TOURISM NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
Reports, Travel Stories and Opinions
By Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Second edition July 2010
BRUSSELS AIRLINES ADDS 5TH A330-300 TO FLEET
As already indicated here several months ago – the airline at the time would not confirm or deny – SN has now taken delivery of a 5th leased Airbus A330-300 which will be deployed across a growing African network in coming days. It is understood that SN’s West African destinations like Accra, Lome, Cotonou and Ouagadougou will be served with the new aircraft. This is in addition to code shared flights with Germany’s Lufthansa, which are operated via of Frankfurt / Main but where travellers can ‘board’ in Brussels, albeit having to change planes in FRA. A regular source in Brussels also let it slip that SN was continuing to evaluate their presence in Eastern Africa, and that the acquisition of a 6th A 330 would likely benefit frequency and network expansion there, as for instance Tanzania is still not on SN’s map while other countries’ presently served are hoping for more flights as demand for business and leisure travel, but also for cargo uplift continues to grow again.
It was also learned that Brussels Airlines is again working on establishing a subsidiary company in the Congo, which could be up and running by mid / late next year, subject to receiving all regulatory approvals and raising the capital required for such a start up venture. Watch this space for regular aviation updates from the Eastern African region.
TWIN BOMBING HIT KAMPALA’S WORLD CUP REVELLERS
Three bombs at two venues went off towards the end of the world cup final on Sunday evening in Kampala, killing scores of people, with the latest reports of casualties standing at 74 dead and dozens more seriously injured now in hospitals. Ugandans, but also foreigners, at least 10 of them thought to be of Ethiopian and/or Eritrean origin, were amongst the many who perished in the blasts. It was one of the targets, the popular Ethiopian Village Restaurant in the suburb of Kabalagala – only kilometres distant from this correspondent’s residence – which immediately turned the focus of the unfolding investigation towards Islamic militants with Somali al-Shabab connections.
The Somali based criminals and terrorists have repeatedly in the past vowed to take ‘revenge’ against Uganda for sending troops to Somalia under an African Union mandate in support of the fragile national government. Only after last Friday’s ‘prayers’ did radical Islamic commanders in Somalia call for attacks on Uganda and Burundi – a country also having troops stationed there under AU mandate. Ethiopia too is of course a target as they initially invaded Somalia to squash the growing Islamic radical threat along their own borders, in an act of forward self defence, before eventually handing over to the African Union force. Uganda notably is a non permanent member of the US Security Council in New York and has supported courageous decision during her term of office aimed towards the global war on terrorism.
In the Ethiopian Village Restaurant, which featured world cup matches throughout the duration of the world cup, and hosted a record crowd last night for the world cup final, over a dozen people were killed instantly, several are said to have died later and many more were injured from the blast. Visitors to neighbouring pubs and other venues, also filled to the brim with football fans, immediately stampeded away and cleared the area which was then hermetically sealed off by police and security forces, attending to the injured and dead and they are now said to comb the site for forensic evidence. Support towards that end may come through ‘friendly’ agencies from where investigators and forensic experts are said to be enroute to Uganda already. Many of the injured were rushed to the nearby ‘International Hospital’ and other clinics by those who survived the blast and had the sense to act in a compassionate fashion.
The second bombing venue was at Kampala’s Kyadondo Rugby Club, which was even more populated and also featured matches on big screens. The rugby club is regularly frequented by dedicated large crowds of sports fans, both locals and expatriates, and there the death toll was more gruesome with reportedly nearly 50 dead and scores of injured who were rushed to all available hospitals and health centres across the city. Several thousand revellers were on this site, and reportedly here two bombs went off, with the second blast causing mass casualties as was clearly planned by the perpetrators of these vile crimes.
The African Union is due to hold its annual summit later in the month in Kampala from 19th until 29th of July and security had already been visibly stepped up in the run up to the continental meeting, and most world cup ‘watching venues’ had their own security in place, trying to prevent exactly such incidents.
There is much speculation now over how the bombs may have been smuggled into the venues, but it is clear that the bombers were using the mass crowds to conceal themselves before detonating the deadly devices.
While it is early and should not ordinarily be speculated over without hard evidence at hand, this correspondent’s own reaction still firmly points towards the Somalia connection and police and security organs are expected to vigorously comb the city seeking clues and suspects and re-screen recent arrivals into the country while keeping a close watch on everyone wanting to leave through regular border points and across open borders. It was understood by Tuesday morning that some suspects have been arrested already and are now assisting police in their extensive investigations.
Uganda is now in deep shock that the otherwise peaceful country has been attacked by cowardly terrorists and an official announcement was made on Monday by government about declaring ‘7 days of official national mourning’. Ugandan flags are, as a sign of respect and mourning, flying at half mast across the nation and at Ugandan missions and representations abroad. First reactions available to this correspondent from usually well informed sources with knowledge of security operations have also indicated in a first off the record reaction, that Uganda will maintain their troop presence in Somalia and will ‘under no circumstances’ be deterred by these tragic events, but ‘rather redouble our resolve’ to help bring peace to Somalia and defeat the enemies of peace hiding behind obscure and perverted ‘religious objectives’.
Uganda is now paying a heavy price for the courage and determination shown to bring peace to Somalia, besides having lost many valiant troops deployed there, but both piracy originating in Somalia’s lawless regions and the Islamic militant threat need to be firmly dealt with, now more so than before, to find and bring to justice those radicals and terrorists with total disregard to the sanctity of human life. It is by now also known that notorious al-Shabab commanders in Somalia have managed to communicate their delight with these attacks, as they consider Uganda their ‘enemy’, a further piece of circumstantial evidence towards the source of this heinous crime.
Meanwhile have fringe opposition politicians tried to make political capital out of this tragedy by calling for the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from Somalia, a shameful act of self promotion and showing the moral decay and ethical bankruptcy of certain groups and individuals, now trying to exploit this situation for their own selfish ends.
In closing it is this correspondent’s hope that intending visitors to the country, who are booked on safaris, will not cancel their holiday plans and remain Uganda’s friends in this hour of tragedy and need. This correspondent and the entire eTN team, extend their heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the victims and the Ugandan nation.
SEABED FIBRE OPTIC CABLE DAMAGE ‘KILLS INTERNET SPEEDS’
A reported damage to the Seacom cable, which connects East Africa with the rest of the world via various routes, has brought speeds back to 1G standards, as the traffic backup via satellite immediately overstretched the available bandwidth and capacities, causing a magnitude of transmission problems, from ordinary email with attachments to entire communication networks relying on high speed data transfers.
