Craig Sholley, longtime gorilla conservationist and Vice President for Philanthropy and Marketing at the Africa Wildlife Foundation, was in town last week to discuss threats to African wildlife and sustainable tourism. We caught up with to hear about the challenges facing Africa’s animals and how to travel responsibly.
Which species in Africa are most endangered?
Craig Sholley: If you take a look at endangered species that are in trouble at this point, elephants are at the top of the list. We have an existing herd on the planet that is only 470,000 animals. We have lost 100,000 in the past three years to poaching. We are also quite concerned about rhinos—there are only 25,000 left on the continent—and as for lions, there are no more than 23,000. I am deeply involved with gorilla conservation: there are only 900 mountain gorillas left in the world.
What is the AWF doing to curb the demand for items like ivory?
CS: We have designed an awareness campaign, with our partner WildAid, to curb interest in ivory and educate consumers about how elephants are killed. Jackie Chan and Li Bing Bing are our ambassadors, and they’re trying to help us shift cultural sentiments.
How can we travel responsibly?
CS: Look for hotels and lodges that have set up a conservancy—often they might be aligned with elephant or rhino conservation. For example, we run the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge—it was conceived and constructed by the AWF but is now owned by the local community. The lodge is a major source of income, so the community has an incentive to take care of the wildlife and the habitat, which tourists are coming to see.
What’s a major misconception about traveling in Africa?
CS: When you talk about tented safaris, a lot of people picture tents and sleeping bags, but some of the most luxurious places I’ve been were tented camps: the cuisine, wine cellars and accommodations are incredible. You’ve got wildlife in your backyard and it’s magical. There are some phenomenal places in the Okavango Delta in Botswana—you’ve got tented camps run by groups like Wilderness Safaris and Great Plains Conservation that have really reputable facilities. I was at a lovely camp in Kenya recently, Satao Elerai Lodge, which has an AWF connection.
Any advice for once-in-a-lifetime Africa experiences?
CS: There’s nothing like going out into a field and being surrounded by a family of gorillas. It’s incredible—it’s not usually on the first-time trip itinerary but it’s a very special experience.
Want to donate to the cause, or book a room in one of the AWF’s eco lodges? Visitwww.awf.org for more info.