Per definition, ecotourism (also written eco tourism) is tourism directed towards exotic, often threatened natural environments and is intended to support conservation efforts while tourists get to enjoy observing the local wildlife. It is often referred to as a subset of the tourism industry and specifically, is a form of sustainable tourism or responsible tourism.

According to TIES (The International Ecotourism Society), ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”

More on ‘What Is Ecotourism?’ and All It Entails

Ecotourism is becoming increasingly popular in today’s eco-conscious day and age. Travellers are intent on knowing that their holidays have minimal to no impact on protected areas or the environment they are visiting. It involves travel to natural destinations or protected areas in order to experience activities that are environmentally friendly and of little to no impact to the environment. The primary focus is on learning about and experiencing the environment, culture, fauna, and flora of an area and wherein doing so contributes to the economic and social development of local communities.

There are several key characteristics of ecotourism. They are:

  1. Ecotourism contributes to the preservation of biodiversity
  2. Ecotourism sustains local communities economically
  3. Ecotourism involves responsible actions for tourists and the tourism industry
  4. Ecotourism uses minimal natural resources, minimising the carbon footprint
  5. Ecotourism increases the participation of local communities in tourism
  6. Eco tourists respect local cultures, seek to view rare species and spectacular landscapes
  7. Ecotourism involves learning opportunities and experiences for tourists

Ecotourism and Conservation

Ecotourism contributes to conservation of natural and cultural resources and protected areas. This aids in the protection of endangered species of said protected areas. Many private game reserves are home to protected environments and thus tourists aid in the conservation of the species by travelling to those local areas.

A rhino at Shamwari Private Game Reserve

Why is Shamwari an Ideal Ecotourism Destination?

Shamwari Private Game Reserve, located within the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, is a protected environment due to its impressive conservation efforts since its inception. In 1990, the reserve acquired a small 1,200-hectare farm. Shortly afterwards, drought and financial difficulties led to more neighbouring farmers placing their land on the market and Shamwari further acquired a total of 7,000 hectares of land.

For 25 years, Shamwari has been actively restoring both the wildlife and flora, eradicating alien vegetation and striving to create an atmosphere where nature can flourish. Today, the reserve comprises of 7 luxury lodges and 1 explorer camp, 2 different education and rehabilitation facilities and employs over 325 local staff.

Staying at Shamwari means you are participating in and experiencing an immensely successful conservation project of local natural areas. We are passionate about providing our guests with a once in a lifetime experience while focusing on ecotourism best practices.

Guests swimming at a Shamwari pool overlooking the reserve

Shamwari’s Successful Conservation Initiatives: Ecotourism at Work

The Eastern Cape was historically known as one of the richest areas in terms of wildlife biodiversity. However, many species were eradicated by hunters and settlers across the environment. Pristine and agricultural local land was consolidated and rehabilitated by Shamwari’s Wildlife Department into a functioning ecosystem.

There are several conservation initiatives that Shamwari is globally recognised for:

The Reintroduction of Species and Ecotourism

The acquisition of land, the arrival of the first animals, the reintroduction of mega-herbivores and the return of the first large predators to the Eastern Cape since their eradication over a century ago, are some of the highlights for Shamwari. Remaining local wild animal species could grow in numbers and many locally extinct species were reintroduced.

The environment at Shamwari is home to five out of the seven biomes found in South Africa, making it a suitable location for a variety of animal species. Large numbers of ungulates sustain a healthy population of lions, cheetahs, and the elusive leopards. Shamwari’s grasslands are home to the white rhinos and the reserve’s subtropical thicket provides browsing for the elephants and black rhinos. Hippos are found in the riverine habitat.

The reintroduction of the red billed ox-pecker is a huge success story. These feathered friends are now a common sight on buffalos, rhinos, and giraffes once again. Additionally, the fate of the flightless dung beetle, which is unique to the Eastern Cape, can be seen as another conservation success story.

The Wildlife Department is continuously looking for innovations to improve, grow and enhance the local ecology and the land. We believe in responsible conservation and ecotourism practices to ensure sustainability – financially, ecologically as well as socially – for the natural world and cultural communities surrounding the reserve.

Feeding the Local Communities and Ecotourism

 A significant part of ecotourism is ultimately the part it plays in aiding and empowering local communities. Shamwari Private Game Reserve can be seen harnessing virtual technology to showcase its wildlife and help raise funds to alleviate the suffering of rural Eastern Cape communities.

