Written by Lindsay Krause
A leader in animal conservation and sustainable tourism, Great Plains Conservation pioneers world-class conservation projects in threatened habitats throughout Africa. Established in 2006, Great Plains Conservation has successfully transformed former hunting concessions into photographic safari destinations, as well as relocated 100 vulnerable rhinos into safe, wild areas of Botswana. Managing Director of Ker & Downey® Africa’s DMC, Marcelo Novais caught up with Hilton Walker, Managing Director, Sales, Marketing and Reservations of Great Plains Conservation, to find out more about how they are making a difference in wildlife conservation in Africa.
Hilton. W : The birth of Great Plains came about when the original founders looked at the tourism industry and saw many successful companies selling tourism but very little benefit trickling down to conservation programs and local communities. It was that genesis moment that sealed the creation of what we term “Conservation Tourism”. Everything we do has conservation of wildlife and community at heart. Our mission is to expand and enhance wildlife areas in conjunction with our local communities who often surround these areas. All profits generated from our unique experiences flow back into these areas. It allows us to to create war chests enabling us to secure areas like the 120, 000 hectare Sapi Reserve in Zimbabwe which was previously a hunting concession. Today, it is quickly becoming one of the top places to safari when traveling to the greater Mana Pools region of northern Zimbabwe.
Hilton. W : We believe in expanding and enhancing wildlife areas within Africa so, often this will mean identifying regions next to national parks or looking at securing a footprint within a private area like Kenya’s Naboisho Conservancy where we have just opened our latest camp Mara Nyika. There needs to be a strong case for us to be involved in the area from a conservation standpoint and we immediately look at how we can create meaningful and sustainable upliftment for our local communities in that area.
Hilton. W : I believe in a very powerful mantra “there is a difference between ignorance and stupidity”. All of us are ignorant to some degree about something. And that is great! It allows us to learn, change, adapt, improve, develop. In all our safari experiences we offer guests dialogue of what we are doing, why we are doing it and what our planned objective is. It doesn’t help talking about your aspirations and plans if you haven’t put your muscle into achieving it. Take our plastic free initiative, for example. We were the first safari operator, certainly in Botswana if not worldwide, that removed plastic mineral bottles in our camps. That step alone put us on a trajectory whereby this year we are striving to be totally plastic free as a company. Guests notice this, pick up on it and that unlocks a discussion around what we are striving for and how they can join us when they get back home by implementing similar practices at home.
Hilton. W : Definitely our Rhinos Without Borders. Not only did we successfully raise enough funds to save 100 rhino to be relocated to safe, wild areas of Botswana with help from our trade partners and guests, but we also have had over 12 new baths which is a sure indication we did the right thing! The project continues and we have just reaffirmed our commitment to saving another 100 rhino!
Hilton. W : Yes. We will be launching a few new camps in Botswana. Sapi Reserve in Zimbabwe continues to be an expansion area for us at 120, 000 hectares and then longer term we are looking at branching into a totally new country!