Most ISP’s in Kampala, in the best tradition of concealing and denying problems, were not giving their clients the true picture which could only be ascertained through sources in other countries, where the company had issued statements to the effect of repairs being underway off the Kenyan coast. Repairs may take a week or longer, according to those statements depending on the gravity of the technical failure and weather conditions at sea. Even the local media took several days to catch on, assess the gravity of the problem and then report on it last Friday, exposing the true extent of the failures.
The problems were reportedly felt across the entire Eastern Africa and were said to be especially bad in Dar es Salaam where ISP operators with links to the cable were however more forthcoming in informing the general public.
GADAFFI PLANS OWN PARTY AT AFRICAN UNION SUMMIT
News have emerged in the Ugandan media, that Libya’s regime leader Gadaffi is planning his own side show at the forthcoming African Union Summit in Kampala, which is due to be held between 19th and 29th of July. Hotels have reported that the Libyan embassy had tried to book hundreds of additional rooms for their own ‘invited guests’, raising eyebrows and ringing alarm bells amongst the political establishment in Uganda, what exactly Gadaffi, known to be eccentric, is up to.
Each delegation attending the summit will be given ‘free’ accommodation in three suites for the head of delegation and their party, but beyond this individual countries will have to make direct own arrangements, and pay for them, to get space in hotels, although the Ugandan foreign ministry has taken out ‘block bookings’ for the entire period to ‘allocate’ appropriate numbers of rooms when given final arrival details from the participant countries and key observer missions.
Hotels are said to be fully booked along the Entebbe – Kampala – Mukono corridor for the duration of the summit and ad hoc arrivals can expect a hard time to find space in leading hotels, unless confirmed, reconfirmed and paid for, and then still having to worry some …
Gadaffi’s embassy has also been hiring posh 4×4 vehicles for their invited guests, cleaning out the available market for hire cars but mystery still surrounds his plans and whom he intends to bring along and why. He in any case travels often with several aircraft full of guards and support staff and often ‘pitches tent’ in a pre-selected location where he holds his meetings in the ambience of an Arabian desert tent.
Kampala is awash with rumours about his possible plans to bring traditional leaders, chiefs, paramount chiefs and kings with him to further his own ambition to become the ‘king of kings’ in Africa and the Ugandan government will be careful on one side not to upset the powerful Gadaffi, whose investments in recent years in Uganda and Eastern Africa have sky rocketed, while keeping a keen watch on him and his plans, considering the sensitive relations between the Ugandan government and a few of their own traditional kingdoms trying to assert political influence in disregard of existing laws, which prohibit them from main stream political activities. Watch this space for more news from this exciting soap opera.
CITIZENS SUE NEMA AND CITY COUNCIL FOR FAILURE TO PROTECT WETLANDS
Three Ugandans have taken their disgust over the continued encroachment an destruction of vital wetlands to court, where they are now suing the Kampala City Council and the National Environmental Management Authority for failing to do their jobs properly.
The laws are in place but often either not enforced or enforced selectively, as is often alleged, in order to pursue ulterior motives and unknown agendas.
Details available indicated that since the time this correspondent arrived in Uganda in the early 1990’s almost 30 percent of wetlands have been encroached, built over, filled up with soil and murram or otherwise destroyed, when flower farms, residences, hotels and industries were built – in the process severely compromising the free flow of runoff water towards Lake Victoria. This has resulted in both flooding after heavy rains but also deprived the lake of the filtering function of swamps and wetlands, permitting pollutants to reach the lake waters untreated and now threatening fish breeding grounds. The same data show that the catchment area around Lake Victoria has reduced by over half over the same period, mainly attributed to the areas surrounding Entebbe and Kampala where pressure for more land continues to grow.
The same plaintiffs have also sued KCC over the council’s failure to repair potholes, citing several cases of damages to vehicles, a move surely liked by long suffering city residents who are at the mercy of hapless city fathers and whose constant complaints for ever fell on deaf ears.
US GOVERNMENT SUPPORTS TOURISM IN UGANDA
A USAID project unfolding in Uganda over the past months will be worth some 6 million US Dollars it was learned last week from sources close to the Uganda Tourist Board. In local currency this will translate into well over 12 billion Uganda Shillings and is aimed to promote Uganda’s biodiversity and attractions in the US market place, besides supporting initiatives in protecting crucial eco hotspots in the Albertine Rift, one of the branches of the Great African Rift Valley and promoting community involvement in the sector.
One of the envisaged added ‘products’ from the USAID project is supposed to focus on water based tourism, as Uganda is blessed by lakes and rivers, few of which are exploited or tapped into for tourism purposes as yet. Tourism, at least stake holders know this, has the capacity to generate additional jobs on the fast track while earning huge sums of foreign exchange for the country, last year estimated to have been over 700 million US Dollars from over 800.000 arrivals into the country. Government though has been keeping the sector on a short leash as far as budgetary allocations are concerned and in fact cut the budget for the Ministry of Tourism in real terms by about 20 percent, considering inflationary trends over the last 12 months, displaying a lack of understanding how to nurture the tourism industry while neighbouring countries are pouring record funds into facilitating marketing of their own destinations. Watch this space.
STAY PEACEFUL, REAP FROM TOURISM
This is the message sent across Kenya by tourism stakeholder, with an eye on the August referendum on a new constitution put before the Kenyan people to vote on. However, the country’s political elite is divided and two camps have emerged of almost equal strength, the ‘red’ NO campaign led by dissident government figures now threatened with the sack from cabinet and the ‘green’ YES campaign to which the majority of cabinet belong, no surprise considering that their jobs are on the line.
The referendum, expected to be hotly contested, will be a measure of maturity and can show the world that Kenya has indeed learned valuable lessons from the post election violence which threatened to sink the country into anarchy and had the tourism industry all but collapse – inspite of not a single tourist having come to harm in late 2007 and the first few weeks of 2008.
