SappiWWF TreeRoutes Partnership builds on growing eco-tourism trend

Filed in Community, Conservation, Environment by on July 21, 2013
The Crowned Crane Hide at the Karkloof Conservation Centre

The Crowned Crane Hide at the Karkloof Conservation Centre (© SappiWWF Tree Routes)

Eco-tourism – often defined as low-impact, ecologically and culturally sensitive travel that benefits local communities and host countries – is considered the fastest growing market in the tourism industry. According to the World Tourism Organisation, a specialised United Nations agency, this branch of tourism is growing annually at a rate of 5% and represents 6% of global gross domestic product (GDP).

Sappi pre-empted the eco-tourism trend as far back as 1998, when they gave WWF SA a grant of R10 million and set up the SappiWWF TreeRoutes Partnership. The Partnership was based on the understanding that environmentally sensitive areas suited to eco-tourism are often situated in remote parts of South Africa where there is little formal employment and levels of education are low. That means people are sometimes forced to over use natural resources in order to feed themselves, having long-term consequences on the environment.

The aim of the Partnership is to assist local communities in building and promoting eco-tourism projects for the benefit of these communities in order to protect sensitive wetlands and indigenous forests. The grant funding was entrusted to WWF SA, which has in partnership with Sappi been responsible for identifying suitable projects for the Partnership, according to carefully-defined criteria.

The on-site development of each project, in turn, was contracted to the Wildlands Conservation Trust. Suitable qualified operators have been appointed for each of the eight projects in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. A primary condition of funding is that all projects should be community-based and inclusive, be economically sustainable and be catalysts for further eco-friendly development. Involved communities should benefit in the broadest sense through direct and indirect employment, skills acquisition and training, as well as through the benefits of community ownership and infrastructure.

The SappiWWF TreeRoutes Partnership projects are also in the areas where Sappi has operating units which are home to many unique and engendered species, such as the Karkloof Butterfly, the Blue Swallow, the Green Parrot, three crane species and the Oribi. In some instances, the land also encompasses rare habitats, such as the Coastal Dune Forests of Maputaland.

The projects incorporate unique eco-tourism destinations that showcase South Africa’s beautiful forests and wetlands, many of which are endangered for example: the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve, which was the first SappiWWF TreeRoutes Partnership project and is home to one of the largest populations of threatened bird species in South Africa.

The Dlinza Forest and Aerial Boardwalk, in Eshowe, boasts rare bird species such as the Spotted Ground Thrush and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, as well 85 butterfly species; the Marutswa Forest Trail and Boardwalk also boasts a boardwalk with aerial jetties, decks and view-points, allowing visitors to view the various layers of the forest, including the canopy and the Ongonye Forest Reserve, managed by Ezemvelo KZN. The Southern KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route takes visitors from the golden beaches and dense lush forests of the North and South coasts through the beautiful Lowveld and up to the spectacular heights of the Drakensberg Mountains.

The Karkloof Crane and Conservation Centre where all three of South Africa’s crane species: the Blue Crane, South Africa’s national bird; the Grey-Crowned Crane and the Wattled Crane can be seen in the Karkloof Valley in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands and the Thonga Beach Lodge, the first tourism concession in the iSimangaliso Wetlands Reserve, a World Heritage Site. (more info on these projects in the digital edition)

 

www.treeroutes.co.za

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