surrounded on three sides by Senegal and coasts the Atlantic Ocean on the west.

From the coast to the eastern border is 480km with the north to south width of the country ranging from 24 to 48km. The total area is 11,300km. The country skirts the lower reaches of the River Gambia which flows through Senegal from Guinea. The Gambia is a flat country which does not exceed about 50m about sea level at any point. The coast consists of a long beach which is occasionally interrupted by low cliffs. Lying in the Sahelian belt, The Gambia has a rainy season from June to October and a long dry season from October round to June. Annual rainfall ranges from 800mm in the east to 1700mm in the west. During the last 15 years drought has been creating erratic rains with a general reduction in rainfall. A slight raise in temperature and reduction in rainfall have been recorded over the past 40 years of climate records. The natural vegetation type of The Gambia is Guinea savanna woodland graduating to open Sudan savanna towards the east. The country can be divided into roughly three natural regions: sandstone hills with savanna; river flats; and mangroves.

The Guinea savanna woodland is characterised by areas of fairly open woodland of low deciduous trees with a dense understorey of tall grasses and shrubs. In the coastal area the woodland tends to be denser with higher trees. In the dry season most trees are leafless and grass fires clear the understorey, sometimes with devastating effects. During the wet season the growth is dense. Very little of the savanna remains in its natural state due to the influences of shifting agricultural practices.

Some of the trees often seen include Baobab, Silk-Cotton Trees, Acacia species, African Locust Bean, Fig species, Mango, Oil, Coconut and Rhun Palms, among others. The river flats are more or less flooded during the rains forming extensive swamps. These areas are utilised for rice growing.

Mangroves occupy the edges of the river up to Kaur, 150km inland where the river water is still brackish. The most common species are Red and White Mangroves. The fauna of The Gambia includes 540 species of birds either resident or Palearctic migrants. Characteristic species include many Cormorants, Herons and Storks such as African Darter, Goliath Heron and Hammerkop.

Raptors include Palm-nut vulture and River Eagle. Others are Abyssinian Roller, Pied Kingfisher, Grey Plantain-Eater, Senegal Coucal, Grey Hornbill, Long-tailed Glossy Starling, Red Bishop and various other Warblers, Weavers, Sunbirds, Plovers, Owls etc. etc. etc. There are no large mammals in The Gambia, the most commonly encountered are primates such as Green Vervet, Red Colobus and Red Patas. Primates also include Western Baboon and Bush Baby. Carnivores include Jackal, Clawless Otter, Mongoose, Hyena, and Leopards. Others include Warthog, Antelope and Aardvark. Manatees can be found in the lower reaches of the river with Hippopotamus upriver. Reptiles and amphibians include turtles, crocodile, monitor lizards and geckos, snakes including pythons and cobras, various frogs and toads. On the mangrove shores are found Mudskipper (fish) and Fiddler Crab (invertebrate).

Other invertebrates include large centipedes and millipedes, insects such as Praying Mantis, crickets, dragonflies and various butterflies, ants and termites, scorpions and spiders. There are presently six areas protected under the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management (DPWM), covering an area of 39,236 ha which represents 3.4% of the total land area of The Gambia. The DPWM aims to have 5% of the land area protected in the future.

The first tourist flight arrived in The Gambia from Sweden in 1965. Since then, tourist arrivals to The Gambia have grown steadily to a high of more than 100,000 in the 1990's. The Gambia has traditionally been promoted in its target market of Northern Europe as a destination for those escaping the long and cold European winter. However, in recent years there has been a subtle change in the direction of the industry. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the mission of the sector is to provide a diversified, quality product and to shift emphasis from the mass charter tourism to the sale to and attraction of high spending individual travellers and special interest groups. This change in policy has been reflected by new initiatives in both the private and public sectors. These include setting up ecotourism development units in the DPWM (Abuko & Kiang West), an ecotourism advisor working at the NEA and tour operators offering more up country and tailor made tours. As well as the public sector initiatives, charities such as Tourism Concern have highlighted the need for development to take place in line with community development and environmental protection measures.

The protected areas of The Gambia have the potential to attract eco-tourists.

This potential could be exploited to the fullest if sufficient resources are provided to improve park infrastructures and services, train personnel and retain a portion of revenue generated for reinvestment into the Wildlife Department. This should be supported by a multi-disciplinary and all embracing tourism promotion outside The Gambia. Like many countries around the world, the Gambia’s protected areas are managed and administered by the public sector and not run as private concerns. In the Gambian context the most overriding effect of this is that revenue generated by the protected areas is recouped back to central government, and budgetary allocations bear no relation to the economic performance of the department.

The true economic potential of the protected areas has to date remained untapped. This has mainly been due to insufficient financing and resources allocated to the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management. These resources are necessary if the protected areas are to be developed to a standard that will enable them to maximise these benefits.

Abuko Nature Reserve is currently attracting up to 30,000 tourists per year. The remaining four protected areas of the Gambia have the potential to attract at least a percentage of these tourists. If the visitor figures for these areas were 5,000 per annum each, this would constitute an extra 20,000 visitors per year, which at an average spend of D20 would yield additional revenue of D400,000.

When added to the revenue accruing from Abuko this makes the total revenue generated by the department almost one million dalasis. With the necessary support, resources and funding the department could realistically achieve this level, and thereby increase the economic benefits of the protected areas significantly.

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