The Kenyan tourism sector is however reasonably confident that the two opposing camps will this time not resort to violence to change results and have professed their trust in due process. Much is at stake, as tourism has recovered since but at a high cost of working the global markets as intensely as never seen before, bringing record numbers of visitors to the country in the first 6 months of the year. Watch this space as updates, nearer to the referendum, will permit potential visitors to gain reassurance that indeed their travel plans can remain and need not be changed. Karibuni Kenya – Hakuna Matata …
STAKEHOLDERS NOW ACCUSE FOREIGN MINISTER OF HIDDEN AGENDA
Following reports here last week that tourism stakeholders in Kenya had taken issue with the incomprehensible statements made by the foreign minister in parliament, where he displayed a stark lack of knowledge how tourism works, they have now vowed to oppose any plans hatched by the foreign ministry to raise Visa fees in an underhand fashion and to advance their own agenda. Some sources, including very senior stakeholders in the sector, have openly said ‘irrational decisions should not be made without considering that the destination is still to fully recover’, referring to past years when the global economic and financial crisis and the post election violence of early 2008 wrecked arrival forecasts and threw the industry into turmoil. Other sources quoted several countries competing with Kenya, which allowed tourists into their countries ‘free of charge’ or charge less than what Kenya demands for a Visa while yet others said ‘let (foreign minister) Wetangula not solve his budget problems and ambitions at the expense of the tourism sector’.
The minister had incurred the wrath of tourism leaders when unjustifiably calling the country a ‘cheap destination’ and that halving the Visa charges last year as part of a recovery package ‘had lowered international esteem for Kenya’ and then reportedly needed to be talked to by his cabinet colleague from the tourism ministry to avoid further such lapses of judgement and making more such damaging and inflaming statements.
Kenya expects record arrivals this year and is looking at earnings in excess of one billion US Dollars from the tourism industry and captains of industry are loathing the idea that the recovery could be threatened and the hard earned progress in bringing Kenya back to ‘preferred destination status’ be halted or reversed. Watch this space.
PROPOSED PARK FEE RISES ‘THREATEN RECOVERY’
Tourism stakeholders in Kenya are preparing a second ‘battle’, when after vowing to advocate against a rise in Visa fees it became known that Kenya Wildlife Service too was eyeing a major increase in park entrance fees, which could reach 90 US Dollars a person a day in key parks during the high season.
KWS last week apparently broke their silence on their plans to raise fees and – when the plans were leaked to key stakeholders – rushed to the public to pre-empt negative publicity with their own media campaign.
In a proposed staggered increase over the next two years has KWS announced they were seeking a low and high season entrance fee, ranging for category one parks between 60 and 90 US Dollars a day, while some of the lesser visited parks would continue to attract lower fees of 50 US Dollars. However, under plans to ‘rebrand’ some of the parks these categories too may be revised in order to generate more income for those protected areas. Stakeholders have also expressed concern what such KWS increases may mean for parks managed by county councils, with an eye on the Masai Mara, which already charges at present 80 US Dollars per person per day. One usually reliable source did mention to this correspondent that the Narok county council has, behind closed doors, been toying with a 100 US Dollar charge, which if found correct – they are expected to tag on to the KWS move very soon – may sharply increase the cost of safaris to Kenya. Charges in neighbouring countries are still comparably lower but other competitive disadvantages keep the cost of photographic safaris there high too.
Tourism stakeholders are still reeling from accusations by the Kenyan foreign minister that the country has a ‘cheap’ reputation abroad, but while this may be true for some – but by no means all – beach holiday packages on inclusive tour charters, going on safari in Kenya is considered far from ‘cheap’ or ‘downmarket’ as the minister suggested recently. Attractive new award winning small safari properties have sprung up across Kenya in recent years, with some of the tariffs running up to 1.500 US Dollars per day, which are continuing to attract the rich and famous but also many ordinary folks, who at times save up for years at end to eventually afford their dream holiday, a ‘safari of a lifetime’. Watch this space to see how this pans out and if a compromise can be reached between tour and safari operators and KWS or if new tariffs are imposed on the industry regardless of these expressed concerns.
TOURING BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT VISITS KENYA AND TANZANIA
Following the premature exit of the Brazilian team from the recently concluded FIFA World Cup has their president Lula da Silva toured Eastern Africa on state visits – no longer being able to sit in the stadia and watch his national side. While in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam last week talks also focussed, besides trade cooperation, on aviation access between Brazil and East Africa, with Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport the most likely choice, should indeed air traffic be kick started again.
Until a few years ago Varig – the erstwhile international Brazilian airline – connected Nairobi to Brazil, but at present none of the ‘new’ carriers have even considered, according to reliable aviation sources in Nairobi, to fly to East Africa.
The visit by the Brazilian president also had added significance to the aviation sector as Kenya is presently the largest user of Embraer aircraft, which are of course produced in Brazil, operating three owned and two leased E170 jets and having just added two more E 190 jets through a lease arrangement via an American aircraft leasing company.
Visitors between the two countries presently can only connect via Johannesburg on the most direct route or otherwise have to go through European or other waypoints outside Africa.
PRECISION AIR PLANS IPO FOR LATE 2010
Tanzania’s premier privately owned airline Precision Air will issue an initial public offering of new shares later this year, aimed to increase the capitalization and bring institutional and private investors from Tanzania ‘on board’. Presently Kenya Airways holds 49 percent of the issued shares in the company and it is expected that – should the offer be taken up by the market as expected – this ratio may reduce to somewhere in the mid 30 percent margin. Kenya Airways itself is a publicly traded company on the East African stock and security exchanges and the ‘arrival’ on the stock market by Precision Air is another sign that airlines, well run airlines that is, can indeed make an economic success of their business inspite of challenging conditions, in country and in global terms.
Precision Air has in recent years embarked on a progressive fleet renewal and expansion, mainly using the French built ATR series but also added jet aircraft to offer destinations further abroad. The company has all but supplanted Air Tanzania as a de facto national airline, as ATCL is at the verge of going under, inspite of the occasional but half hearted efforts by government to keep the airline ‘afloat’. Precision is now flying a more extensive network than ATCL has ever done in the past, carries more passengers and operates more aircraft, offering the only ‘real’ choice for Tanzanians to reliably travel by air to the places they want to fly to.
Offering shares to the public will further underscore the standing Precision has achieved in recent years, respected by the aviation sector and appreciated to the point of being selected at Tanzania’s most respected company in past years. The company is now ‘airborne’ for over 16 years and has been a partner of Kenya Airways for the past 7 years, bringing mutual benefits for both companies. Jealous competitors and detractors on the political front have in the past however used the association with KQ to brand Precision a ‘Kenyan airline’, conveniently ignoring the fact that majority shares are held by a Tanzanian aviator and playing on cheap sentiments often used by the less successful to swing ‘a little something’ their way. Only a few days ago was the matter of ATCL’s revival again raised in parliament, but the comments made displayed an acute lack of understanding of the internal workings of the aviation industry, while the figures thrown around – over 500 million US Dollars were pegged for the revival of the erstwhile national carrier – frankly looked beyond government’s means and pockets. Other claims spoke of ‘tourism was suffering’ because of ATCL’s well near demise, again conveniently forgetting the growth of Precision Air and that they were carrying now more traffic than ATCL ever did before. But my oh my, I forgot, these same people are probably the ones calling Precision a ‘Kenyan airline’. My advice, buy some shares when Precision goes ‘public’ and then forever hold your peace as you can enjoy dividends from a private sector success story instead of depriving the nation of other services by opting for yet another rescue package for something clearly beyond rescue. Watch this space for future announcements of dates and details.
