Sustainability has become a primary concern for travellers the world over, no matter whether you’re travelling to a destination or hosting tourists. And any visitor to South Africa will find that it leads the industry in terms of environmental sensitivity.
Since the mid 19th century, conservation has been of the utmost importance to South Africans, who have looked to safeguard the bountiful biodiversity of their land. Considered a megadiverse country, it boasts a majority of the world’s species, and is ranked sixth in the world with more than 20,000 different plants and 100 different species of mammals. In order to ensure that these populations stay healthy, the government has worked with local communities to engage them in conservation efforts and ensure that poaching remains an undesirable pursuit through tough measures. Responsible tourism has been central to South Africa – it’s the only country in the world to have a "fair trade" label for its tourism products.
There are twelve national parks spread across South Africa. They range from the world-renowned Kruger National Park with its enormous tracts of untouched bush and vast population of animals, to Table Mountain National Park, which is likely one of the world’s most accessible and stunning preserves. If you can think of an ecosystem, it is probably represented in this country. On the lip of Namibia you’ll find Namanqua National Park, a land of contrasts with sere red desert and bright blue sea. The Golden Gate Highlands is nestled in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains and is comprised of soaring caramel-coloured cliffs that boggle the mind. And Agulhas National Park on the southern coast offers everything from underwater gardens to shipwrecks, for those that want to get up-close and personal with the aquatic world.
There are many ways to experience the South African wilderness and the nation’s eco tourism options have flourished over the years. Whether you’re looking to experience a safari in a traditional game lodge, float above the bush in hot air balloons, helicopters or small aircraft, or cycle across its beautiful plains, the opportunities are endless. For those who want to get an even closer perspective, there are plenty of volunteer programs, where you can engage in really important work with direct results for the environment.
The next steps
South Africa has embraced a slew of sustainability initiatives to safeguard the future of the next generations. These include a number of projects to change the way we consume resources, ranging from responsible seafood and diet to sustainable forestry and dairy farming. The initiative that gets the most attention internationally is South Africa’s effort to extend the white rhino population, as the large mammal is on the brink of extinction. Through expanding their habitats, the number of black rhino has increased from 2,500 in the mid-1990s to more than 6,000 today.