Monday, September 21, 2020

Wilderness’s magical Mombo camp does it again for Botswana’s tourism

While Botswana was this month plunged in a publicity nightmare following false reports of mass elephant poaching – there has been a silver lining in the form of good publicity that places Botswana as the still go to area for spectacular safari experiences.

Wilderness Holdings Limited, the country’s leading tourism outfit listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange, announced on Thursday that one of their premier luxurious camps, Mombo, has been included in Andrew Harper Travel’s Hideaway 2018 report which placed the camp under the Members’ Choice awards in the Most Spectacular Wildlife Experience category.

The newly rebuilt Mombo clinched the second position thanks in part to its location in the pristine Okavango Delta which has been declared as one of the seven natural wonders of Africa. Described as an intimate lodge, the camp offers sightings of the big five animals, while also lauded for its conservation purpose, including the Botswana rhino reintroduction project which was a collaborative effort between the Botswana government and Wilderness to protect the under threat rhinos which are poached for their horns.

The Hideaway report is an influential publication that most discerning tourists turn to when planning their next getaways. The publication derives its influence from its ability to uncover one-of-a-kind hideaways through its editors who travel anonymously in order to publish unbiased reviews on the best travel experiences worldwide.

The good publicity follows another win for Wilderness safaris which beamed with pride about a month back when the tourism company’s Rwanda based Bisate lodge made it to Time magazine’s first annual list of the World’s Greatest places of 2018. Bisate lodged opened in mid-2017 and was soon seen as a game changer for its aesthetics and mostly for its reforestation and conservation efforts aimed at protecting the gorillas found in that area. The lodge is made up of six villas located above the Volcanoes National Park, allowing the guests exceptional views while also taking them on daily treks where they get to encounter the gorillas.

Wilderness will also get a boost following the reopening of Chitabe camp, which is also located in the Okavango Delta. The camp reopened after extensive renovations to the main camp. Chitambe was originally opened over 20 years ago, making it one of the company’s oldest camps. The ecotourism outfit in July disposed of Xigera camp for P16.8 million as it struggled to perform at its optimum.  Xigera was one of Wilderness Holdings’ oldest camps after being commissioned as the company’s first permanent camps in 1985, two years after Wilderness Holdings was established in Botswana.

The good publicity for Wilderness Safaris comes at a time when the 35 year old company was nearly dragged in the mass elephant poaching reports that cast aspersions on the country’s anti-poaching efforts. The first shots were fired by Dr. Mike Chase, founder of Elephants Without Borders, who authored a scathing report titled “Ivory Tower ÔÇô Botswana Elephant Poaching Report” in which he said he counted over 48 dead elephants, triggering him to quip that “certainly we flew over one of Africa’s worst poaching hotspots today.”

Dr. Chase in his report noted that the carcasses were indicative of a poaching frenzy which has been ongoing in the same area for a long time. Then he turned his guns to Wilderness Safaris.

“These elephants were killed in a famous Wilderness area, managed by one of the world’s largest eco-tourism travel companies. The region has a strong military presence with two airfields. The Botswana Government can’t be expected to stop this poaching alone,” Dr. Chase said in the report.

“It is incumbent upon all tourism companies ÔÇô who have a responsibility to conserve these areas ÔÇô to start putting their money where their mouth is and invest into protecting what they profit from, Botswana’s natural heritage! For a moment, stop building more lodges in a World Heritage site and start doing something to help stop this madness.”

Dr. Chase would later follow with startling claims that about 87 elephants have been killed, prompting hysteria from the international media that made the story go viral, with many saying that Botswana’s reputation as the last haven for elephants was being undone by recent moves by President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s new administration. However the government has since denied mass poaching of elephants, and has recently taken local and international media on the tour of the area. So far, the missions have not uncovered the mass poaching alluded to by Dr. Chase.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.