The COVID-19 shutdown has had a massive impact on the travel and tourism that are mainstays of the local area’s economy. But Shamwari’s online safaris are entertaining thousands around the world while allowing them to donate toward food-parcels for families in the nearby towns of Alicedale and Paterson – areas that are especially impacted by poverty in the Eastern Cape right now.

Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries and Ecotourism

 In collaboration with the Born Free Foundation, the Big Cat Rescue and Education Centres aim to draw attention to the plight of wild cats, confined in impoverished, captive environments throughout the world. It can be a truly heart-warming experience seeing how far these once maltreated big cats have come on their journey to a better life.

Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries and Ecotourism

 In collaboration with the Born Free Foundation, the Big Cat Rescue and Education Centres aim to draw attention to the plight of wild cats, confined in impoverished, captive environments throughout the world. It can be a truly heart-warming experience, seeing how far these once maltreated big cats have come on their journey to a better life.

Shamwari’s Anti-poaching Unit and Ecotourism

 Out of both a love for our animals and necessity, Shamwari has developed an efficient and highly effective anti-poaching unit over the years. The unit follows a proactive approach through intelligence gathering to prevent any incidents while simultaneously actively protecting the fauna and flora of the reserve through a dedicated and passionate team.

Members of the Shamwari anti poaching unit

The Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and Ecotourism

 The Shamwari Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is amongst the best in Southern Africa and is fully registered to provide veterinary care to young, abandoned, orphaned, or injured animals in areas that surround the reserve. There is no entrance fee, as a visit to this centre is included in your stay. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre does, however, always appreciate any donations.

Volunteering at Shamwari to the Benefit of Ecotourism

Shamwari Conservation Experience offers volunteers, career break, gap, and adventure travel guests the opportunity to partake in several behind the scenes wildlife and conservation management projects while supporting ecotourism. Participation also includes the championing of locally impoverished communities, which forms part of a greater social and cultural responsibility drive to uplift and empower those living in and around Shamwari Private Game Reserve.

Shamwari is an ideal destination to travel to for those looking for a luxurious, yet eco-conscious and cultural holiday. It’s a destination in which guests’ money goes towards further conservation efforts and helping local communities. Ecotourism is really a fantastic way of benefitting yourself, the environment and local communities.

The Core Duties of Shamwari’s Wildlife Department

Responsible management and long-term ecological sustainability are a priority for Shamwari’s dedicated Wildlife Department when it comes to upholding some core values of ecotourism. There are three core duties that the team is responsible for:

  1. Experienced Staff and Anti-Poaching Units – Experienced veterinary staff, qualified ecologists and some of the most advanced anti-poaching units in the country are responsible for the management of Shamwari’s ecosystem.
  2. Vegetation and Animal Monitoring – Intensive vegetation monitoring is complemented with sophisticated monitoring of threatened animal species such as leopards, black rhinos and brown hyenas.
  3. Animal Translocation and Husbandry Facilities – The Shamwari Wildlife Department is well-equipped with animal translocation and husbandry facilities. This ensures successful and humane transfers of excess animals to other reserves to preserve their genetic biodiversity. After all, ecotourism is all about helping out others and preserving the environment. 

The Benefits of Ecotourism

 Travellers are always looking for their next memorable experience, but they are increasingly wanting to ensure that their experience has a positive impact and benefits the countries they visit too. Ecotourism is the solution. By promoting ecotourism and being an eco-tourist, you are protecting the planet and its natural wonders for future generations.

  • A benefit of ecotourism is definitely that it enables a broader way of thinking and eliminates simple-mindedness. Travellers learn about various people, their cultures and different ways of life.
  • Each destination will offer unique and memorable experiences, whether it be cultural, wildlife or adventure-related.
  • It encourages a sense of excitement for the unknown. Seeing an African lion in its natural habitat or hiking through the forests of a protected area or perhaps seeing rare marine life is something that can only be felt for yourself. Just hearing about it or seeing it via video doesn’t do the ecotourism experience justice.
  • Visiting destinations all over the world helps to expand your knowledge of historic landmarks and events. For instance, in African and South Africa in particular, there are still many bushmen paintings to be found that date back to thousands of years ago.
  • Being well-travelled increases awareness and respect for people of all nationalities and backgrounds. Learning new languages is always beneficial too.
  • Purchasing keepsakes from destinations or handcrafted items from locals in the destinations provide social and economic benefits to communities.