SAME OLD SENTIMENTS, SAME OLD FEARS
The onset of the East African Community Common Market has prompted old sentiments and fears to rear their ugly heads again amongst sections of Tanzanian tour and safari operators – but also amongst domestic and charter airlines ferrying tourists to the parks – that ‘the Kenyans are coming’ … this does not take into account the many years of preparation across Eastern Africa for the common market become a reality, and getting ready to compete on a region wide level, a stark reality for agribusinesses, manufacturers, banks, insurers and retail giants already. Investments across the region have gone up significantly with companies from EAC member states buying stakes or taking over companies to solidify their market position and take advantage of the now zero duty transactions when goods and services are ‘exported’ to other EAC countries [as long as rules of origin are met]. The tourism sector, as is the case with the aviation sector, however seems worst prepared of all major sectors and some stakeholders in Arusha are simply befuddled at present not being aware what impact the common market may bring for their companies and what options they have.
Non tariff barriers still exist, very much so in the aviation sector as recently revealed in another article, but also the safari operations sector and even the continued closure of the Bologonja border point for commercial traffic is rumoured to be entirely attributed to protecting Tanzanian safari business operators rather than, as publicly said, environmental concerns.
With the common market however now a reality, and non tariff barriers in the cross hairs of the EAC head quarters for progressive removals, it is only a matter of time now that true competition will unfold across the entire East Africa with companies being able to operate to any part of their neighbours’ countries – undoubtedly a bonus for consumers and tourists but also a challenge for those unprepared and still relying on and hoping for governmental protection. Watch upcoming reports on this subject as and when developments take place.
SERENGETI MUST NOT DIE
This ‘slogan’ coined by the late Prof. Dr. Grzimek is today more relevant than ever before, as one of the world’s best known transboundary ecosystems is under renewed threat. Poachers have in the past decimated animal populations but no threat so serious has even been seen to the integrity of the park and the annual migration of the wildebeest, zebras, other game and predators in their tow.
The million and a half of plains game MUST migrate to find food, and while early every year they congregate in the ‘low grass plains’ between the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where the calcium content in the grass is high, aiding the final development of their foetuses before they give mass birth. When the young ones have grown stronger, the entire population then begins to move north in search of fresh pasture and eventually, once a year, end up crossing the border with Kenya every year in June / July as they enter the Masai Mara Game Reserve. There, for weeks at end, they sweep across the reserve like a giant natural lawn mower, feeding on high grass and gaining strength to commence their return journey by September / October, leaving but a few thousands behind who have become ‘resident’.
The proposed route of the highway, which when ready is expected to see hundreds of trucks thunder across the plains, is running almost parallel to the border and the impact of such a highway is thought to decimate the big herds to a few hundred thousands, some researchers claim as few as two hundred thousand, effectively killing off tourism and leading to the loss of predators too which depend on the great migration.
A government mouth piece has last week again tried to defend the undefendable, fending off questions why the road should not lead around the southern edge of the Serengeti, where it is understood it would serve a very substantially larger population, but like a well trained parrot the spokesperson could only repeat what his masters had drilled into him.
Leading global conservation NGO’s like AWF, WWF, the Frankfurt Zoo, zoos across the world and multilateral organisations like the World Bank have already expressed their most serious concern over these plans but – this being a pre election year – the government of Tanzania showed little concern so far to yield to the pressure and settle for the less controversial southern route. A full EIA is expected to be carrier out soon but going by precedence, when a project of such magnitude beckons, the results are often appearing to have been predetermined to serve the ends rather than letting fact speak.
Read these related links for more information and sign on to the petition pages via Facebook’s Stop the Serengeti Highway’ – the animals and future generations of humans will thank you undoubtedly.
HELICOPTER SERVICES EYE MERGER
The two licensed helicopter operations on the main island of Mahe, Helicopter Seychelles and Zil Air, have recently commenced discussions of a joint venture operation, which would make better use of resources and streamline administration and operation of both companies, aimed to improve bottom line performance for the shareholders of the two companies. The focus of the new company, which will bring the current resources of both under one management ‘roof’ will be service excellence and ‘safety first’, two key ingredients of a customer oriented business where demand – or the absence of it – still largely dictates terms and conditions. A new website will be launched when the upcoming venture goes ‘airborne’, but meanwhile can more information be accessed about helicopter services across the archipelago via www.helicopterseychelles.com and www.zilair.com – Happy Landings to the new outfit!
SEYCHELLES GETS ADDITIONAL MARINE PATROL VESSEL
The British government has supported the Seychellois anti piracy effort with a gift of another naval vessel, which was baptised ‘Fortune’ over the weekend. The extensive waters around the archipelago are posing a particular challenge to the Seychellois coast guard and navy and while aerial survey capacity has been boosted in the recent past, to guide vessels towards suspicious boats entering the archipelago’s waters, more capacity was needed on the surface.
The handover ceremony was attended by government officials, senior staff of the Seychelles security forces and diplomats accredited to the country, as well as officials from the naval coalition fighting Somali pirates, aka ocean terrorists and defending Seychellois territorial integrity. The 27 ton vessel can effectively patrol the ‘near’ side of the boundaries of the archipelago and the so called inner islands, which include Mahe, and will carry a crew of 7. The vessel will be equipped to respond to threats and then also alert other assets to engage, should this be necessary, in hot pursuit of intruders.
It is understood that the Seychelles government is using the friendly relations with other seafaring nations to procure more such naval assets to boost internal capacity of surveillance and defence of the waters of the 200 nautical mile economic exclusion zone.
The Seychelles are one of the few countries to decisively engage Somalia’s ocean terrorists at sea, and a few months ago rescuing a hijacked boat used as a mothership, subsequently arresting them and putting them on trial for piracy and terrorism at high seas. Keep up the good work!
