The Wilderness Wildlife Trust was formed in the late 1980s by top ecotourism operator Wilderness Safaris when it was understood that the company could only do so much for conservation in the course of its day-to-day activities and needed a dedicated vehicle to take matters further. More funds and a greater reach were needed so that overall conservation activities could be more effective. Accordingly, it was decided that an independent entity that facilitated fundraising and the disbursement of the monies to deserving projects would mean that, both directly and indirectly, Wilderness could reach more people, wildlife and places.
The relationship between Wilderness Safaris and the Trust is therefore symbiotic. In many projects supported financially by the Trust, Wilderness also contributes through logistics and in-kind support (e.g., equipment, manpower, fuel, vehicle servicing, access and accommodation) to ensure the enhanced viability of the work. On the other hand, the fact that the Trust is independent also means that it is able to engage with projects beyond the geographic scope of Wilderness Safaris’ camps and concessions and ensure that conservation is the driving force.
Since its formation, almost 30 years ago, the Wilderness Trust has supported a wide variety of wildlife management, research and education projects in Africa, making use of a number of methods and types of projects to do so.
One kind of project studies and monitors a particular species in its natural environment and in so doing also contributes to its protection. Recent projects such as the Central Kalahari Wildebeest Study or the Carnivore Monitoring Methodology Development in Botswana are cases in point. Ecosystem and vegetation research is one variation on this theme, with hands-on management and aerial censuses another.
Study of a species sounds like a purely academic pursuit, but within such investigation lie the seeds for its protection and survival. The better we understand a species and its environment, the more efficiently we’ll be able to protect it in a world where the struggle for space becomes paramount and human-animal interactions become increasingly conflicted. Most of the Trust’s projects have this as an ultimate objective.
Over the past few years, global awareness of Africa’s wildlife has been focused on rhino and elephant, both of which have fallen victim to unrelenting poaching. Southern Africa has seen dramatic declines in rhino, while elephant numbers are falling fast across Africa. The Wilderness Trust supports studies into elephant movement and human-elephant conflict, and is proud to support of rhino conservation which has included the reintroduction of black and white rhino into northern Botswana, and the ongoing support of the desert-adapted black rhino in Namibia and similarly black rhino protection in Malawi.
But conservation of flora and fauna is limited as long as the people who live in the vicinity are unconvinced or left out of the process. Financial and educational empowerment of local communities so that they benefit from the wildlife on their doorsteps is therefore vital, and as such, broad-based and comprehensive initiatives are in fact the bedrock of the Trust, providing skills, knowledge and education necessary to communities to value and manage their wildlife populations.
Rounding off this educational goal, the Trust supports students, schools via grants and bursaries, along with the support of Wilderness Safaris as an acknowledged leader in innovative formal and informal education projects. It also assists in funding the Children in the Wilderness programme, thus supporting its aim of educating the youth of Africa, inspiring and assisting them in preserving their magnificent natural heritage.