In an untouched area, the Cabo Delgado Biodiversity and Tourism Project will offer a rare combination of big game safaris and tropical coastal activities while funding comprehensive conservation and community development initiatives.
Aware of Mozambique's enormous tourism potential, African travel expert Christopher Cox and wildlife vet Dr. Julie Garnier launched a search in 1996 for an area suitable for conservation and able to sustain a luxury tourism product. Cabo Delgado was identified in 1998. Thorough socio-ecological surveys were conducted by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and ecology experts before the concession was finally obtained in November 2001.
These surveys confirmed its exceptional biodiversity, with over 15 different land habitats, including endangered coastal forest. The area was largely untouched by Mozambique's civil war, and viable game populations include Elephant, Buffalo, Hippo, Lion, Leopard, Wild Dog and several Antelope species.
A marine survey revealed rare habitats such as sea-grass beds and found coral reefs that are among East Africa's richest, with diverse fish life and endangered species including turtle, humpback whales, dugong and whale shark. The ZSL has since declared Cabo Delgado among its most important African conservation projects.
Funding for conservation and community initiatives will come from international donors and from luxury tourism. Visitor numbers will be limited, but the area is large enough to support five small eco-lodges, enabling guests to switch between inland, coastal and island habitats.
The first two lodges will open in 2003, on Vamizi island and on the 35km-long mainland beach. In 2004 two lodges are planned for the 33,000ha inland area, where expert guides will lead game drives and walking safaris through diverse habitats including mangrove swamps, wetlands, coastal forest and acacia savannah.
A further lodge is planned for Rongui island, as a base for deep-sea game fishing. Guests at coastal lodges will also be able to scuba dive, join marine wildlife expeditions and explore nearby islands by catamaran or dhow. Within the concession is a ruined Portuguese fort and the historic island of Ibo is nearby.
An essential component of the project's success will be the involvement of local communities (among Mozambique's poorest). All have given their written approval and are set to benefit through skills acquisition, employment, small business initiatives and the creation of a community fund to provide assets such as schools, clinics, grinding mills and wells.
The receipt of direct financial benefits from their wildlife will hopefully motivate the local people to ensure its conservation. Community relations specialists have visited to ensure that what's defined as a "Smart Partnership" between tourism, conservation and communities runs to the benefit of all.
Guests will be encouraged to visit and participate in conservation activities, including cataloguing terrestrial and marine fauna and flora, identifying human-wildlife conflicts and potential resolutions, evaluating the use of species socio-economically important to local communities and developing sustainable-use programmes. The project will also help protect adjacent areas by employing, training and equipping wildlife guards from local communities.
On the drawing board, the plans seem flawless. No doubt hurdles will arise during their execution, but if the finished product resembles the blueprint, Cabo Delgado should shoot into the top rankings of Africa's eco-ventures.
Contributor: Stephanie Debere.