NEW TOURISM BOARD CEO GIVES INTERVIEW TO ETN
eTN managed to catch up last week with Mr. Alan St. Ange, recently appointed Chief Executive of the Seychelles Tourist Board, to get his perspective on tourism developments across the archipelago, and here are his response to eTN’s question:
Q: You have now been with STB for just over a year, tell us what challenges you found waiting for you back then in 2009
A St.Ange: When I was mandated to head the Marketing of Seychelles in March 2009, I found an organisation stuck a bit in the past with one or two strong personalities and allowing the known attributes of Seychelles to work by themselves to promote the islands. With the support of the Industry’s Private Sector, we moved to empower the Team in the Marketing Department of the Tourism Board, thus moving from having a strong personality to a strong Team. We then moved to reposition Seychelles to break the perception that we were but a destination for the rich and famous. We had to tell the world of the ‘Affordable Seychelles’ that Seychelles that offered a dream holiday with accommodation establishments for every budget, and this we did through a series of Press Conferences right round the world at the same time as we used our Unique Selling Points to help us showcase our islands. We then worked with our Tour Operators to get them to believe in our destination and bring that much needed confidence back.
Q: That sounds like a Mt. Everest to climb … how did you go about meeting these challenges, what new ideas did you bring to STB to recapture your traditional markets, to work new and emerging markets
A St.Ange: Yes it was a challenge, but one that the Industry’s Private Sector believed could be overcome if attacked from the concerted efforts by the Government and the Industry. The move by President James Michel to bring about this first in Africa, where the Government hands over the main pillar of its economy to the private sector paved the way to redress the shortfalls of the past. The Board of the Industry’s Private Sector under the Chairmanship of Louis D’Offay worked alongside the Tourism Board’s Marketing Department. Their CEO, Jenifer Sinon, supported my team’s new drive, and it was this new spirit of togetherness that helped Seychelles Tourism relaunch itself. Seychelles needed to knock on the doors of its traditional main markets, and it needed to open new markets. We knew that tourism was a people’s industry, and that it would be strong when the Team managing it was strong. Early, in the pace, we launched the target to have Seychellois sell Seychelles, because they do that with their heart. We then gave our main regions a Seychellois Director of Tourism to work alongside our Tour Operators, Travel Agents and the Press. We appointed Bernadette Willemin to Head Europe, David Germain for Africa and the Americas and Myrna Michel for Asia, Australasia inclusive of India. The rest we oversaw from our headoffice in Seychelles. We then looked at what we had as promotional collateral and revamped them to be more eye catching with pictures used because they would be selling Seychelles. We knew that we had one of the world’s prettiest islands, and we moved to let our pictures do the talking for us. We believed in the saying that ‘pictures speak a thousand words’, so we decided to let pictures of the world’s most beautiful islands speak to all our potential visitors.
This is what we used to help us move to offer new ideas and new partnerships including the launching of Regional twin centre packages with main land Africa and with our neighbouring islands destinations.
Q: What support did you get for all these innovations and activities, from government, from private sector, from corporate bodies like Air Seychelles, other airlines flying to Mahe, the ferry company, The Seychelles Island Foundation, Nature Seychelles, Seychelles National Parks etc
A St.Ange: Support for the Tourism Industry surpassed everything previously seen in Seychelles. The Government moved every barrier to support our relaunch drive. The President of the Republic, Mr James Michel personally addressed the opening ceremony of the 2010 Tourism Marketing Meeting in January. This was itself a first for Seychelles to see the Head of State move to address the Industry and present his government’s vision at such a public forum. The Private Sector’s support was also so needed to consolidate the Tourism Board’s new found successes. Initially they supported financially, then they brought to us their own respective services to support our marketing campaigns. We benefited with complimentary accommodation, transfers etc for our visiting Press, Travel Agents and Tour Operators. But the private sector also worked hard on the Marketing Board, the corporate body that oversees our new marketing drive. They also participate, and continue to participate with the Tourism Board at key Tourism Trade Fairs the world over. Without their support and participation, we could not and would not have been present at so many tourism trade fairs in the four corners of the world. Air Seychelles and other airlines flying to Seychelles have all worked with the Tourism Board to support the efforts of the marketing of Seychelles. For example we benefit from a block number of seats from Air Seychelles for our marketing and sales needs. They also offer the Tourism Board staff and the private sector stakeholders specially reduced airfares for attending trade fairs or workshops etc. This type of support is much needed and we are presently appealing to other airlines to also come forward, because the more we are supported in our drive, the more we can support their own commercial efforts. The same can be said for our fast Inter Island Ferries. Both ‘Cat Cocos’ on their Mahe to Praslin run, and ‘Cat Roses’ on their Praslin to La Digue run have been so supportive and provided us with complimentary tickets for our marketing needs. For the Bodies managing our marine and terrestrial national parks here we discussed at length and we are happy with some and less happy with others. We have always said that if we do not get visiting Press and Tour Operators to see these natural assets and attractions, these respective organisations will be the losers in the long term, because the Tourism Board will not be paying entrance fees at these facilities only for them to get more publicity out of our efforts if they do not equitably share in the expense. We have told these operators over and over again, that when they are not seen anymore, and when they are not spoken about everywhere, they will be moved out of the main tourism runs, and they will be the ones to suffer financially. New attractions are always being introduced and we shall work and push those who are supportive of the Seychelles marketing drive.
One partner that we owe a lot to for our successes is the Press, both local and international. The local media kept the industry informed of Tourism Board’s actions, and the people of Seychelles were, on their part, kept informed on the new developments in their country’s main industry. This has given us a positive momentum, and this has helped us rally the country behind our efforts, unite behind our new drive. The foreign press, including your very own e-Turbo News have visited Seychelles in great numbers, and as we have always said that Seychelles has nothing to hide. Visiting press have become true Ambassadors for Seychelles when they return to their own base countries. This has also brought Seychelles into the limelight because it was that visibility we were after and that is what we get from all our press friends around the world.
Q: Sounds very impressive indeed, a strong coalition all in support of tourism … how then did you end your first year in charge, in terms of arrivals and in terms of revenues – the latter quite important as surely you had to make concessions on pricing
A St.Ange: The restructured Seychelles Tourism Board ended its first year of operation on a high. A forecast of minus 25% in visitor arrival numbers on the 2008 figures had been spoken about and predicted. The final results from the new structure at the Tourism Board, and from its revised marketing drive brought this drop in visitor arrival numbers to a small minus of just under 1% over the 2008 figures. Important to place on record is that by the month of March 2009, at the time the Tourism Board’s restructuring by President James Michel was announced, Seychelles had been experiencing an 18% drop in its visitor arrival numbers. In terms of revenue Seychelles as well has been affected because we are dependent on tourists coming mainly from countries today being affected by economic difficulties. We had to relook at our costs to bring down our packages for a Seychelles Holiday. We finished 2009 with a drop in revenue, but one that was not as drastic that it could have been had we not redressed the visitor arrival numbers.