A selection of ecotourism friendly keepsakes available at Shamwari

How Can You Aid Ecotourism?

We’ve got a few tips for you to aid in ecotourism and become an eco-tourist. It’s so simple! You just have to follow the guidelines below:

 Visit destinations that are located by natural areas and natural wonders or reserves that are protected environments, instead of supporting reserves that offer unethical wildlife interactions (such as lion parks that allow cub petting, parks that allow elephant rides or even ostrich rides).

  • Visit destinations that are close to home, as this supports local businesses and creates fewer carbon emissions by driving to your destination.
  • If you’re travelling abroad, try to fly directly to the destination as it also creates fewer carbon emissions.
  • If you’re going to stay in self-catering accommodation, make sure to take reusable bags or containers and avoid using single-use plastics.
  • Make sure to educate yourself about the destination you’re visiting and whether they have any scarce natural resources. Try to conserve water if you’re staying in a drought-stricken area, for example.
  • Look for eco-friendly accommodation options when visiting your destination. Many luxury lodges and accommodation offerings are environmentally friendly nowadays.
  • Visit animal sanctuaries and wildlife reserves that support conservation in their actions and give back to local communities.
  • Do your research of the local culture and customs to know what to expect (and what will be expected of you in return).
  • Try to have a minimal impact on your surroundings. If you’re going on a bush walk or hike, make sure to be aware of your surroundings and not to step on the fauna and flora unique to that area.

A selection of ecotourism friendly keepsakes available at Shamwari

Amazing Examples of Ecotourism in the World

South Africa is a prime ecotourism and wildlife destination. There are many eco-friendly destinations within the country to choose from. The country has so much scenic beauty to offer, as well as national parks and private reserves that are leaders in conservation. In the Eastern Cape, the Addo Elephant Park and Shamwari Private Game Reserve are prime examples.

However, there are some other incredible examples of destinations all around the world that do ecotourism really well!

 #1 Costa Rica

This country has undoubtedly made a name for itself due to its protected natural beauty. Pristine coastlines and beaches, a stunning rainforest and picture-worthy volcanoes make this destination a must for eco-conscious travellers.

#2 Norway

 This country has a magnificent way of ensuring sustainable living that has influenced its travel industry significantly. Their culture is a prime example of ecotourism. All tourism activities are of an eco-friendly nature, including hunting and fishing.

 #3 Kenya

Kenya is a destination synonymous with African wildlife. It is one of the most popular destinations to see large herds of animals or the great migration. It is home to diverse landscapes, ranging from savannahs and grasslands to coastlines and mountains. The country makes sure that travellers always respect the ecosystems.

#4 Palau

This stunning island is known for its oceans and its magnificent coral reefs are home to hundreds of diverse species of fish. The shoreline is filled with pristine beaches and forests. The country is dedicated to conserving its landscapes and coral reefs. It’s an idyllic ecotourism destination for sure.

 #5 Galapagos Islands

These islands in the Republic of Ecuador consists of an archipelago of volcanic islands. They were declared a National World Heritage Site because of the magnificent and unique species of fauna and fauna that call it home. It’s a home to beautiful birds of land and sea that are endemic to the island.

 #6 Antarctica

 Due to its location, Antarctica is one of the most untouched natural places on the planet. Tourists journey via boat each summer to see the magnificent animals that call this continent home, as well as the extraordinary icebergs. Antarctica offers a unique ecotourism experience for those who love the cold.

 #7 Iceland

Iceland has become increasingly popular as an ecotourism destination. It is known as the cleanest energy consumer in the world, one of its most favourable attributes. The country is also well known for its striking natural beauty.

#8 Amazon Rainforest

The magnificent Amazon Rainforest is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and is situated in South America. The country has been trying to increase its number of native guides to take tourists around the rainforests in order to minimise the encroachment of man. Enjoy the tropics and support this ecotourism endevour.

We hope that we have answered your question on ‘what is eco tourism and why is Shamwari the ideal destination?’ and that we will welcome you to our scenic Eastern Cape private game reserve very soon.