Feature: Italian writer aids Kenya's quest to blend tourism with protection of iconic species

Source: Xinhua| 2021-03-03 13:16:54|Editor: huaxia
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by Xinhua writer Naftali Mwaura

NAIROBI, March 3 (Xinhua) -- Riccardo Orizio, an Italian national who has lived in Kenya for 18 years, is proud of his adopted homeland where he is spearheading efforts to blend tourism with protection of iconic wildlife species.

A former foreign correspondent with leading Italian dailies and also a bestselling author, the 59-year-old is proud of his current vocation of promoting a wildlife conservation model that is largely community-driven.

"I am involved in conservation and in tourism," Orizio said during an interview at his home located in an upscale suburb of the Kenyan capital Nairobi ahead of World Wildlife Day that falls on Wednesday.

"I fell in love with Africa, I fell in love with the wonderful wildlife in Kenya and also fell in love with the idea of contributing to innovative ways to protect the land, the people who own the land and wildlife through tourism," he added.

Orizio owns and co-manages four luxury safari camps located at the world-famous Maasai Mara game reserve and northern Kenyan county of Samburu that attract tourists from all over the world.

He said that part of the revenue generated from the lodges is ploughed back to the local nomadic communities to incentivise them to protect the wildlife amid threats of poaching.

"My job is not only to run these properties for international and local clients but to make sure the Maasai and Samburu nomadic communities benefit from tourists, to become the main protectors of land and the wildlife," said Orizio.

He said that 80 percent of some 108 employees in his luxury safari camps are from neighbouring communities, adding that they have appreciated the economic benefits of protecting land and wildlife species.

"Right now there is a strong connection between tourism and local communities. We work together, manage the land together. The communities are full beneficiaries of employment," said Orizio.

He said that monthly lease fee paid to landowners by the private conservancies where his lodges are based aims to ensure that wildlife sanctuaries are free from human settlement.

"About 70 percent of revenue go to landowners, ensure they do not establish farms, housing or graze their animals inside the land set aside for wildlife," said Orizio.

"When the land is left pure and pristine, wildlife thrives and multiplies. So the idea is to keep the land away from human interference, make sure wildlife has sufficient space and range," he added.

Orizio said that a conservation fee of 12,000 shillings (116 U.S. dollars) paid by each tourist on a daily basis is channelled towards conservation of wildlife habitats.

He said that besides providing employment to local pastoralists, the lodges also contribute to the development of social amenities like schools and health centres.

Orizio acknowledged that human-wildlife conflict has undermined protection of iconic species, adding that local communities have been part of the solution to the menace amid financial incentives.

"Human-wildlife conflict should be seen within cost versus benefit. There are cases of human-wildlife conflict, but people are ready to solve them if they benefit from wildlife," said Orizio.

He clarified that wildlife is owned by the Kenyan government and owners and investors in the luxury safari camps only play a complementary role to ensure iconic species are protected from harm.

"Wildlife in Kenya is owned by the state, it is under Kenya Wildlife Service, We make it possible to protect wildlife, give financial incentive to communities to protect wildlife," said Orizio.

He said that Chinese tourists comprise a significant portion of guests at his luxury safari camps, adding that the Asian nation has become a critical player in Africa's wildlife conservation agenda.

"I think there is a growing number of people in China who understands global issues of protecting land, wildlife and communities. Am aware of anti-poaching projects in Maasai Mara that are partially funded by Chinese donors," said Orizio.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic led to nearly 80 percent loss of revenue generated from tourists, adding that the slump negatively impacted on community-led wildlife conservation projects.

"Luckily we have started to see light at the end of the dark tunnel. Hopefully, by the end of this year we will be back to the same volumes as before and that is crucial for guaranteeing the protection of wildlife," said Orizio.

Martin Sermetei, a 36-year-old Maasai landowner and an employee at Saruni lodge owned by Orizio, said that he had leased 125 acres of land for 25 years to the Mara North Conservancy where he is guaranteed of sustainable income.

"I'm paid a monthly fee of 42,000 shillings but now am being paid 21, 000 shillings because of disruption in the tourism sector caused by the coronavirus," said Sermetei.

"The money is guaranteed every month, and it is good business," he added.

Sermetei said that nomadic landowners are passionate about protecting wildlife thanks to financial incentives from investors who have put up luxury camps at the conservancies.

He said that conservancies have gone ahead to compensate herders who lose their livestock to wild animals.

"Conservancies compensate herders 3,000 shillings if a goat is killed by a wild animal. Herders who lose a cow to wild animals are compensated with 10,000 shillings (91 US. Dollars)," said Sermetei.

He said the luxury lodges have also boosted local economy by purchasing meat, milk and fresh produce from nearby small-scale farmers and herders. Enditem