Q: Earlier this year STB started appointing tourism ambassadors, recently you added some more – how is this initiative paying off for the Seychelles to have ‘your own’ involved in marketing abroad
A St.Ange: The Seychelles Tourism Ambassadors program was an initiative to get our people empowered to work for Seychelles anywhere in the world they were now living and working. We initiated a program known as ‘Once a Seychellois…always a Seychellois’ and we have rallied some 98 Seychellois in 27 countries so far to defend our country’s tourism industry. How is that initiative paying off you ask, well we at STB were overtaken by their enthusiasm, commitment and ability. Most have today moved ‘mountains’ and are working hard for their country. We see articles in newspapers from as far as Michigan in the USA and in Nantes in France about Seychelles following interviews with our Tourism Ambassadors. We see tourism workshops from as far as Perth in Australia, in La Reunion, in Cape Town in South Africa, in Kampala in Uganda and in different cities in Tanzania. We have seen many such positive involvements from our Tourism Ambassadors, and we have seen new drives in different USA Cities, in the UK, in France etc. Most of the 90 plus accredited Tourism Ambassadors are on the move and Seychelles is benefiting. Earlier we spoke about tourism being a people’s industry, this Tourism Ambassador’s program is working because of that fundamental principle.
Q: you also redrew the ‘map’ of responsibilities for your STB staff dealing with overseas markets – explain what rationale you used to geographically restructure sales and marketing focus
A St.Ange: We assessed our Staff and we re-evaluated our markets based on their existing or potential importance. After appointing three Tourism Directors to cover Europe, Africa & the Americas and Asia & Australasia we looked at our work distributions at headoffice to better coordinate the work in each of our markets. We today have a structure that reflects the markets we have, and in place we have capable marketing executives at work to further develop these markets. We can say that ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ and our marketing style and approach is working because the visitor arrival numbers is showing positive growth.
Q: what new products are you working on besides the ‘traditional’ sun and sand, fishing, sailing. There seems untapped potential as far as the terrestrial national park on Mahe is concerned – any plans for that?
A St.Ange: After our January marketing meeting we knew we had to bring out our niche markets. Seychelles is more than the ‘sun, sea and sand’ holiday even though we know that we have the best in this holiday category. As we continue to win ‘best beach’ awards because we simply have the world’s best beaches. We have the clearest and cleanest turquoise blue seas because, with our small population of only eighty six thousand we do not know pollution and yes, we have sun year round and have NO Winter, which has given us the tag line of ‘the land of perpetual summer’. These great attributes are yet surpassed by other attractions which make Seychelles unique. We know that we have been shy in telling the world all the assets of our country. This is why we coined recently “From the Big Five… to the Best Five”. This followed the Big Five Marketing Campaign for Africa and it reaffirmed our twin centre drive with Africa that says that after an African safari photographing the Big Five a short flight away takes you to the Best Five of the World:- 1. the Diversity of Islands because Seychelles offers two island destinations, the only mid ocean granitic islands and a large group of very tropical coral islands, 2. the best white sandy beaches, 3. the land of perpetual summer with no winter, no cyclones etc, 4. the clear turquoise blue seas offering unrivalled swimming and home of a living aquarium, & 5. the diversity of our people, because Seychelles has a unique blend of people called ‘Seychellois’ where colour plays no part in daily life. Seychelles lives the rainbow nation appeal launched by South Africa.
Over and above that we have uniqueness in nature from our magical largest nut of the world, the ’Coco de Mer’, to the largest colony of Giant Tortoises, to the world’s smallest frog, to the Gentle Giant, the Whale Shark. We are a haven for ornithologist with many endemic birds, a paradise for fishing enthusiasts both big game fishing experts and bone fishing specialists, walks in tropical forests right up to the 3000 feet summit of our highest mountain, the Morne Seychellois, to our food, the result of a unique blend of people, etc.
But above all Seychelles is what it is, picturesque. We remain one destination when you land you say that the pictures do not do justice to the natural beauty of the islands, unlike so many other destinations you cannot but say after landing that the country does not do justice to the pictures you had seen.
Q: How important is Air Seychelles to the marketing campaigns of STB … there were some public arguments over foreign airlines, their landing slots at Mahe … and Air Seychelles had to drop Frankfurt as a route stop due to aggressive pricing by other airlines trying to pick up traffic via their hubs … yet in times of economic crisis it is only Air Seychelles you can really rely on to continue flying …
A St.Ange: Our country’s national airline, Air Seychelles, has a special place in the heart of every Seychellois. We are all proud of it and we all want to see it consolidate its operation. Air Seychelles was conceived to be the insurance of the country’s tourism industry. That mission is so important and we need to ensure it can remain so. They are very supportive of our Marketing Drive and they have their place in all our activities.
As a country, we protect our national airline, [but] we also need to see more openness to air access to ensure we have tourists numbers arriving from the four corners of the world. Seychelles needs to diversify its markets to keep us progressing even when a main market closes down as was the case during this year’s ’ash crisis’. This is why the tourism industry as a whole, and the Tourism Board, are open to the idea of more flights serving Seychelles. We need air access, because as a small mid ocean country, we shall become the ideal destination when we are accessible from everywhere at anytime. Daily flights by Emirates was supported by us, because it gave us the possibility of saying ‘land at any day in Seychelles by Emirates from anywhere in the world’. The same support we offer to Air Seychelles for their Paris connection, because they are the only airline we have that offers a direct ’nonstop’ service between Seychelles and French capital.
Q: You were recently elevated from Director of Tourism Marketing to Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles Tourist Board, and got a new board chairman too … how do you rate this move by government (still to be confirmed by parliament it is understood) towards your work to promote the islands, and the partnership between government and private sector. Was this not a demand made by SHTA earlier in the year during the marketing conference, when President Michel presided over the opening?
A St.Ange: My promotion to the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles Tourism Board was a positive step for me personally. It was, I believe a recognition on how I successfully led the Country’s Marketing Team, and for the success we have achieved for Seychelles. In that recent restructure the Seychelles Tourism Board also got a new Chairman in the person of Mr Barry Faure, the Secretary of State in the President’s Office and the country’s President, Mr James Michel has kept the tourism portfolio under his own responsibility. This showed the importance being accorded to the Seychelles tourism industry.
This move will send the positive to the trade that their industry is receiving the personal attention of the Head of State. A positive trade works closer with their Tourism Board and the marketing of Seychelles can only benefit as a result. My appointment as CEO of the Tourism Board will help consolidate the existing partnership between the government and the private sector because it was the trade that initially moved to have me appointed to head the marketing of the islands. Today it is their man who has been promoted to head the Tourism Board and that move by the Government will reassure the private sector. The demand of the private sector was not for me to be appointed as the Industry’s CEO, they were after giving more autonomy to the Marketing Department of the Tourism Board to keep bureaucracy out of selling Seychelles. Today we can work to keep buereaucracy out of the administration of the tourism industry and bring about a lean and efficient tourism administration.
Q: Jobs for Seychellois … an understandable slogan … how is the Seychelles Tourism Academy coping with the demand for well trained citizens, refresher courses for staff already working, in view of ever more resorts and hotels being built and opened. Can they deliver the numbers of skilled personnel the hospitality industry needs or will the Seychelles remain an importer of labour for some time to come
A St.Ange: Training our young Seychellois is an important part of the work of the Tourism Board because we need to have our people in positions in the hospitality trade. Seychellois must benefit from their industry and capable Seychellois must be introduced to this fun industry. We also need our people in the forefront of our hotels otherwise our visitors will not know which country they are in upon check-in. We have to remain realistic that we are but a small country with a very small population so we will always need foreign employees to supplement our shortfalls. But we need to be training and training to ensure that our people have an equal chance to be employed in the industry that remains the pillar of the country’s economy.
Q: Some man made island developments, like Eden Island, have now neared completion … how do such new concepts of owned apartments, residences and villas fit into promoting the Seychelles abroad and are there more such developments coming up
A St.Ange: Villa Developments are a new niche that was previously untapped. They will need to be managed and adequate legislation looked at to ensure they do not become just de facto hotels because of owners renting them on to friends and the country benefits nothing from it as licensed hotels lose potential clients. It is a fine line we have to walk, but a walk we need to take because we want to see these developments consolidate themselves, but not at the detriment of existing businesses. They would need to be licensed and then pay their appropriate taxes if they want to develop a rental business.
This is needed to help move forward with this concept of owned apartments, residences and villas.
Do they fit into our promotion you ask, yes they do. Every good property fits in and these villa developments can play a part in the ‘affordable Seychelles’ promotion. But to have such an immediate increase in available rooms in our accommodation block will push us to look for increased airline seats to Seychelles. We need to work fast to grow the tourism cake so that every establishment can get their required share of the business and the key in growing the tourism cake, is air access. This is why the Seychelles Tourism Board will be working hard to bring to Seychelles more flights and also flights from new countries.
Q: how many new resorts are presently under construction across the archipelago – and where do your reach saturation point … after all resources are finite, water, locations, supplies, skilled labour … tell us about the ceiling you have set on maximum arrival numbers of – what I understand – are about twice as many as presently visiting per year …
A St.Ange: Today we have a number of Seychellois small establishments on the drawing board and under construction, but we also have a couple of known branded hotel resorts coming up. As these get ready for opening, yes the Tourism Board with the various authorities responsible for the different government services need to ensure that needed services are adequately supplied. It is not just approving hotels for construction but working in close collaboration with the different government bodies to ensure we are ready and able as a country to provide the required services and these include sufficient airline seats serving Seychelles.
Today we have visitor arrival numbers that have reached about the double of our population. This sounds a lot, but we have a very small population (86000), and tourism, the main industry we have, needs to be developed, managed and consolidated to remain the viable industry needed for years to come. This is why the protection of our environment is so important and why we have to include this aspect in our development strategies.
Q: when you reach this ceiling, will demand and supply be simply regulated over pricing mechanisms … after all, from that point onward there will only be refurbishments, maybe complete re-buildings at sites already occupied by hotels and resorts but NO MORE additional beds …
A St.Ange: Seychelles will look and relook at its target in visitor arrival numbers. Seychelles will need to ensure that our accommodation network is continuously upgraded so that we do not have a ‘bad apple in our basket’ that rots the whole basket. More hotels, that will suit Seychelles and hotels that will help open up more of our islands, today still uninhabited, are needed and are welcomed. Pricing in Seychelles is crucial and will always remain so. We are a destination know as a dream destination, but we cannot just take it for granted and price ourselves out of the market because we are not delivering value for money. We are lucky because we are one of the few destinations able to offer personalised tourism because of the number of tourists we welcome. We are not a mass market tourism destination and will never be so, this will keep our destination as one that will be sought after for years to come, but we need to be us, Seychellois.
Q: There are elections coming up soon, do you expect this to have any influence on the performance of the tourism industry
A St.Ange: Elections are trying moments in any tourism destinations. Seychelles is very politicised, but everyone in Seychelles is aware, and everyone remains conscious that our country depends on tourism and I do not believe that anyone will try to do any campaigning that will disrupt the tourism growth we are today experiencing. I have always appealed for not politicising our tourism industry. If we continue to leave politics out of tourism we should ride the next election wave whenever that arrives.
Q: on a more personal basis, what is your industry back ground in tourism, what were you doing before you were joining STB
A St.Ange: I have had a long career in the tourism industry of my country. I studied hotel management in Germany and Tourism Management in France and I have worked in hotels and resorts in Seychelles, Channel Islands and Australia. In the early 1980s I was in the Government employment and was then the Assistant Director of Tourism.
I have also been very involved in the industry’s Seychelles Hospitality and Tourism Association holding various positions including that of Chairman and Vice Chairman, the latter position I was only re-elected to earlier this year. I have also had a political involvement in the development of the Seychelles. In 1979 I was elected as Member of the People’s Assembly to represent the La Digue Island Constituency and in 2002 I was again elected a Member of the National Assembly to represent the Bel Air Constituency, this time on the island of Mahe.
Q: have you had any vacation since you started, and if so, where would you spend your time off
A St.Ange: Not since I took office at the Tourism Board in March 2009. I have not had the time to take a break. It was the first year and so much needed to be done. Later on this year, after we have completed the reorganisation of the Seychelles Tourism Board, I intend to take a break and join my wife to be with my two daughters who are residing in Queensland, Australia.
Q: any renewed political ambitions when you hand over the baton of leadership in a couple of years?
A St.Ange: Politics if done well is a calling to help your people. The call to participate often happens when one least expects. There are different ways in which you can also help your people. Today I have been mandated to consolidate the tourism industry of Seychelles, the industry that remains the pillar of the Seychelles economy. It is a responsibility I intend to discharge with the help and support of my core team at the Tourism Board. Do I have any political ambition you ask, well I can tell you that I have been there and done that. Very early in age I was already in our country’s parliament, a seat I regained in 2002. I love politics and believed I was a good Member of Parliament representing the two constituencies were I was elected from. For the future, I need to do what is on my plate first.
Q: What legacy do you want to leave behind for STB, for Seychelles Tourism over all…
A St.Ange: This question is often raised at the Tourism Board by my core team. I am hoping to be instrumental to build a team that will do Seychelles proud by being the ones who delivered on the mandate given to us. The legacy is to have a team that is empowered to deliver and that will be strong to continue to deliver way after I am gone. For the country’s tourism industry, I wish to be part of manoeuvring to get Seychellois to claim ownership of their tourism industry. This is so important if we are to have a long lasting tourism industry. We need to get Seychellois involved at all levels of the Seychelles tourism industry.
I am saying that as much as the country needs foreign investments for our continued development, for a healthier future of Seychelles we also need get more of our people involved in the industry. We also need side industries developed and these reserved for Seychellois nationals. We need to work to bring amendments to encourage our young people to get directly involved in the tourism industry by making it easy for them. This would ensure that the whole country stands behind the Seychelles tourism industry. This would be the best and most rewarding legacy I could leave behind for the Seychelles Tourism.
Thank you for your time – we, eTurboNews, were speaking with Mr. Alain St. Ange, Chief Executive Officer at the Seychelles Tourist Board
And in closing again some material taken from Gill Staden’s ‘The Livingstone Weekly’ – enjoy and thanks Gill for your untiring efforts to publicise material from ‘further down south’ …
Elephant Orphanage, Kafue National Park
The first of May marked Batoka’s official 2nd birthday! His age has been estimated mostly through analysis of his dentition but also by looking at his tusk and general body development. Since his arrival at the EOP in November Batoka has constantly progressed in his physical repair and development, as well as in his relationship with the other ele’s.
On his arrival to EOP Batoka was very skinny, with nearly all his ribs showing and his hips and shoulders significantly protruding. His skin was very thin and patchy – just rubbing himself against a tree would cause his skin to rip and bleed! Due to the malnourishment before his rescue his body had used all his energy just to stay alive, and there was nothing extra remaining to further his growth or condition.
Now after 6 months of life at EOP – where he hungrily drinks 2L milk formula (containing specialised minerals and fats) every three hours and spends all day browsing and grazing in the lush vegetation of KNP – Batoka has gained much weight, condition and even growth!
In the first couple of months here Batoka’s body set to repair itself, then a growth spurt began and he is now visibly bigger all over (he has grown from 119cm to 124cm high at the shoulder). His skin is now much thicker all over his body and the hairs dispersed throughout the body are growing stronger and thicker. It is fantastic to see this change in his physical appearance, though what I find equally as compelling is how he now interacts with the other ele’s. RM
Although Chodoba, Chamilandu and Tafika were all interested and friendly to Batoka on his arrival, he did not respond so well to them. It seemed that after a month of isolation (on an island in the Zambezi
River) Batoka felt totally dejected and very sorry for himself – he always had a sad look on his face and initially would not join in to play with the other ele’s – he just focused all his attention on eating.
But things have slowly changed – as Batoka has grown in confidence and security at EOP, he has become more boisterous and playful with the others and it now seems he is really a part of the family. As they are let out of their stables in the early mornings (their most active and excitable time) all the ele’s can be seen play-fighting and dust bathing together – with Batoka really taking part in all the activity.
We are sure that as time goes on his relationship with the others will grow from strength to strength…
Tafika may be the smallest of the EOP herd, but he is by far the cheekiest and makes up for his size by being the biggest personality! Tafika craves to be the centre of attention, whether that is with the other ele’s or his Keepers, he has to be involved if he thinks something is going on. In the early mornings he is the first to initiate a fight! Albeit a play-fight, he will run up to whoever is standing closest and proceed to ram them with his head!
His Keepers stand back to laugh, as little Tafika is even so bold as to challenge Chodoba! Chodoba (now a
hefty 5½ years old) has learnt to have a great deal of patience since Tafika ‘Arrived’ at EOP, and usually suffers quite a lot of bashes to his body before he finally slaps Tafika smartly with his trunk, an inaudible
“Enough’s enough!” However as he takes a moment to dust bath, Tafika will inevitably be there to catch him while he’s down!
FLOODGATES TO CLOSE
WILD ZAMBEZI is informed that The Zambezi River Authority willclose the three floodgates of Kariba Dam on Monday 12th July 2010.
Although this will bring an end to the dramatic spectacle ofwater powering out of the vast 128-metre-high wall of concrete, sending spray up into the Kariba Gorge, it will bring relief to people and animals downstream, where the Zambezi River is the highest it has been for decades. Many settlements and riverside safari camps on both sides of the river have been inundated this season and animals have been stranded on islands, desperately waiting for the floods to abate.
BUFFALO CRISIS ON THE ZAMBEZI RIVER
First Starvation Island… now the Zambezi River. Emergency rescue efforts are now underway by conservationists to save hundreds of grazing animals including herds of buffalo, waterbuck and impala stranded and starving on islands in the middle of the fast-flowing and flooded Zambezi River downstream of Kariba Dam offshore of Mana Pools.
With three of the dam’s floodgates still open and the river its highest in decades, animals trapped on islands dare not brave the strong currents to swim back to the mainland. But the river levels will not go down until the floodgates close. Having cropped the available grass down to the ground, most of them are now too weak to move. Some have perished already. But an alarm was raised and help came quickly.
In response to an emergency appeal put out by The Zambezi Society, assistance came in the form of donations of fuel, transport, hay and other animal foodstuffs. A team of volunteers moved swiftly to get everything up to Mana Pools where National Parks deployed two boats to transport the food to the islands. It took some time for the animals to recognise this strange substance as food, but latest reports say that they have started eating.
The rescue effort will continue until the end of July, by which time the Kariba floodgates should be closed, the river levels should have gone down and the animals should be strong enough to swim.
Anyone wishing to contribute to this rescue effort should contact the Zambezi Society offices in Harare: see this link: The Zambezi Society
Online donations can be made through the Zambezi Society’s partners in the UK (Save the Rhino International) at this link:http://www.savetherhino.org/eTargetSRINM/site/568/default.aspx (select Zimbabwe-Zambezi Society as a Project and Buffalo crisis (Zamsoc) as the Sub-Project).